Arizona Jewish Historical Society1

Nonprofit of the Month: Arizona Jewish Historical Society

Arizona Jewish Historical Society (AZJHS) aims to preserve and celebrate the heritage of Arizona’s Jewish communities via a range of educational programs, the arts, events and more. Here, Associate Director of Education, Anthony D. Fusco Jr., M.Ed., M.S., discusses the nonprofit’s goal to build the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center and how readers can help support AZJHS in its mission.

What is the mission of Arizona Jewish Historical Society? The Arizona Jewish Historical Society preserves and celebrates the rich heritage of Arizona’s Jewish communities, educates the public about the Jewish historical experience including the Holocaust, and promotes awareness of our state’s diverse history through arts, culture and educational programming. Inspiring visitors to learn from history, to become Upstanders, and to work toward a world without hatred and bigotry.

What prompted the start of the nonprofit? Rabbi Jeffrey Schesnol, director, found that the AZJHS Archives indicate that in 1980 and 1981, a number of founding members of Temple Beth Israel and local community supporters got together to preserve the history and contributions to Arizona Jewish life by their parents and grandparents.

What is the greatest reward in being involved with Arizona Jewish Historical Society? To be able to work closely with our local Holocaust survivors and to help them cement their legacies. Rabbi Schesnol indicated that all the people who participate as staff, volunteers, interns and visitors are genuine in their support of the commitment to Jewish and non-Jewish Arizona identity and the importance of Jewish heritage contributing to repairing and making the world a safer, kinder world (known in Hebrew as Tikkun Olam).

Arizona Jewish Historical Society

What is the biggest challenge the nonprofit faces? Rabbi Jeffrey specified that all nonprofits need funding. Those that support a cause or cure receive the largest share of community support. Other meaningful endeavors such as the AZJHS online educational presentations (featuring Arizona Upstanders, Holocaust and other genocides’ survivors and presented and recorded on Friday mornings) are among the most popular features of the organization but lack sufficient funding to survive in the long term. The AZJHS needs community support of these regular fascinating dialogs and stories.

What are your goals for the remainder of the year? To build the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center. The Rabbi says the AZJHS needs to energize the educational lessons of Jewish heritage and the Holocaust to help in the challenges of antisemitism. The general population knows very little about either of these subjects and the lack of knowledge inhibits understanding and acceptance of Jewish people. Jews by birth, choice or association do not know enough about their own people to fully embrace their own Jewish identity. The key is education.

How can readers help? They can get involved, engaged and reach out to help us educate. The AZJHS needs community participation and support of the informative stories of the Holocaust and Heritage. By offering access to these lessons of humanity, people will not stand idly by in their understanding. It is important to be Upstanders, never Bystanders when confronting ignorance, misinformation, prejudice or discrimination.

Does the nonprofit have any events or fundraisers on the horizon? The AZJHS is planning a fundraising gala on Nov. 17 at the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center to support heritage and community. To raise funds for the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center, a number of informal “Parlor Meetings” are planned to educate about the importance of learning the lessons of the Holocaust and the need for an Education Center in Phoenix, especially to teach students the facts about the most horrific events of the Holocaust and other genocides.

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