A new historical exhibit, “We Stand on Their Shoulders: Mentors of Tucson’s Jewish Community,” was dedicated Nov. 9 at the Harvey and Deanna Evenchik Center for Jewish Philanthropy, which houses the Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona (JPSA). The exhibit adorns a hallway outside JPSA’s Shaol and Evelyn Pozez Event Room.
The centerpiece of the exhibit profiles “The Founders,” 18 individuals or duos who were instrumental leaders from the mid-1930s to the 21st century. ”Transformational Tzedakah” highlights the generosity of the Baker, Diamond, Pozez and Zuckerman families. A section titled “L’Dor V’Dor: Passing the Torch” features “The Power of Women as Leaders” along with panels about The Men’s Next Generation Group and Young Leadership. A slide show focuses on key community achievements during each decade. A final section, dubbed “Tucson Jewco-pedia,” a play on Wikipedia, is a digital display that currently encompasses more than 100 individuals who also contributed to the dynamic Jewish community in Southern Arizona. Community members are encouraged to nominate people to be added to the Jewco-pedia archive.
The impetus for the exhibit came from Paul Baker with the encouragement of Lex Sears, both longtime community leaders who worried that soon no one would remember the founders of Tucson’s Jewish community. To direct the project, Baker tapped Stuart Mellan, who was president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona for 25 years before he retired in 2020. Baker and his wife, Alice, funded the project with Sears and his wife, Carol.
“Today is about vision and legacy,” JPSA Interim President and CEO Emily Richman told a multigenerational crowd of about 100 community members at the Nov. 9 event. The people memorialized in the exhibit “dedicated their lives to ensure a strong and vibrant Jewish community in Southern Arizona,” she said. “You are the legacy of these founders. You are what they dreamed of and prayed for.”
When JPSA planned the celebratory event, Richman said, no one was prepared for the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel or the surge in antisemitic incidents in many countries around the world since that date. “However, we were ready to act immediately,” she said, detailing the $900,000 raised locally in one month to support needs in Israel, including medical care, emergency services, housing, and psychological support. The Southern Arizona funds are part of more than $600 million raised by Jewish Federations of North America. A group of anonymous donors will match the next $500,000 raised in Southern Arizona for the Israel Relief Fund.
Richman noted that the funeral for Rose Lubin, an Israel Defense Forces lone soldier and Pozez family cousin who was stabbed by a terrorist in Jerusalem on Nov. 6, also was held Nov. 9.
Baker explained the meager information he discovered when he searched the internet for some of the community’s founders. He also returned to the theme of Israel and rising antisemitism, pointing out that it was from the mentors honored in the exhibit that “we learned how to respond to antisemitism.”
Others who introduced elements of the exhibit included Lex Sears; Bruce Ash, a JPSA trustee and past chair; and philanthropist Helaine Levy, daughter of Joan and Donald Diamond.
JPSA Chair Liz Kanter Groskind surprised Mellan, who is also a talented musician, with a plaque that will be affixed to the exhibit honoring his accomplishments as “a maestro of community harmony.”
The focus of the exhibit is on community leaders who worked through JPSA and its predecessors, the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Southern Arizona and the Tucson Jewish Community Council, Mellan told the AJP. He relied heavily on a monograph, “Tucson: The Building of a Jewish Community,” that Dr. Benjamin Brook, executive director of the Jewish community from 1949-1978, published in 1992.
At the event, Mellan related anecdotes about the four families featured in the Transformational Tzedakah display, illustrating that although they may have had different styles and passions, “they always put the well-being of our community first and foremost, and they always coalesced around the Federation and our community partners so that we can muster the power than only comes when we stand together.” Citing Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin’s answer to the question of how to pass our values to the next generation, he concluded, “It can’t be taught, it must be caught.”
Visitors may view the “We Stand on Their Shoulders” exhibit Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., by appointment; please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (520) 577-9393.