Temple Emanu-El of Tucson: Arizona’s First Synagogue

Temple Emanu-El of Tucson


Before 1910, the Jewish men in Tucson conducted High Holy Day services in halls, stores or homes.

As often happened in the Wild West, Jewish women took the lead in wanting a synagogue structure. In this case it was the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society.

Rabbi Martin Zielonka, a circuit rabbi from El Paso inspired the leaders of the Tucson Jewish Community to start plans for a synagogue in 1904.

The ladies led the way with luncheons, bridge parties, teas, bazaars and a Purim Ball.

This was a pattern throughout the West. Men would first meet for High Holy Day services in rented locations. When men were able to support a family and bring their brides to the community, it was the usually the women who led the movement for a synagogue building.

Tucson's Stone Street Synagogue Post Card

Tucson’s Stone Street Synagogue Post Card

The First Building

Early in 1910 the Hebrew Benevolent Society was created to plan the new synagogue structure.

In June the cornerstone was laid with ceremonies lead by the local Masonic Grand Lodge.

On Rosh Hashanah, 1910, the “Stone Avenue Synagogue” became first Jewish house of worship in the Arizona Territory — Temple Emanu-El.

Rabbi E. M. Chapman of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was invited to lead the dedication and conduct High Holy Day services – after which he accepted a one-year contract as religious leader of the new synagogue.

In the 1930s, congregants differed over Reform and Traditional practices. The temple’s board tried for years to unite the two factions.

Unsuccessful, in 1936 Temple Emanu-El gave their nearby Community Center to the new Conservative congregation, Anshei Israel.


First Interracial service held at Stone Avenue location of Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, 1947

First Interracial service held at Stone Avenue location of Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, 1947

The Second Building

Rabbi Joseph Gumbiner arrived in 1941 and started discussions of building a new, much larger Temple Emanu-El.

Discussions on the future location for Temple Emanu-El began in earnest after World War II.

In 1947, property at East 9th Street and N. Country Club Road was purchased. Construction of the Temple began in late 1948.

In 1949, Temple Emanu-El moved into the first building of its eventual complex.

1963 witnessed the community dedication of Temple Emanu-El’s building complex, including the auditorium, religious school, convocation building, and sanctuary.

Temple Emanu-El, Complex, Tucson, AZ

Temple Emanu-El, Complex, Tucson, AZ

Stone Avenue pictures provided by the Jewish History Museum of Tucson.

Temple Emanu-El of Tucson