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Exploring Southern Arizona’s Jewish Heritage with Lori Shepard

Join us in a captivating journey through history with our latest episode of Life Along The Streetcar. In this episode, we have the pleasure of hosting Lori Shepard, the Executive Director of the Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. Lori’s insights offer a profound look into the Jewish community’s impact and legacy in Southern Arizona.

Episode Highlights:

  • The Origin Story: Lori Shepard discusses the historic beginnings of the Tucson Jewish Museum, housed in a beautifully preserved synagogue that speaks volumes about the community’s roots.
  • Cultural Insights: Gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish community’s rich contributions to the cultural and social fabric of Southern Arizona.
  • The Power of Education: Discover the pivotal role of the Holocaust Education Center in promoting awareness, remembrance, and understanding.
  • Personal Narratives: Listen to moving stories and personal accounts that Lori shares, bringing history to life and highlighting the human aspect of historical events.
  • Community Connection: Explore how the museum serves as a bridge connecting past and present, and how it fosters a sense of community across diverse backgrounds.

This episode is more than just a podcast; it’s a gateway to understanding the integral role of the Jewish community in shaping the history and culture of our region. Whether you’re a long-time resident or new to Tucson, Lori’s storytelling will captivate and educate you.

Are you intrigued by the stories and history discussed in this episode? Do you have questions or want to delve deeper into the Jewish heritage of Southern Arizona? Reach out to Tom Heath for more information on this fascinating subject. Additionally, if you know someone with an interesting story or perspective that would be great for our show, we’d love to hear from you. Nominate them to be interviewed by Tom and contribute to the rich tapestry of stories we share on Life Along The Streetcar.

Transcript (Unedited)

Transcript (Unedited)

Good morning. It’s a beautiful Sunday in the old Pueblo and you’re listening to KTDT Tucson. Thank you for spending a part of your brunch hour with us on your downtown Tucson community -sponsored all -volunteer -powered rock and roll radio station. This week we’re going to speak with Lori Shepard, executive director for the Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. It’s right there on stone and Lori has 20 years of non -profit leadership experience and she uses that to share her passion for Jewish history and Holocaust education within our southern Arizona community. Today’s January 14th, 2024. My name is Tom Heath and you are listening to Life Along the Streetcar. Each and every Sunday our focus is on social, cultural, and economic impacts in Tucson’s urban core and we shed light on hidden gems everyone should know about. From A Mountain to the 99 .1 FM streaming on downtownradio .org. Also available on your iPhone or Android with our very own Downtown Radio Tucson app. And of course

if you want to interact with us on the show, Instagram and Facebook are a great way to do that and you can also check out information about our book, past episodes, or contact us through our show’s website which is lifealongthestreetcar .org. We also have the podcast out there on all kinds of different platforms if you want to listen to that. Well I said you know we do this each and every Sunday but we didn’t do it last Sunday. So this is our first show of the new year. I want to thank DJ Bank, the musical bum, for filling in with a little bit more upbeat music, a little more jazzing style music than he has on his Art of Easing. He turned it up a notch for our half hour session last week. So Mr. Bank, we thank you for that. All kinds of things happening including the Jazz Festival in downtown Tucson. We’ve got Dillinger Days coming up. Lots of activities within our urban core and we invite you to share those on our Facebook page if you know stuff and and head over there and let us know

of things that we should be covering. If there are events that you find interesting that we’re not talking about, well let us know so we can talk about them. And one of our goals here is to highlight hidden gems and I think our guest today represents that. Her name is Lori Shepard and she’s the executive director for the Tucson Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Center which is on Stone, a little bit north of Five Points. I walk by it lots of times and it’s a little, I mean it’s obvious it’s there but it’s a nondescript kind of building. It’s not a huge museum type. It’s actually the first Jewish temple in the Arizona territory as I found out in an interview and had a chance to sit down with her. We did something new. We did a video. I’m going to start to do that this year when we can. Lori was able to come up to our studio and record a video. So we’ll have that on Facebook and YouTube a little bit later on for you to check that out. But of course this is a radio show and a podcast. We’ve

taken the audio version and going to play it for you now. So this is a recorded a little bit earlier this week with Lori Shepard, executive director for the Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. Something brand new here on Lifelong Streetcar. We’re starting to incorporate video. So if you’re listening to this on air you’re not seeing the fabulous video but you’ll be able to check that out soon on our website. And just something new for 2024 that we’ve incorporated. We’re going to start with Lori Shepard from the Tucson Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Center which is on Stone just north of Barrio Viejo, right? Just south of downtown. Yeah. You’re in downtown. You’re like a half a block or a half a mile from the street. It’s 564 South Stone. Okay. So it’s really close. And you’re near, so you’re near the five points intersection. Yes. Okay. Yes. I guess we’re probably almost, we’re probably closer to five points than we are to downtown but not by much. It’s about halfway. But five points

right now for all the developments happening there. It’s certainly worth the trek, the half a mile trek from downtown to there. And then you can stop by the museum on the way and take a peek. So tell us a little bit about, first of all, the museum itself. This building is very significant in southern Arizona history as well. It is. It is. So interesting that you said you’re really close to downtown. So when this building was built in 1910, the paperwork actually said on the outskirts of Tucson. But that today we are really close to downtown. The synagogue that we are housed in, we are not a synagogue, but we have on our little campus a synagogue, a museum, and then the Holocaust Center. And the synagogue that we were housed in was the first Jewish temple in all of the Arizona territory. Oh, I thought just in Tucson, but the entire territory. The entire territory. In fact, at that time, if you needed any Judaic services, if you needed a wedding, a life cycle events, bar mitzvah, you had

to go either all the way to El Paso, Texas, or San Diego, California. I always tell people, and we didn’t have I -10 back then, so it wasn’t as easy. So while the first Jews started coming into the Arizona territory in 1860 to 1865, when most of the pioneer settlers started coming in, they didn’t actually have a house of worship until 1910. Wow, that’s quite a while. So did they have informal places or did they travel? They did. The first organized services were actually held at Alex Levin’s Levin’s Park. If you know Tucson history, most people don’t know Levin’s Park. And actually, if you went to the Pennington Street where Levin’s Park was, and it was a huge part of Tucson history, it’s now a really nice municipal parking garage. So it’s not good. But that’s where the Jewish community first started meeting was in Levin’s Park. Levin’s Park was a brewery, pioneer brewing, and he opened the first bathhouses in southern Arizona. So this is why this show just keeps growing, because now I’ve

got to do research and find out about Levin’s. I’ll get you some information. It’s actually fascinating. He had an archery range, a movie theater, a restaurant. Levin’s Park was a huge part of downtown until it wasn’t. Well, at least now it’s parking. I know. It’s this beautiful parking garage. So the museum, when did it transition from a house of worship to an actual museum? So it was the Reform Temple here in Tucson from 1910 until the mid -late 1940s, actually. And then it’s a tiny little space. When you come to visit, you’ll see it’s a really tiny little space. And so quite frankly, the Jewish community just outgrew it. And in the 1930s, the conservative movement opened Congregation Ansha Israel. And so the reform movement moved over to where is now Kol Ami on Broadway. And so they sold the space. They sold it to different churches. And actually, so several different Protestant churches lived in that space. They would go into that space, utilize it as they were growing. And then when

they would buy a new space and move on, they would sell it to the next. And so it sort of passed in this way for several decades. And then in the 1980s, it became a Spanish language radio station. Across the street in 1936 was built the Mexican Consulate. And it stayed there until 2020, about 2020, until it moved to its new location. So a Spanish language radio station was just the right thing across the street there. But when the Spanish language radio station left that space, it just fell into disrepair. It became vacant. Squatters moved in. A lot of damage happened to the property. And at some point, the owners just couldn’t sell it. And they thought, well, I guess we’ll tear it down. I’ve heard they were going to make it a parking lot, which is just heartbreaking. But the organized Jewish community came together and said, wait, we can’t let that happen. This was the first synagogue in the Arizona Territory. It was built two years before Arizona even became a state. We have to preserve

this. So they came together and through the 80s, they raised money. It became the Stone Avenue Temple Project because no one was exactly sure what would happen with it. Then it became… Is this in any relation to the Stone Temple Pilots? No, it’s not. It’s not, but I have actually accidentally said that before, because who can help it if you’re of a certain age? You just never know. If you’re of a certain age. So the Stone Avenue Temple Project became the Jewish Historical Society. The Jewish Historical Society morphed into a fabulous Southern Arizona Jewish History Museum. And as things continue to change and grow, as we have, then we eventually added a Holocaust Education Center next door, which was at the time just one room in a house next door. And eventually we realized we needed a whole Holocaust Museum. And in 2016, we opened the Holocaust Education Center. And does that focus on stories or families of those in our region? Or how does that… What’s the education component? I’m

so glad you asked that. So everything that we do focuses on what we call intimate histories. So in the synagogue, we tell the story of Southern Arizona Judaism. We talk about what the history of Judaism looked like in Southern Arizona. What does it look like today? When you come next door into the Holocaust Center, while we are a history museum, so we have the requisite timelines and we talk about the 10 stages of genocide, all of those things. We do everything in that space through the eyes of the more than 270 Holocaust survivors who came here and made Southern Arizona their home. I didn’t know that. We call that intimate histories. We can tell you all those pieces from the timeline and give you all of the important geopolitical aspects and dates. But really what is going to make a point and stick with visitors is when we tell these really personal narratives, these really personal stories. So we try to do that, whether we’re in the historic synagogue or we’re over in the Holocaust Education

Center. I feel like I know these people, some who haven’t been with us since the 1800s. And that’s interesting. And I haven’t done enough research. And on your website, do you then kind of break down like the families and those types? Can people do genealogy and things through your… What another great question. We actually have a genealogy program with Joel Albert, a gallery chat coming up. Now that is less about local and more about shuttles through the Holocaust. There’s a whole project with that that’ll be coming up later in January. You can check out our website for that event. But we try to focus on telling the story. So we talk a lot about pioneer Jews, but I’ve taken to calling it pioneering Jews because this can be everybody from folks who came here in the late 1800s to the people who are making a difference today. That’s Laurie Shepard, Executive Director, Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. We’re going to follow up on that conversation, get to the second part and talk

about some of those people that they highlight and some of those families and different events that they’re doing within the Museum and Holocaust Center. My name is Tom Heath. You are listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio, 99 .1 FM, streaming on downtownradio .org.

This podcast is sponsored by the Mortgage Guidance Group and Nova Home Loans. If you enjoyed this podcast, keep listening or head over to lifealongthestreetcar .org for all of our past episodes, current events, and things to do while visiting Tucson. Tom Heath, NMLS number 182420. Nova, NMLS number 3087. BK number 0902429. Equal housing opportunity.

Welcome back. We’re going to finish up our interview. If you’re just joining us, Laurie Shepard is our guest today. We sat down with her earlier in the week as part of our new video series. So we’ve actually videotaped. I don’t know if that’s a thing, videotaping, but we recorded on some kind of moving device there with a camera our interview and we’ll have that up for you to watch on Facebook or Instagram and YouTube and all those places a little bit later on. But we’ve been talking kind of about the history of the building itself and how the Museum came to be and get a little bit more into some of the programming and things that they’re doing within our community. And again, this is Laurie Shepard, the Executive Director. So our Holocaust survivors, I told you we had more than 270 who made Southern Arizona their home. Right now, there’s some question about this exact number, but right now we have about 12 who are very active and still speak. They come out and speak to school tours. Every

school tour that ends, they end with getting to meet a Holocaust survivor. We have a couple more dozen who are not active. They’re not able to be. They’re in their late 90s. And so it’s a very difficult time for us right now because we’re saying goodbye. We’re saying goodbye to too many. And we know that’s just going to happen. We’ve lost most of the greatest generation. When you think about those who fought in World War II, those who were liberators of those concentration camps, most all of them are gone now. And so the Holocaust survivors that we still have with us are all children of the Holocaust. So they were all, most of them were teenagers or younger during the Holocaust. Yeah. And the opportunity, I know from working on projects with World War II veterans, the opportunity to speak with someone who’s experienced that history. And you can read about it in a book, but when you hear someone speak and you hear their voice crack or you hear that emotion, those words resonate so much more

deeply. And I think it’s wonderful that they take the time right now to share that so that we continue that tradition as long as possible. It’s so important. And this legacy for them is so important. Each of them has a unique story. Each person that went through the Holocaust, those who survived and those who were lost has a unique story. So for us, we know that a life is not lost to oblivion until their name is said for the last time. So we really try to do everything in our space through their names, through their eyes and using their legacy and their personal stories. They’re going to impact students and visitors much more greatly than me giving them a dissertation on the dates. Right. And what you’re doing here on Stone, is this something that you see across the country where it’s really regionalized and you’re telling the story of that region or are you kind of pioneering in this? It’s a great question. There’s just under 20 freestanding Holocaust museums in the United States. There’s

