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Volunteer Power Keeps Northwest Tucson Jewish Community Going

(L-R): Rita Pollak, Loraine Stillman, Helene Mittleman, Jane Myerson, Phyllis Gold, and Esta Goldstein at a Northwest Tucson Jewish Community Fundraiser in 2022.

The Northwest Tucson Jewish Community, a nonprofit organization, aims “to enrich the educational, cultural, and social life primarily of Jewish residents in Northwest Tucson,” according to its mission statement.

“Primarily” is a clue that despite its name, the NWTJC does not impose strict geographical limits: The mission statement goes on to welcome “any Jewish resident in the Tucson area.”

The NWTJC is equally flexible in defining its audience as “all people who are Jewish or wish to consider themselves as part of the Jewish community through their relationships, ideas or spiritual beliefs.”

“We keep adding members,” says Marsha Foresman, chair of the NWTJC board, who notes that the organization, which does not charge dues, has about 250 people on its email list.

The NWTJC is eclectic in its programming, too. Each month, the NWTJC sponsors at least one educational event and one social event, often a get-together at a local restaurant. The Feb. 13 educational event will feature Alex Miller, a human rights attorney with broad experience working on asylum and border issues. Miller is an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona College of Law.

Other speakers have included an executive from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and an expert in water supply management, who spoke about present and future water demands on the Colorado River. Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim spoke about her experiences with the International March of the Living Holocaust education program. Mushkie Zimmerman of Chabad of Oro Valley gave a Zoom tutorial on making hamantaschen for Purim. Rabbi Malcolm Cohen of Kol Ami presented a lecture on the Jewish communities of Europe. Rabbi Sanford Seltzer of the Institute for Jewish Services and Studies (SaddleBrooke) lectured on the styles and mores of Jews and Christians in medieval Europe.

The NWTJC, currently an all-volunteer organization, has its roots in a Northwest initiative the Jewish Federation, now part of Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona (JPSA), started in 2001. This project grew into the Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life/Northwest Division, with a small office at Oracle and Magee Roads. In October 2019 the Olson Center moved into a larger space in the same office complex. But the pandemic hit in early 2020, making in-person events impossible. In 2021, then-Federation CEO Graham Hoffman closed the center.

Members of the Northwest Division’s advisory committee decided to go it alone, forming the NWTJC as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation in 2021.

Hava Leipzig Holzhauer, who became JPSA president and CEO in December 2023, commends the NWTJC.

“Being new to Tucson, it is exciting to have learned we have a strong Jewish community presence in the Northwest. NWTJC is an important part of our Southern Arizona Jewish community. It is our primary purpose to enhance and sustain our Jewish family. I look forward to spending time in the Northwest, and to building bridges and strengthened partnerships throughout the entire region,” says Holzhauer.

To enhance the NWTJC’s outreach efforts, Foresman has applied for a grant.

“I have a great love for the organization. I hope to see it grow and prosper,” she says.

The NWTJC relies on donations for most of its operating costs, charging nominal fees for its programs. The fee for its lunch and learn events is “chai,” $18, Foreseman says, which helps cover expenses.

Those expenses include food for the lunch and learn events, plus renting meeting space for those events and a biweekly yoga class. There’s also web hosting and a Zoom license, critical for the monthly book club NWTJC co-sponsors with Hadassah Southern Arizona. The book club has met virtually since the pandemic.

Anne Lowe, who shares the board secretary role with Phyllis Gold — both were Northwest directors under the Federation — started the book club in 2006.

Before the Federation’s Northwest program began renting an office in 2012, Lowe recalls, the program held events in a variety of places, including libraries, churches, parks, restaurants, and homes.

“So that’s what we’re doing again,” she says, “with a different organization. We still want the Jewish population of Northwest Tucson to feel they have a presence.”

“People love it,” says Helene Mittleman, the group’s vice chair, who adds that volunteering with the NWTJC is part of her annual resolution to help make the world a better place.

The NWTJC also holds holiday events and other special events, such as art classes. A mah jongg group meets weekly. So does the Knitzvah Project Group, whose members knit and crochet items for charity.

The organization’s growth is slow but steady, says Gold, who is also the group’s program chair.

NWTJC also hosts a Mitzvah Magic circle. Mitzvah Magic is a joint program of Jewish Family & Children’s Services and JPSA’s Women’s Philanthropy Division, which brings together circles of 10 volunteers to provide holiday gifts to needy Jewish individuals or families. NWTJC also has donated to a food bank in Catalina.

“Even though we’re trying to raise money, we will never not provide for others,” Gold says.