Arts and Culture | Local

Full of Tucson lore, ‘Pioneer Jews’ back in print, online

pioneer jews cover“Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West” by Harriet Rochlin was recently republished by the Authors Guild and iUniverse.

The book, which covers 13 Western states, was called “Social history at its best, entertaining, engaging, and filled with little known information about famous and not-so-famous Jewish pioneers,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Houghton Mifflin originally published it in 1984 and kept it in print through 2010.

“Pioneer Jews” contains numerous mentions of Tucson. Most notably, in 1883-84, both the mayor, Charles Strauss, and the chief of police, Nathan B. Appel, were Jewish. A Tucson Op-Ed piece that appeared during the mayor’s race between Strauss and Hiram Stevens observed, “As charged by Mr. Stevens’ friends, [Strauss] is a Jew. In this country it is not a criminal offense. There are people here who even go so far as to tolerate religious convictions and the classes of race and condition.” Says Rochlin, “Such matter-of-fact acceptance in politics created a heady atmosphere for Jews, and they responded with enthusiasm. Assured of their community standing, they demanded in public life to be seen as any other citizen and fought back quickly and with confidence against anti-Semitic legislation and disparaging statements by public officials.” Strauss was ultimately responsible for creating Tucson’s first building and loan association, as well as the building initiatives that resulted in the first city hall, fire station, library and street grading program.

The book emphasizes that the Jews who settled the American West were not a homogenous group. In Southern Arizona they included actresses (Josephine Sara Marcus Earp, common-law wife of U.S. Marshall Wyatt, Earp, came to Tombstone with a touring production of “H.M.S. Pinafore”), gunslingers (Jim Levy, Irish-born Jew and six-gun artist), ranchers (Bella Jacobs), miners and butchers (Marcus Goldblum, killed by Indians while prospecting in the Whetsone Mountains, was both), merchants, nurses, politicians, literary leaders, hoteliers and bankers.

Rochlin’s late husband, Fred Rochlin, a native of Nogales, Ariz., gathered many of the period photographs and other images that appear in the book. Rochlin and her husband, who both spoke Yiddish and Spanish along with English, settled in Los Angeles but considered Southern Arizona their second home, spending many extended vacations with their children visiting relatives in Nogales and Tucson.

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