America’s Pioneer Jewish Congregations (Including One in Tucson)

America’s Pioneer Jewish Congregations (Including One in Tucson)

No question, social media can be a time sink, but sometimes you meet really interesting people on line. Today’s guest poster, Julian Preisler, falls into this category. Because the subjects he’s writing about are of great interest to me — as I think they will be to you — I’m turning my blog over to him.  Also, I was one of the people he enlisted to take pictures for his book. The publisher couldn’t use them — too many trees obscuring the facade, I think — but I can and will post them here.

Synagogue Architecture

History, genealogy, and architecture are great friends. People with an interest in one of these topics generally have an interest in several of the others, including such subtopics as dining, automobiles, fashion, and popular culture.  I’m fascinated by them all, but there is one that rises to the top: a love of synagogue architecture and history.

This goes back well over 40 years. As the child of Czech and German Holocaust survivors, I found these subjects ever present in our home, often with a Central European twist. My love for synagogue architecture started the day I began attending weekend religious school. The synagogue was a beautiful example of pure Mid-Century Modern style. During my first few years in the school, the congregation embarked on a huge expansion program. I was fascinated as the work progressed, and I marveled at how the new and the old blended so well together.

Fast forward to when I completed college with a degree in historic preservation.  Along the way, I began photographing synagogues whenever possible, documenting the old, the new, and everything in between. As the years passed, I amassed quite a collection and began to wonder what to do with all these photographs. And what about the synagogues I was unable to photograph in person? I began enriching my collection with other images, first with print photos provided by friends and congregations and then, as the Internet grew, with digital images. To make a long story short (perhaps too late now), spurred on by “encouragement” from my parents, I sought a way to share my collection and supplement my income from working as an archivist. A half-dozen books and 30-some years later, I have completed my latest work with the widest geographic scope yet.

A New Book Is Born

America’s Pioneer Jewish Congregations, published by Fonthill Media, Ltd., is part travel guide, part history book, and part photograph exhibit. My goal was to organize all of these congregations, which span our entire country and its outposts, into one easy-to-read volume. My archival training spurred my internal need for organization and clarity. The book covers the oldest continuing Jewish congregation in each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A brief history of each congregation is illustrated with color and black & white images (195 in total) of nearly all of the buildings that were used over the years.

As time passes, history can be forgotten or put away for “safe-keeping.” Since many of the vintage images have been out of the public eye for 100 years or more, they come back to life in this book. Each congregation is unique in its history, location, buildings, and the types of architecture chosen over the years. For example, Temple Emanu-El in Tucson is the oldest continuing Jewish congregation in Arizona, founded in 1910, before Arizona became a state. Their original synagogue, the Stone Avenue Temple, is a noted historic site, now serving as the Jewish Heritage Museum & Holocaust Center.

To find out more about this book and my previous titles, please visit my website:

More About Tucson’s “Jewish Church”

Me again with, as promised, pictures of the  Jewish History Museum in the Stone Avenue Temple.

Stone Avenue Temple, 2017. Was the building whitewashed? Stuccoed? Julian Preisler’s historic postcard, above, makes it look like the original was red brick.


And here’s the adjoining Holocaust History Center

The Holocaust History Center, a new addition to the Stone Avenue Temple/History Museum, is red brick, unlike the synagogue. Go figure.

Full disclosure: I am hoping to give a talk here about my family, Vienna, and Freud, a preview of the one that I will be giving at Vienna’s Freud Museum (date still to be determined). The Tucson museum does not yet know this. You heard it here first.

One Response to America’s Pioneer Jewish Congregations (Including One in Tucson)

  1. Elaine Schmerling says:

    Very nice! Hey if I can’t catch you in Vienna, maybe I can time another Phoenix trip to come and see your talk in Tucson! Great idea I hope the Tucson Museum runs with it!

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