Josh Protas is a vice president and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. In Tucson, he was director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and JFSA senior vice president for planning and community affairs. Previously, he was the executive director of the Historic Stone Avenue Temple.
How long did you live here? How often do you return to Tucson? Do you still have family and/or friends here?
My wife (Abby Foss) and I made the very wise move from Phoenix to Tucson right after we got married in 1997. We enjoyed living in Tucson until I had the opportunity to come work for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., in 2009. My mom (Marlyne Freedman) and grandmother (Ruth Protas) live in Tucson and we have so many of our friends there as well. I was back in Tucson a few times during the transition of our move, but don’t get back as often as I would like.
What have you missed most about living here?
I miss the bright blue skies and endless sunshine, the mountains and canyons, great Mexican food, the amazing people, and the vibrant mix of cultures that makes Tucson such a special place. I also miss the more mellow disposition of Westerners (Washington could learn a thing or two in this department …)
What did you learn or experience in Tucson that has most affected you in your present life? Have you taken something concrete from Tucson that reminds you of your life here?
The most amazing and life-altering change that happened in Tucson was the birth of our three children — Eli (9), Noah (7) and Rosie (2). Every day they fill our home with laughter, wonder, beauty and a little bit of a mess.
What big changes have occurred in your life since you left Tucson?
Since our move, we have settled into our new home of Takoma Park, Md. (just outside of D.C.). There is a great community here, with lots of young families close by. Eli and Noah have adjusted to their schools and Rosie is making friends in the neighborhood and at playgroups. We have also connected with a great community at our synagogue, Congregation Adat Shalom in Bethesda.
The biggest change in life came a couple of months ago when Abby was diagnosed with breast cancer. This has turned our lives upside down, but we’ve received tremendous support from so many and are staying strong to get through her treatment.
How were you involved in the Tucson Jewish community?
I first got involved with the Tucson Jewish community when I met Toby Sydney at a program on historic synagogues and she asked me to be a board member of the Stone Avenue Temple Project (now the Jewish History Museum). After serving on the board there, I had the opportunity to become the organization’s director, where I became more deeply involved with the Jewish community. I later went to work at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona — first as director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and eventually in leadership in other Federation areas. My work with the JCRC and Federation opened the door for the opportunity to join the staff of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Would you return to Tucson to live if you had the opportunity?
We are enjoying getting to know our new surroundings and connecting with community here — we don’t have any plans to move again anytime soon. I hear that Tucson is a nice place for retirement, though that feels like a lifetime away.
What has most surprised you about Tucson’s growth since you left town?
Since leaving Tucson, the most shocking thing for me was the tragedy that unfolded on Jan. 8. The shootings struck very close to home, and it was so strange and sad to be far away when this happened. The tremendous healing that has happened in the face of such pain and senselessness is a telling statement about the wonderful sense of community that exists in Tucson.
What would you most like to see change in Tucson if you were in charge?
My hope for Tucson is that it doesn’t grow so much that it loses some of the fun, quirky, diverse and beautiful qualities that make it unique. More significant redevelopment of the downtown area and improved public transportation would be some positive changes for the community.
What’s the best thing about where you live now?
The best part of living in the Washington, D.C., area has been the amazing things that we get to explore together as a family — fun outdoor things to do in each season (yes, there are actually four of them!), the incredible Smithsonian museums and all of the educational opportunities they have to offer, and the fascinating national monuments and sites that offer hands-on encounters with our history and government.
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