New Mexico: Jewish Historical Society

Who were New Mexico’s first Jewish residents? Where did they come from? How did they get there? Why did they come?

Whether they were Sephardic Jews avoiding the Inquisition in the 1600s and 1700s, or German Jews seeking their fortune as merchants in the mid-1800s or Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms in the late 1800s, New Mexico has a fascinating heritage to explore.

The Land of Enchantment – as the state is often described – has benefited from the talents of Jewish transplants in all walks of life: Pioneers, farmers, ranchers, merchants, military, teachers, professors, scientists, lawyers, doctors, bankers, artists, writers, musicians and retirees.

The New Mexico Jewish Historical Society (NMJHS) was founded 24 years ago to promote greater understanding and knowledge of New Mexico’s Jewish history.

It will honor two individuals at its annual meeting at 2pm, Sunday, May 17, at Congregation Beit Tikva in Santa Fe.

Keynote speaker for the meeting will be noted historian and author Henry J. Tobias. NMJHS members and the public are invited to attend the free program.

The Dr. Allan and Leona Hurst Award recognizes a person, persons, or organization that has contributed to New Mexico Jewish history, culture and community for a substantial period of time.

Recipients this year are Dorothy Corner Amsden and Lance Bell.

A 34-year Los Alamos resident, Amsden has served on the organization’s board as vice president, genealogy chair and editor of the NMJHS quarterly newsletter, Legacy. She is a retired technical editor and writer.

Santa Fe native Lance Bell, scion of the Bell family merchants in downtown Santa Fe, is a past president of the society. His tireless energy and love of New Mexico history lead him to promote its activities in spite of a demanding job.

Professor of history emeritus (University of Oklahoma) Henry J. Tobias will speak on the history of Jews in New Mexico and sign his new book “Jews in New Mexico Since World War II” (UNM Press).

An Albuquerque resident, Tobias will discuss changes in the Jewish community, its growth, institutions and the role of Jews in New Mexico life. His new book is a sequel to “A History of the Jews in New Mexico.”

Amsden is stepping down as genealogy chair after three years, and the new genealogy chair is Steve Gitomer.

Following a 35-year academic career at the University of Pennsylvania and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, he retired in 2005: “Steve has lectured and written about genealogy subjects for more than 25 years and his genealogical travels throughout the world with his wife Joyce are likely to be recounted in an article or two in future issues of Legacy.”

All issues of the NMJHS Legacy journal are online at the society’s site. The March 2009 edition’s calendar indicated these genealogy-oriented activities:

– April 26, Montefiore Cemetery cleanup (Las Vegas).

– May 3, Genealogy workshop at the Taos Jewish Center.

– May 17, Award program; speaker Henry Tobias (described above)

– In July (date to be announced), Professor Seth D. Kunin, anthropologist at the UK’s University of Durham, will speak on his book, “Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity.” Prof. Kunin works closely with the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies, and with Professor Stanley M. Hordes.

For more information and upcoming events, click here.

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