Lisa Himmelstein Youngerman, a 1978 graduate of Tucson Hebrew Academy, says her experiences there inspired her continuing involvement in the Jewish community. She passed on this tradition to her two daughters, also THA graduates.
Youngerman’s parents, Paula and the late Stephen Himmelstein, were among several families that founded THA. She remembers the friendly spirit of meetings held at her house, as people discussed how to get the school started. Her family was not particularly religious, she says, but her parents wanted their children to have a good education, both secular and Jewish. She attended the school from fourth through eighth grades.
“I loved THA, and I have many good memories,” says Youngerman. And it wasn’t just the in-class experiences. The students celebrated Shabbat at teachers’ homes, with Israeli dancing and singing. All of the families were very close and were friends with the teachers.
She remembers the assistant principal at the time, Rabbi Aryeh Goodman, as an “amazing singer who had a beautiful spirit, and made me love being Jewish.” She says Rabbi Yossi Rubinstein, then THA principal, was also a psychologist who taught students how to handle difficult situations that could come up at school and at home. “One teacher, Sue Harbin, who taught math and social studies, made me think I was smart and good at math,” says Youngerman. “I became an accountant, maybe in part, because of this teacher.” There were only two graduates in 1978, Youngerman and Harry Cohn, who she thought of as a brother.
In the decades since graduation from THA, Youngerman has traveled extensively, including a trip at age 16 to Israel with the United Synagogue Youth group, and at 27, a year-long trip around the world with friends, which ended with a month-long study course at a women’s yeshiva in Jerusalem.
She met her husband, George, through the Jewish community in San Francisco, where Youngerman was an accountant and George had an advertising agency. In 1999 they moved to Tucson and their ranch, Stonegate, where they board horses.
Youngerman volunteered at THA while her daughters were students, including fundraising for the eighth-grade Israel trip, making latkes for Chanukah celebrations and serving on the board of the parent-teacher association. She has served as a member of the JFSA Young Women’s Cabinet and helped to set up programs for assisting immigrants and for community food donations.
The Youngermans’ daughters, Louisa (14) and Emily (16), who attend University High School, have been influenced by THA. Louisa says now that she is in high school, she misses the small classes at THA, and really appreciates her extensive education in Judaism. Emily says she loved THA for the community feeling and the friendships that she formed. She says THA “gave us a lot of Jewish pride and helped to prepare us to go to public school, where I present a positive view of Jews to some of my new friends who had never known any Jews.”
Korene Charnofsky Cohen is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.