As the Arizona Jewish Historical Society prepares to launch its yearlong Arizona Jewish Centennial Series, a group of graduate students is working hard to create AJHS' first exhibit in its new home.
Last summer, Emily Jacobson, project manager of "New Frontiers: Jewish Pioneers in the Arizona Territory," started researching and writing for the exhibit, which debuts Feb. 20.
"My favorite part of the exhibit has to be the Solomon family of Solomonville in Graham County," Jacobson wrote in an e-mail to Jewish News. "They left quite a few documents and photographs behind from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, I feel as though I got to know them pretty well.
"Isadore was a merchant, hotelier, politician and landowner, while Anna was a remarkable woman who raised all six of her children to marry Jews in a region where there were barely enough to form a minyan. It was a hard life and they excelled despite the difficulties. Plus, I can't get over Lillie Solomon's wonderful hats!"
Jacobson, who double-majored in English and history at the University of Arizona before starting Arizona State University's public history master's program and scholarly publishing certificate program, then brought on fellow students Megan Keough and Leah Harrison to work as object coordinator and educational coordinator, respectively.
Keough, who also conducted research for the exhibit, worked with several organizations, including the Jewish History Museum in Tucson, Congregation Beth Israel, Kenilworth Elementary School (built in 1920, it's the oldest continuously operating school in Maricopa County) and the Tempe Historical Museum, to obtain objects for the exhibit. She says that one of her favorite finds was wedding dresses of daughters in the Solomon family.
Harrison, who is also proofreading the exhibit text, is developing lesson plans for teachers and students who visit the exhibit, and the content is especially geared toward government and Arizona history classes.
This is the first time AJHS is developing this type of educational material for classrooms, according to Lawrence Bell, AJHS executive director.
Also working on the project is volunteer Stephen Arougheti, who served as archivist and "photograph scanner extraordinaire," according to Jacobson.
Ganymede Design Group, headed by Kevin Winters, is assembling the exhibit. Lisa MacCollum of Ganymede is the graphic designer working on the exhibit, and Susan Shaffer Nahmias, an AJHS board member and chairperson of the AJHS museum committee, is the project adviser, overseeing the graduate students.
"The bulk of this exhibit has been researched and designed by our graduate student team, and they have done a fabulous job," says Bell. "I cannot tell you how impressed I am by their work ethic and the fine quality of work they produced. We wouldn't have been able to put this together without them given the limitations we have budgetwise."
The budget for the exhibit was $20,000, he says.
AJHS is also planning on publishing a book featuring content from the exhibit, another first for the organization, according to Bell.
The foundation of the exhibit started with a previous AJHS exhibit, "Pioneer Jews of Arizona," which was shown in the late 1980s in collaboration with the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum of Congregation Beth Israel, Bell says. But the content, told in third person and presented in a timeline format, was only the starting point.
The new exhibit is more biographical, with stories told through quotes from the people who lived during those times, Bell says. The exhibit areas will be divided by subject matter, including merchants, banking, farming, mining, social, religious life and politics.
The exhibit will also feature a children's room that will include desks from Kenilworth Elementary School, a chalkboard and books and toys from that era. The room will also include a dress-up area for children. "I've got my mom sewing dresses," Keough says.
"New Frontiers" addresses challenges faced by Jews in Arizona during territorial days, including kosher food and finding Jewish marriage partners. It also mentions the beginnings of Jewish groups in the Valley - the Arizona chapters of B'nai Brith and the National Council of Jewish Women, as well as the earliest synagogues: Emanu-El in Tucson in 1910 and Temple Beth Israel in 1921 (which was located in what is now the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, where the exhibit will be shown).
AJHS moved into the center in January 2010 after the facility was renovated and although Jewish Family & Children's Service's 75th anniversary exhibit in fall 2010 was the first displayed in the gallery space, "New Frontiers" is AJHS' own first exhibit to be featured there. It will be on display through February 2012, throughout the yearlong Arizona Jewish Centennial Series that starts Feb. 20 with a lecture by state historian Marshall Trimble. Pam Levin, former executive director of the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum, is heading the AJHS Centennial Committee.
Future centennial programs include an April 3 lecture about interesting Jewish personalities in the Wild West by David Epstein, co-publisher and managing editor of "Western States Jewish History," a historical journal, and a May 4 lecture on "Jewish Identity in Pioneer Arizona: Anna and Lillian Solomon in Suitable Love" by Jacobson, the project coordinator of the centennial exhibit.
In the fall, the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company will present a theatrical performance about Jewish pioneer women in Arizona.
The centennial celebration will conclude in February 2012 with a time capsule project involving local children who will place a time capsule at the center.
AJHS chose to focus on the Jewish community in the territorial and early statehood period because of the centennial but "the historical society is not limited to preserving history from the territorial time period," Bell says.
"In addition to preserving things from the past, we preserve the present because what we do today will be history for somebody tomorrow."
- What: "Trimble's Arizona: From Anomalies and Tamales to Levi's, Goldwater's and Levy" lecture by state historian Marshall Trimble
- When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20
- Cost: $5 nonmembers, free AJHS members
- Reservations required: 602-241-7870 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- What: "New Frontiers: Jewish Pioneers in the Arizona Territory" exhibit
- When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday; and by appointment, through February 2012
- Cost: $2 suggested donation
- Who: Arizona Jewish Historical Society
- Where: Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix