A Reform Jewish Community for all of Tucson
February 21, 2014 - Rodeo Shabbat
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ
Shabbat Shalom, and Howdy Folks—it's Rodeo Shabbat here in Tucson, and this is always a fun way to celebrate the Sabbath. There is nothing that says "Arizona" more than Rodeo Shabbat, a unique part of our twin heritage as southwesterners and Jews. We have been a big part of this region of the country for many years. There were Jews, mostly secret ones, conversos, who rode in with the Spanish explorers, and there were Jewish settlers early, both on the Mexican side of the border and what was eventually the American one. Many of you know that Nogales, Arizona, where a number of our faithful congregants come from, was founded by a Jewish man named Jacob Isaacson as a trading post in 1880. He set up his store straddling the border so he wouldn't have to pay duty on merchandise to either country. Eventually his little settlement became two separate but conjoined municipalities divided by a national border, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, and Nogales, Arizona. It was the Post Office that eventually changed the name from Isaacson to Nogales. More about Nogales later...
Jews were active in these very western parts in famous places like Tombstone, where there is a Jewish cemetery at Boot Hill—perhaps we should we call that one Yarmulkeh Hill?—that the late Fred and Gert Rosen, a past president of Temple and president of the Sisterhood, helped renovate. And Jews were sheriffs and mayors in Tucson—sometimes they still are—and elsewhere around Arizona. There were Jewish miners and shop owners and, yes, cowboys, although there likely far more peddlers than there were gunmen.