Eileen Warshaw is stepping down at the end of January as executive director of the Jewish History Museum, an institution she helped create.
“I am retiring because a decade of commitment here has laid a great foundation. Now it’s time for new energy, new thoughts, new programming to come in,” says Warshaw.
“It’s an exciting time. We have the Holocaust History Center up and running, and it’s looking very positive about the expansion into the rest of the space. It’s a great time for somebody to come in and put their mark on the next generation, the next decade,” she says.
In 2003, Warshaw took over as executive director of the Historic Stone Avenue Temple Project, which had been started by volunteers in 1998 to save Arizona’s first Jewish house of worship. After restoration of the 1910 building was complete, the Historic Stone Avenue Temple in 2005 merged with the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Arizona to become the Jewish Heritage Center, which in turn became the Jewish History Museum in 2009. The Holocaust History Center, created in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Holocaust Education and Commemoration Project, and located in a restored 1880s house right next door to the museum, opened on Oct. 20.
The Jewish History Museum has presented a variety of exhibits on Jewish life in the Southwest, as well as hosting lectures and an annual Jewish storytelling festival. Its yearly exhibition of wedding gowns and ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) has featured artifacts on loan from museums around the world.
Warshaw is proud of completing the restoration and establishing the museum, “but it wasn’t just me, it was a whole team of people,” she says. “But to be able to say that in five years this fledgling little Jewish history museum has become internationally recognized, and to be named the fourth best Western museum — I mean not even Jewish museum but Western museum in the United States” (an honor bestowed by True West magazine in 2012) — “it’s just very rewarding for all of us who have worked so hard.”
She also points to the fact that the museum has gained the trust of the community, “so that when artifacts become available, for whatever reason,” people don’t hesitate to donate them.
The JHM board of directors is conducting a search for Warshaw’s replacement. Details are posted on the museum’s website, www.jewishhistorymuseum.org.
“She did an incredible job. It’ll be a real loss to us,” says Barry Friedman, president of the board, who says his own role, working at Warshaw’s side, was to be “a good schlepper.”
He and Warshaw had jokingly promised that neither would step down before the other, “but we all grow and move beyond that,” he says.