about 125 Holocaust education centers. Some of those are connected with universities. Some of those are just individual like ours is in the community. And what I find is each one has a unique way of telling the story because each community is unique. So typically when you’re on a campus, I won’t speak for every campus, but typically when you have a Holocaust education center on a campus, it’s very academic. It’s very focused on the academia, the pedagogy of it. When you come to a museum like ours, or previously I was in El Paso, Texas at the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center. Those are much more personal. And I think that the personal is a way to connect that stays with you. It really stays with you. I personally, I think that, I think that’s why I do the show because to hearing these stories and talking to people that are either involved or impacted or related family -wise to those that made these changes, it certainly resonates more with me. Not that the exact figures and the

history of it is very important, but I think what you said. It’s important in a different way, right? Yeah, I think so. So you came from El Paso then. How long have you been in Tucson? It will be two years this March. March 2024 will be my second anniversary. Okay. May I ask what brought you from? This job. Okay. Working at the Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. It brought my family here and we are so thankful. And so before that, you were doing a similar role in Texas. I had been the executive director of the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center. And then we might’ve made a little foray over to Phoenix, but it didn’t take. And then how long have you been involved with this type of work? Yeah. Close to two decades. Oh, wow. Yeah. It’s a passion. It’s something that once you start doing it, you really, it’s hard to, I left this work for a very short amount of time and I won’t say where I went, but I went to an amazing nonprofit with a fabulous mission and fabulous people that

I worked with. And every day I thought this isn’t where I’m supposed to be. This is not where I belong. So when I had the opportunity to talk with them, they called about this position. It was a no brainer. It was a no brainer because the work, it stays with you. It stops being work. And I think, and I’m sure every city can say this, but the unique melting pot that Tucson has been over the last several hundred, couple of hundred years is just quite amazing to me. And that’s something we’ve uncovered in talking to many different people and not realizing the impact of so many different cultures and how the cultures impacted each other. So I think that as you dive more deeply into some of these stories, I think it’s going to be interesting to see all of these cross sections and how they come out. The intersectionality of the communities is so powerful. One of our favorite things about the museum is that we are down in Barrio Viejo. We are next door to the AME church. It was built in the 1930s.

Rabbi Gumbiner and Rabbi Bill Gray both worked closely with the congregants of the AME church. And they did that in the late 1930s, early 1940s. And AME, that’s the African American. Yeah. Peaceful church. My apologies for not clarifying. And it’s just north of you on Stone. And you can see that, you know, another really historic building as you’re walking down. And just knowing that they were doing this work, they were doing this social justice, social action work together. Then Rabbi, excuse me, the reverend from that church was just over. We had our Hanukkah candle lighting service just a few weeks ago. And Rev. Gene came over and joined us for that. And just having the moment of the two of us standing in that same space where the minister and the rabbi stood, just knowing that we have that continuation. The thing about Barrio Viejo is that it has always been such a diverse intersectionality of different communities. You had Chinese immigrants who lived there. And just on the back side

of you, there’s like the Lijo market, was just, you know, just a walk away from you. Exactly. And so when you walk around that area, there’s a wonderful walking tour. It’s not related to us at the museum, but it’s a fabulous walking tour of that area. And it’s so powerful because you see, this was no one thing. This was all of these communities coming together and making a community. Really fabulous. So with the museum, let’s talk about some specifics. How do people find more information? What are your hours, what are your costs? Give us the details. Well, we are absolutely a free museum. We don’t want anyone to be turned away because they can’t afford. We do everything we do with kind donations. So while we’re a free museum, we do accept donations, but we are a free museum. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from one to five. We have a lot of programming that happens as well. You can find all of this on our website, which is www .tjmhc .org. So that literally stands for

tucsonjewishmuseumandholocaustcenter .org. You can find the address. There’s free parking on the street, which we’re grateful for. Plentiful parking. And we’d love to have visitors come down, check it out. You know, what we find is most people say, I had no idea this was here. So I don’t mind that we’re such a great kept secret, but I’d like to be a little less of the best kept secret in town. I’d like to talk with folks like you and let more people hear about it and come out and see us. Well, Lori Shepherd, I appreciate your time on this. I appreciate your energy and enthusiasm moving from El Paso to Tucson. And I look forward to kind of checking out and learning more about that museum and kind of dig it in. So I appreciate your time. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me. That was Lori Shepherd, the executive director for the Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center on Stone, about a half mile from a streetcar stop there at 6th and Broadway. And part of that new really revitalizing

