At Jewish History Museum, 26 take oath of citizenship

Canadian-born Barbara Brumer, left, board president of the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center, celebrates becoming a United States citizen along with 25 other new citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the museum on Friday, Feb. 17. (Photo: Jonathan Van Ballenberghe)

The Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center hosted its first naturalization ceremony on Friday, Feb. 17.

Barbara Brumer, board president of the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center, was one of the 26 people who became a United States citizen that day. 

The setting was perfect for this type of ceremony, Brumer says, considering that the museum building was erected before Arizona became a state, and now has the first state commissioned flag on display.

During the modest commencement, Judge Scott Gan asked if anyone would like to speak. One after another, more than half of these new Americans shared heartfelt stories about their journey toward citizenship and hopes for the future.

“It was really moving; it was a wonderful morning,” says Brumer.

Brumer was born in Montreal, Canada, but spent most of her career and adult life in Toronto, working as a management consultant for strategic corporate planning.

She moved to Tucson in 2009 with her husband, Irwin Manov, who was born in the United States. They originally planned on only spending the winter months here, but wound up falling in love with the Old Pueblo, she says.

She knew she would eventually become a U.S. citizen, she says, and last year’s presidential election spurred her along.

“I always think that you should have a voice in your country,” says Brumer. “And if I’m living here, I want my voice heard in the right way.”

Brumer started volunteering at the Jewish History Museum in 2014. She joined the board of directors, taking her position as president in November 2015, she recalls, just a few months before the Holocaust History Center opened.

Hosting a naturalization ceremony on the museum campus is consistent with the center’s mission, says Brumer.

“The purpose of the museum is to showcase the difference, the impact, that immigrants have made throughout the decades to this part of the world,” she says. “So how enriching, to have the next group of immigrants be inspired by this?”

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild says it was an honor and privilege to speak at the ceremony. One of Rothschild’s community initiatives is the citizenship campaign, and Tucson is a welcoming destination for immigrants, whether they are here on a work visa, a green card holder or interested in becoming naturalized, he says. 

“But citizenship increases peoples’ commitment to this community and this country, and earnings go up when people become citizens,” says Rothschild. “Both these factors benefit the community as a whole.”

The Jewish History Museum was an enthusiastic host for the ceremony, Rothschild says, and the highlight was hearing testimony from the new citizens.

“The best part was listening to these new American citizens talk about their love for and gratitude to this country,” he says. “It was clear to me that they understood and cherished American values of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equality of opportunity, civil liberties and equal protection under the law.”

Bryan Davis, executive director at the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center, says hosting a naturalization ceremony fits the museum’s narrative.

“Our most precious materials at the Jewish History Museum are the intimate stories that people in our community share with us,” says Davis. “It is particularly meaningful for the museum to not only tell these stories, but be the site where these experiences take place.

“And museums in the 21st century are becoming cultural and community centers rather than exclusive vaults of untouchable objects,” he says.

He’s looking forward to building a relationship with Immigration & Naturalization Services, and providing community members, regardless of their faith, an intimate space for this major life event.

“It added a level of gravitas and authenticity to be in a space that is central, and historic, to the Jewish community,” he says.