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CAI gala to celebrate 50 years on 5th Street

Rabbi Marcus Breger (left) and Morris ‘Mac’ Benisch at Anshei Israel’s 1968 groundbreaking (Congregation Anshei Israel)
Congregation Anshei Israel will honor Susan and the late Saul Tobin, pictured circa 1985, Feb. 17. (Congregation Anshei Israel)

Congregation Anshei Israel will hold a “L’Door V’Dor: 50 years on 5th Street” gala next month. Organizers dubbed the event the “L’Door V’Dor,”  a play on l’dor v’dor, the Hebrew phrase for “from generation to generation,” because it is a chance to honor those who helped open the doors to the building in 1969, explains CAI Board President Stephanie Roberts. 

“It’s an opportunity to celebrate and bring people together,” says Roberts, “and there are a lot of members who were here when we moved.” Founded in 1930, Anshei Israel was originally located downtown on Stone Avenue. The congregation moved in 1946 to Sixth Street and Martin Avenue, near the University of Arizona, before building the present location on Fifth Street and Craycroft Road.

The Feb. 17 event will include dinner, dancing, and the dedication of the Susan and Saul Tobin History Hall.

The late Saul Tobin was instrumental in securing the land and raising the funds for the building, Roberts explains.

Others who will be honored include the late Morris “Mac” Benisch, who was president of the congregation from 1963-1969, and was followed in that role by Tobin, from 1969-1971.

“L’Door V’Dor” is also a play on the idea that Anshei Israel has many points of entry, says Roberts, whether it is the preschool, religious school, United Synagogue Youth group,  Shabbat services, adult education, or affiliate groups such as the Men’s Club and the Women’s League/Sisterhood.

To build a synagogue or any religious institution is fairly simple, says Rabbi Robert Eisen. “All one needs is a checkbook. To transform the brick and mortar into a congregation, a place where people’s lives are intertwined toward a greater good, is something else altogether. Our celebration of this, the 50th anniversary of our building, is an acknowledgment of the effort those builders put into ensuring that this edifice would be more than a synagogue, it would be a place that would transform us into a congregation. We remember what they have given us so we can strengthen our commitment to preserving that mission, vison and values into the future.”

Sarah Artzi, daughter of Sue and Saul Tobin and a member of the gala committee, is touched by the naming of the hallway for her parents.

“I grew up feeling that Anshei Israel was an extension of our family,” says Artzi. “It was — and still is — a second home. We’ve celebrated literally every family milestone within the synagogue’s walls: brises, baby namings, preschool graduations, consecrations, seven b’nai mitzvah, Hebrew High graduations, aufrufs (grooms’ pre-wedding Torah honors), a wedding, and a funeral. Our milestones have spanned all three of our congregation’s rabbis and countless others who have shaped and nurtured our family. What an honor to have our parents’ names celebrated in such a meaningful way.”

The history hall, which is being endowed by the Tobin family and Mel and Enid Zuckerman, already has several large panels that display the congregation’s history from its founding to the present day, says Roberts, but there is room for future generations to add their own. The hallway also holds pictures of past presidents, and rabbis and cantors past and present, she says, adding that it has been spruced up with new carpet and bright new paint to replace dark wood paneling.

The evening will begin with a cocktail hour, giving people a time to see and appreciate the renovation, she says. The dinner will be accompanied by music from the band Split Decision, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild will issue a proclamation in honor of the occasion, says Roberts. The congregation has been gathering old photos and reminiscences from members. Instead of a printed tribute journal, there will be a digital version that will play on a screen during the event, and attendees will receive a copy on a flash drive.

Tickets are $69 through Feb. 4 and $79 thereafter. To RSVP, visit www.caiaz.org or call 745-5550.

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