area of Five Points. If you haven’t been down there in a while, might be worth a walk around there and check it out with what’s happening. My name is Tom Heath. You are listening to Life Along the Streetcar on Downtown Radio, 99 .1 FM, and we’re streaming on downtownradio .org. Support for Downtown Radio is provided by the Tucson Gallery, located in downtown Tucson, inside of The Proper Shops at 300 East Congress Street. The Tucson Gallery offers original work, reproductions, and merchandise from Tucson artists like Joe Pagic, Jessica Gonzalez, Ignacio Garcia, and many more. For information about all the artists, including when they will be live at the gallery, head to thetucsongallery .com or find them on Instagram and Facebook as Tucson Gallery. That’s the voice of Brother Mark does Radio Club Crawl, one of my shows here on Downtown Radio. I’ve got several that I like to listen to, like one every day that is just good, good music, good insight. Club Crawl is nice because it helps to expand

my horizons and gets me out to see more live music because I get a little tasty taste, as he says, of the music and I want to hear more. Just another one of these volunteer DJs you heard. We’ve got Paleo Dave, who does the drive time every morning from 7 to 9, five days a week. It’s tremendous. He’s a volunteer people. You can support the station by heading over to downtownradio .org. There’s a donate button. We certainly can use any support you’d like to provide and those ongoing donations, kind of those monthly ones that help us budget, are fantastic as well. That’s at downtownradio .org and while you’re there, check out the lineup. It’s a good Sunday with Mr. Nature, DJ Bank, Art of Easing kind of getting us started. We get into little talk shows. Following me here in just a few minutes is Ted Przelski with Words and Work. Ty Logan at the top of the hour with Heavy Mental and then back into some music. It’s just a really good lineup and again, many of these DJs and show hosts have been

here for years just kind of sharing what they love and just doing it for the sake of doing it. I’m proud to be a part of it as we roll in here to a new year of 2024. If there’s topics you would like us to cover, let us know. Hit us up on Instagram, Facebook, email us, contact at lifelongstreetcar .org. However you want to get us involved but share with us those things that we should be talking about here within our community. I think this year is starting off the way last year finished with all these different suggestions that come in. I met Lori through an event we did at the Presidio Museum and then after our conversation when we recorded that for the show today, Lori filled me in on a couple of topics that we should cover and gave me some contact information of things that just weren’t on my radar. That’s just how we do it but it starts with you so send over that information however you can and we will do our best to cover everything you would like us to do. What’s going on here? We

have a tradition that’s been happening for the last several years on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as we celebrate his life. We also celebrate jazz in Tucson and there’s a free concert that the Jazz Festival puts on. This year it’s going to be at Corbett’s, the new pickleball restaurant bar. It’s got a couple of venues to listen to music. That area is going to be for the free jazz concert tomorrow. I think it’s 11 to 7 but one of the featured acts there is Ken Poplowski, a clarinet player. We’re going to leave you with a little music today where he was featured on that but I want to thank Ryan Hood for letting us use their song Dillinger Days which is very appropriate this time of year because that’s when we celebrate the Tucson police and fire and their life -saving fire techniques and their capturing of John Dillinger, the Hotel Congress Dillinger Days. It’s coming up here in a week. So thank you to Ryan Hood for that. I also want to thank James Portis. He’s our producer. He makes things

happen behind the scenes. All the good things that happen on social media. Just so much. So James, thank you for that. We’re going to leave you today with music from 1998. It’s John Pizzarelli and it’s an album called John Pizzarelli Meets the Beatles and the song is When I’m 64 and it’s featuring Ken Poplowski who’s that featured artist tomorrow’s downtown jazz festival. He’s on the clarinet. I hope you have a great week and tune in next Sunday for more life along the streetcar.

When I get older losing my hair many years now will you still be sending me a valentine birthday greetings bottle of wine if I’ve been out till quarter to three or would you lock the door will you still need me will you still feed me when I’m 64

I could be handy mending a fuse or when your lights are done you can hit a sweater by the fireside Sunday morning go for a ride