Jewish History Museum time capsule is window to Tucson’s past, future

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords prepares to open the Jewish History Museum’s time capsule Oct. 24. (Madeline Friedman/Jewish History Museum)

Hundreds of people crowded around the courtyard of the Jewish History Museum on Sunday to witness the opening of a 100-year-old time capsule.

The capsule had been placed under the cornerstone of the building, originally the Stone Avenue Temple, when it was built in 1910. The building was the first home of Temple Emanu-El.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose father, Spencer Giffords, became a Bar Mitzvah in the temple, was given the honor of removing the capsule — a small metal box — from its resting place and opening it to reveal its contents. The box contained coins, a Masonic medal, brittle and faded documents and newspapers from June 1910, including the Tucson Citizen and Arizona Daily Star, announcing that a bill for Arizona statehood had been passed. Arizona was admitted to the union in February 1912.

Speaking to the crowd before the box was chiseled out from beneath the cornerstone, Giffords noted that not only were Jews present in Arizona prior to statehood, they were involved in business, politics, education and “caring for the community.” Along with many of the other speakers, she remarked on the diversity of the Tucson community, noting particularly the participation of the Grand Lodge of Arizona Free and Accepted Masons — whose forebears had helped lay the cornerstone — in the day’s ceremonies.

“As we open the cornerstone — and I’m very excited to see what’s in it — we look to the past but I think more importantly, we look to the future. What will Tucson, Arizona, be like 100 years from today, when the cornerstone is again reopened?” Giffords asked.

Pointing out that the building cost less than $5,000 to construct but over $600,000 to protect and preserve, Giffords declared that “to keep our traditions, and our history and our culture alive, it takes all of us.”

Later, Giffords told the AJP that the day was “breathtaking.”

In his remarks, Barry Friedman, president of the museum’s board, noted that the historic event came perilously close to never happening, since the building was boarded up and abandoned as recently as 1999.

Other speakers included Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon of Temple Emanu-El, who gave the invocation; Eileen Warshaw, executive director of the museum; board member Diana Hadley, who introduced descendants of the original members of Hebrew Benevolent Society; U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva; Mayor Robert Walkup; Rodney Glassman, candidate for U.S. Senate; and Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.

Walkup noted that the process of protecting our history has just begun, with many historic buildings in downtown Tucson needing preservation.

Before the capsule was resealed to be opened in 2110, a number of new items were added, including histories of the Tucson Jewish community, Temple Emanu-El, Congregation Anshei Israel and Congregation Or Chadash, all of which started their services in the building; a history of the Holocaust Survivors of Southern Arizona; 2010 coins; copies of the Arizona Jewish Post and Arizona Daily Star with articles heralding the day’s event; a flag of Israel and an American 48-star flag carried in Tucson on Feb. 14, 1912 — Arizona Statehood Day; and a copy of the day’s program.

The museum’s centennial exhibit was open to the crowd, and all were given an opportunity to look at a glass case containing the 1910 time capsule objects and to peer into the hole below the cornerstone.

The Masons rededicated the cornerstone, pouring “the corn of nourishment, the wine of refreshment and the oil of joy” into the cavity.

The hour-long ceremony, which began with a color guard and the crowd singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” concluded with the singing of “Hatikvah,” after which cake was served. “After all, it is a Jewish event,” Warshaw remarked, to appreciative laughter.