Jewish women in Tucson and Nogales played an enormous role in keeping the Jewish community intact in these areas. Women in these communities did this through their involvement in the religious institutions, including synagogues and other places of worship. The pioneer Jewish women and the Jewish women of today in the southwest had and still have dominant roles in keeping their religion alive in Arizona. To understand the breadth of women’s involvement in the development and maintenance of the religious structure in southern Arizona, specifically Tucson and Nogales I talked to a few individuals who discussed their experiences. Esther Capin and Bette Cooper are Jewish women from Nogales who grew up there during the time when Jews were first coming to that area. Theodore (Ted) Bloom’s family has played a significant role in the history of the Jewish community in Tucson. His grandmother, mother, aunt, and now his wife have truly led the way in keeping the Jewish religious tradition alive in Tucson. Finally, Alma Bongarten lives in Tucson and shared with me information about her own role and other women’s roles in the Jewish synagogues. These people together helped me piece together a very clear vision of women’s involvement in the religious aspect of the Jewish community in southern Arizona. Their involvement includes keeping the religion alive without the presence of a temple, building the first synagogue in Arizona, generally being active members of the temples, bringing the lost traditions back, and by being more present in the synagogues as religious leaders and figures.
Jewish women in early Tucson and presently in Nogales have kept their religion alive without the presence of a synagogue. When Terese Marx Ferrin, Ted Bloom’s grandmother, first came to Tucson there was no temple or any place of worship for the Jews of the community. Regardless of this setback, the Jewish tradition was still present. Terese took it upon herself to keep the Torah, the religious book of Hebrew laws, in her own home. It was considered a great honor to house this sacred book. Not only did she house the Torah, but Terese would also host services at her house because of the absence of a synagogue in Tucson.