A hidden treasure

For years I’ve driven past a small building near downtown Phoenix, never giving any thought to what might be inside. I was always on another mission — getting Lizabeth to classes at Arizona School for the Arts or making a book run at the Burton Barr Central Library.

The building was undergoing significant renovations, but I was more focused on the many changes taking place at ASA — which was transitioning at the time from using space inside a church to readying its own buildings nearby.

Now that Lizabeth has graduated, I’m eager to revisit the area so I can explore both the new ASA facilties and the other site I’d ignored all those years while rushing around in teen taxi mode. Turns out it’s the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, which houses the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society is “dedicated to preserving local Jewish history, promoting awareness of our state’s diverse history, and making local history accessible to all” — and notes that their facility is “open to all people.” Their newly renovated home is actually a 90-year-old landmark historic building.

The Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center houses a museum gallery, which currently features an Arizona centennial exhibit titled “New Frontiers: Jewish Pioneers in the Arizona Territory.” The centennial exhibit runs through Feb., 2012. Folks who visit the center’s website can enjoy an online gallery, and read about future exhibit plans.

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society offers two curriculum packets tied to the centennial exhibit — one for 4th grade students (tied to standards in Arizona history) and another for junior high school students (tied to standards in Arizona history and westward expansion). Lessons feature primary sources, including documents, photographs and more.

As Arizona continues to grapple with diversity-related issues, it’s important to remember the diversity of early settlers who built our state — including the many Jews whose work in mining, agriculture, commerce and other fields was integral to settling the American West.

— Lynn

Coming up: Family circus, Jewish film festivals

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