Tag Archives: Arizona Jewish Historical Society

A Pleasant Evening At Phoenix’s First Synagogue

25 Mar

I try to find something related to my love of Judaism wherever I travel.  This time, I did not have to look, as a group we meet with held its annual dinner at the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in Phoenix.   The Center is housed in what was the first synagogue in Phoenix, which gave me joy.  It mixed my love of history with my search for Jewish sites.

The two buildings have Spanish vibe.  They made me think of the Alamo!  In fact, the buildings were designed in a Spanish mission style when they were built in 1922 for the new Congregation Beth Israel, the first synagogue in Phoenix.  At its start it catered to all Jewish families in the area and did not have a permanent rabbi until the 1930s.

The original synagogue buildings.

The buildings hosted several congregations over the years.  By 1949, the Jewish community had moved out of the Phoenix downtown, and the synagogue was eventually sold to the First Chinese Baptist Church.  They held services there from 1951 until 1981. From 1981to 2002 it was the home of the Iglesia Bautista Central Baptist Church.

But in 2002, the Jewish community purchased the buildings to become the Arizona Jewish Historical Society’s headquarters.  Restoration of the buildings started in 2008.In the smaller building is a museum dedicated to the history of the Jewish community and the building.   Among the interesting artifacts in the museum is a violin that survived the Shoah. It was buried during the war, and recovered afterwards.  It is on loan thanks to the daughter of the survivor.

The larger building, which once was where services were held, now is a social hall with a stage. When they renovated the building, they found the area on the back wall of the stage where the Torahs were kept in the Aron Kodesh.   The area was covered again, and now the stage is set for community events.  I found it fascinating to find out that when the synagogue was built there were only 120 Jewish people in Phoenix.  There are now over 80,000 and 30 Jewish congregations in the great Phoenix area!

The event venue is open to the community.  Besides the indoor space, there is a lovely garden area where we had our dinner and music.  I had a great time both exploring the history of Phoenix’s Jewish community and enjoying the lovely outdoor space.

This is a quick museum visit, but the Historical Society does have an archive of materials about the Jewish community and holds programs at the site.  They are planning to build a Center for Hope, Humanity and Holocaust Education building on the grounds. If you live in Phoenix, I would advise you to join to get information on upcoming programs! Also the exhibits change and there are online exhibits!

https://www.azjhs.org/