TUCSON, city located in the S.E. part of Arizona. The 2005 Jewish population is estimated at somewhere around 25,000 (exclusive of about 3,000 university students and untold numbers
Tucson was part of the Gadsden Purchase when a small area of land in southern Arizona and New Mexico was acquired from Mexico in 1854. At first there were relatively few people, Jews and gentiles, in the community, but some Jews came because of merchandising opportunities. Some opened general stores, others acquired Indian trading licenses, and some also served as contractors for the U.S. Army. The settlement in the 19th century consisted mostly of young men out to seek their fortunes. Marriages were made with Mexicans and/or Indians, or else with German or eastern Jewish women who some of the men went back to marry. The total Jewish population of Arizona in the 1880s was estimated at about 50 people, so the numbers in Tucson must have been fewer. A number of men from the city's pioneer Jewish families, the Drachmans, Franklins, Jacobs, Ferrins, Zeckendorfs, Steinfelds, and Mansfields, could be found in elected political positions: on the school board, on the county Board of Supervisors, and even as mayor. One Jew who represented Tucson in the territorial legislature, Selim Franklin, won the University of Arizona for his community in 1885 although at the time it was considered the "booby" prize. Prescott kept the state capitol, Phoenix was awarded the state insane asylum, and Yuma remained home to the state prison.
Almost none of the descendants of the pioneer families are counted among the Jews of Tucson today. Many of the original Jewish settlers fled to other parts of the West or the nation in the late 1880s and 1890s when an economic depression hit the Arizona territory. Moreover, those Jews who had already made money left the community because of the unbearable heat, often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which could last sometimes from May through October.
In the early 20th century a number of Jews remained in Tucson as is evidenced by the presence of a Hebrew Ladies' Benevolent Society and the building in 1910 of the first Jewish temple in Arizona: Temple Emanu-el (Reform).
Until World War II, and even among some of the pioneers, the Jews who arrived in Tucson came because someone in the family needed the dry air for his/her health. The whole Jewish population of Arizona, for example, increased from 1,150 people in 1920, to 1,847 in 1937. How many of these Jews lived in Tucson is difficult to judge but in 1940 census takers estimated their number at 480. The one new establishment in Tucson in the 1930s occurred with the founding of a second Jewish synagogue, Conservative, at the beginning of the decade. In 1939 this congregation, Anshei Israel, acquired its first small building.
During World War II the population grew because the United States government established an air force base in Tucson. After the war many of those whose first experience of the southwest occurred during the conflagration returned as settlers because during most of the year the daytime climate ranged from 50 to 80 degrees F. with cool nights except during the summer monsoon season in July and August. The impact of the influx on the city's Jewish community was enormous. In 1948 Tucson counted about 4,000 Jews. Within the next few years Jews in Tucson had established an Orthodox synagogue, a Jewish Community Council, and a wealth of organizations to provide a variety of social services to Jews in the city.
Growth spurts in Tucson occurred in the 1950s and thereafter. Air conditioning came into vogue in that decade which made the city a more tolerable place to live. The 1960s witnessed a depression in the city. At the end of the decade, however, the continued growth of the University of Arizona and the establishment of its medical college spawned a huge mushrooming of the population, Jewish as well as gentile. Whereas in 1970 the city had about 250,000 people and 6,000 or so Jews, today, as mentioned, there are 750,000 people, about 3–4% of whom are Jewish.
In the early 21st century Tucson and the Jews within the community were thriving. Most Jews who work were in professional occupations while a sizeable number were involved with real estate development. There was a host of cultural activities, both Jewish and in the greater community, a strong Jewish Federation with social welfare and social service groups that provide for the needs of every age group, and some indication that young Jewish adults, who in previous decades had to seek employment opportunities elsewhere, were remaining in the city and working in the community.
A community survey taken in 2002 revealed that fewer than half of all Tucson Jews participate in Jewish activities. The community was the second from the bottom among comparably sized Jewish communities whose Jewish respondents have attended synagogues only on special occasions; it had the highest percentage of Jewish single-family households under the age of 65; Tucson was fourth from the bottom in making donations to Jewish charities and fourth from the top (46%) in young adults marrying non-Jews. Forty-two percent of Jewish children under the age of 17 were being raised in households where one of the parents is not Jewish.
On the other hand, Tucson also had the lowest perception of antisemitism in its midst of any Jewish community in the United States. Jews did not find any kind of discrimination in the areas that were of concern in previous decades: housing, employment, areas of recreation. In the 1980s four of the seven members of the State Board of Regents were Jewish (these are gubernatorial appointees), and in the 1990s the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court was also Jewish. The year's major societal charity event in Tucson, the Angel Ball, is totally non-discriminatory.
L. Dinnerstein, "From Desert Oasis to the Desert Caucus: The Jews of Tucson," in: M. Rischin and J. Livingston (eds.), Jews of the American West (1991), 136–63; Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, A Roadmap for the Future: The 2002 Population Study & Tucson's Jewish Community Planning.