If you thought that the Lower East Side of NYC reflected Jewish life in America albeit 100 years ago; then, it's time to update and discover a sophisticated 21st century version of Jewish life in America's 6th largest city, Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona.
It appears that a few adventuresome Jews began arriving in the Salt River Valley (later re-named the Valley of the Sun), future home of Phoenix and Scottsdale, as early as the 2nd half of the 19th century. Among these adventurers were Michael Wormser, Emil Ganz, Anton Leonard Meyer, Michael Goldwater and his sons, Morris Goldwater and Baron Goldwater, Isaac Rosenzweig, Isaias W. Hellman, and Sol Lewis.
As early as the late 1870s, Michael Wormser had opened an agricultural supplies store in Phoenix. By selling equipment on credit in exchange for liens on land, Wormser began acquiring acreage in the Valley. Over time, his land holdings became extensive. Later in life, Wormser expressed orally an intention to donate land for a Jewish cemetery in Phoenix. After he died, Charles Goldman, Wormser's executor, with permission of Wormser's beneficiaries, carried out Wormser's oral intention, and land was donated which then passed 1st to a Mount Sinai Association in 1902, then to a Phoenix Hebrew Cemetery Association in 1904, and, finally, in 1928, to Beth Israel, Phoenix' 1st permanent synagogue.
Emil Ganz started off here by opening a hotel and restaurant, both with the name Bank Exchange. In 1885, 1886, and 1899, he became and was re-elected Mayor of Phoenix (3 one year terms). In Ganz' 3rd term, he led a drive to annex residential additions contiguous to the City. In 1888, Anton Leonard Meyer, was elected Mayor of Phoenix. During his one term, Phoenix was chosen by the Territorial Legislature as the Territorial Capitol.
The Goldwaters, after fits and starts, successfully established branches of their department store here. Their descendent, Barry Goldwater would be a US Senator from Arizona and 1964 Republican nominee for US President. Isaac Rosenzweig established himself in the jewelry business. Isaias W. Hellman participated in the creation Wells Fargo Bank. Sol Lewis was an originator of the National Bank of Arizona Phoenix.
As the 20th century approached and commenced, individuals and families continued to participate in political and business life here and Phoenix and Scottsdale Jewry began developing community structures.
Two Jewish families, the Korricks and the Diamonds, developed the largest department stores, The New York Store and The Boston Store, in Phoenix.
Two of the Korrick and Diamond wives, Blanche Korrick and Helen Diamond, participated in Phoenix community life. Another publically active Jewish woman of this era was Freeda Marks, who was elected to serve in the Arizona State Legislature.
Another Jewish family, Rosenzweig, followed, in a major way, a pattern similar to other Phoenix Jewish families. Success in business, in this instance a jewelry store, activism in Phoenix political and social life, development/investment in Phoenix construction, and participation in philanthropic programs.
A few of the synagogues that we see here today began arising. The 1st successful synagogue established was Beth Israel, beginning as a traditional house of prayer in the nineteen teens. A little over a decade later, Beth El Congregation was established.
By mid-20th century, estimates put the Jewish population of Phoenix Scottsdale between 12,000 and 15,000 persons.
An early 21st century demographic study listed the Greater Phoenix Jewish population at 83,000 persons.
Between 1950 and 2014, three persons who considered Phoenix their home, made significant contributions to the Phoenix Jewish community as well as to the larger community: Rabbi Albert Plotkin, Mayor Phil Gordon, and Film Director Steven Spielberg. We will stop by their homes.
By the 1st decade of the 21st century, Phoenix had come full circle politically, electing a 3rd Jewish mayor, twice, in 2004 and 2008.
Today, in 2014, the Greater Phoenix Scottsdale area Jewish population has exceeded the 100,000 persons mark. There is a diverse, broad, and deep selection of Jewishness: reform, conservative, and orthodox.
Jews have survived well in Phoenix and Scottsdale. Beside creating Jewish institutions, Jews have been and are active participants in their larger community. In this tour, we'll get a sense of the Jewish community's evolution via a couple of Jewish synagogues, a number of major Jewish entrepreneurs, a rabbi, a politician, a film maker, and developers/philanthropists.