Vida and Eliot Barron have not wasted a minute since they started coming to Tucson 19 winters ago in 1998. Motivated by all of the blessings they have had in their 57 years of marriage, the bottom line for them is to share good things with people who need something — food, tutoring or just someone to talk to.
Vida spends once a week at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging for a “sit and schmooze” with a table of up to 12 residents. For almost 12 years, she and a friend, Joyce Braziller, have helped bring the outside world into Handmaker, leading discussions on politics and world events, but it is both of them who are “smiling ear to ear” when they leave, says Vida. She’s also happy to see how Nanci Levy, Handmaker’s new community outreach coordinator — and her co-chair for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy Connections event — is bringing more Jewish content into the residents’ lives.
Eliot, a psychiatrist who retired last year at age 80-plus, says his major life avocation has been Jewish communal life and studying rabbinic texts. “There’s a piece of me that’s a frustrated rabbi,” he explains. He has been leading a Talmud study group at Temple Emanu-El for approximately 14 years. This highly successful offering within Temple’s education program attracts a wide range of attendees and meets weekly during the five months the Barrons are in Tucson.
These two commitments are only the beginning of this vibrant couple’s volunteering. Eliot reads Torah at Congregation Bet Shalom and is a member of the Bet Shalom Talmud study group. He has also started a study group at Handmaker, where he is leading the attendees in reading through the Hebrew Scriptures in English, giving many a new and closer look at Torah.
Vida was so impressed with the recent Connections speaker, Elaine Hall, that she now wants to help bring Hall’s program, the Miracle Project, to Tucson. The Miracle Project is a groundbreaking theater, film and expressive arts program for children with autism and other special needs, their families and friends. Vida’s own experience working with kids includes serving as a tutor with the Jewish Coalition for Literacy in Hartford, Conn. She also is planning to get involved with the Homer Davis Project of the Jewish Federation, packing food for children on Fridays so that they have enough for the weekend.
Eliot believes that the way to make Jews more involved and interested in Judaism is through exposing them to Jewish thinking in a non-confrontational way. “Jewish commitment comes through knowing,” he says.
After raising their family of three children in Providence, R.I., the Barrons moved to West Hartford, where Vida became the Russian resettlement coordinator at Jewish Family Services, helping resettle over 2,100 refugees. She says of that experience: “I realized that there by the grace of God it could have been me as the refugee instead of the volunteer providing services. It was so moving to see these families start with nothing and move on to wonderful achievements.”
The Barrons have been struck by how uniquely welcoming the Tucson Jewish community is. Whether it’s going on a mission to Israel with the Federation in 2013, attending the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Jerusalem as delegates, or serving on the Federation’s Northwest Advisory Council (Eliot is currently chair of the council), the Barrons are completely involved with the community.
“The inviting warmth of Tucson and our volunteer work here have enriched our lives immeasurably,” says Vida. “We never thought we would be as blessed as we are.”
Ed Leven, Ph.D., is a freelance writer, former coordinator of JFSA Pride, and a retired professor of health care administration in Tucson.