Local | Religion & Jewish Life

Childhood vision inspires Tucsonan to be voice for peace

Hanna Ripp

Even as a child, Hana Ripp felt that she had a mission in life. She wanted to be a voice for those who couldn’t speak. Intuition guided her over decades to follow her vision of world peace and harmony through the best vehicles she knew — arts and education.

A first-generation Holocaust survivor, Ripp was born in 1946 outside Dachau, Germany, to Polish parents who survived Siberian work camps as barbers. The family immigrated to Canada in 1949. Ripp grew up in a one-room apartment behind the family barbershop in Toronto. Trained as a teacher in Toronto, she taught 10- to 14-year-old immigrant students for six years in the early ’60s. Evaluating student needs, she created innovative curriculum for peer and group teaching, underscoring harmonious interactions among a diverse group of nationalities, religions and cultures. “Looking back, I taught them to strive for excellence in harmony and unity,” Ripp says.

“Out of 60 teachers, no one realized I was Jewish,” Ripp remembers. She endured painful anti-Semitic remarks around thefaculty lounge. Later, following her American fiancé across the U.S. border, she discovered she lacked proper documentation to legally immigrate, and says she was blacklisted for trying to cross the border. Her fiancé petitioned for a marriage visa in 1972 and they had 90 days to marry. They did, and subsequently settled in Florida and had two children.  She decided not to take American citizenship. Even today, she maintains her U.S. permanent residency with a green card.

In 1975, the family moved to Tucson for health reasons and settled into the community. Ripp became involved in the local Jewish community and served on the steering committee for the Tucson Jewish Community Center. The marriage ultimately crumbled and Ripp was left as a single mother raising a son.

It was then Ripp realized she needed to reinvent herself. She evaluated her toolbox and decided if she could make a difference with students, she could use that strength to make a wider difference.

“I realized that local kids had no future, no connection to their roots,” she says. It became her mission to develop cultural projects to integrate all of Tucson’s ethnic groups, while promoting the community. Her idea was to create a forum youth could aspire to, showcasing arts and entertainment while promoting tourism.

Ripp was mentored by Tucson icons like Cele Peterson and Bill Clements. “When they opened doors, you walked through,” she says. She began producing cultural events, integrating different artistic disciplines to “delight, entertain and educate about Southern Arizona’s rich heritage.” This led her to spearhead artistic shows and events from southern Arizona to Washington, D.C., and Mexico. She helped market, fundraise and elevate awareness for local causes, spreading a global message while embracing artistic expression through those she had touched. “I worked with established and upcoming community artists to make this a better world,” she recalls. “It was creative, artistic people sharing ideas.”

She pursued her heartfelt mission, using the arts as a vehicle to teach love and harmony. “All without knowing the buzz words then,” she remarks. Most of her work was under her own Eagle Productions International, a full-service agency she founded to serve the arts and community through cultural exchange.

By 1992, she was positioned as group sales and educational outreach staff for the Arizona Theatre Company. “We found ways to connect the dots and put [ATC] on the map.” She coordinated events and theater parties, collaborating with the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Tucson’s Mexican Consulate to present bilingual art shows. She credits authenticity for her success. “I never just took, it was give and take,” she says. She took stage performers into local schools and brought students to the theater, to meet performers like Olympia Dukakis.

While mentoring University of Arizona student artist Victor Navarro, she co-produced cross-Atlantic art shows, taking 25 Arizona artists to Paris and bringing French artists to Arizona.

Ripp founded a tango and arts salon at Plaza Palomino to link people to music and dance. “Art is the heart of the community,” she says.  “When people are dancing to music, their guard is down. That’s when they are learning.

“I’m not a tango teacher, there are too many professionals to do that,” she says. A recent foot injury curtails her tango passion.

“The respect and admiration I received is my greatest reward. I’ve gone as far as I can go,” she reflects. “I am constantly teaching, that’s my biggest mitzvah.

“Finding young people to mentor to pursue my vison of bringing people together, that’s my talent. There are so many layers of what I set out to do. I touch people all the time — but I’m not a business person, I’m a humanitarian,” she says.

Along the way, Ripp garnered international recognition for her promotion and mentoring. Former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini honored her in 1993 for developing Tucson as a model city for the arts. She also received a French Diploma for Outstanding Services to Humanity in 2010.

At age 71, Ripp remains committed as a community resource and networker. “I choose to do positive things and what I love. Money is not my motivator. And, I’m not dead yet, I still have chutzpah!”

Her message to others is that we should make the most of life. “Each day is a blessing, enjoy it.”