City Week

History From the Crypt

Jewish Pioneers of Southern Arizona Cemetery Tour

10 a.m., next Thursday, Dec. 27

Evergreen Cemetery, 3015 N. Oracle Road


It's not often that people look up at a street sign and wonder how the street got its name, or walk into a building and wonder who designed and built it. Sometimes the past is disregarded, and the minds and hands that shaped Tucson as we know it are ignored.

This city was built by a mixture of cultures. And a tour of Evergreen Cemetery will focus on the influence of Jews in the making of Tucson.

"Tucson is so multifaceted because the people who played a role in its modeling were multifaceted," said Barry Friedman, a historian and president of Tucson's Jewish History Museum. "History helps you understand why certain people are the way they are, and places look the way they look."

It is one thing to go to a museum and view artifacts, old clothing and vintage photos. But to stand in front of people's graves while learning about their legacies makes history much more personal.

"It is like their spirits are right there with us," Friedman said. "The feeling is so different when you talk about them and they're, if you may, right there with you."

Friedman has led the cemetery tour for the past couple of years. For about an hour, he takes people on a walk among the graves of Jewish pioneers and indulges them with stories.

Among those whom Friedman will discuss are the city's the first Jewish major, Charles Strauss; the Drachman family (yes, as in Drachman Street), and the people who helped bring the University of Arizona to Tucson.

"I truly enjoy teaching people about our history," Friedman said. "These are people that not many locals know about. This tour is about learning about each other, learning about our town, and learning about our diversity in a very interesting environment."

Admission is $10. —I.T.

Santa Up Close

Annual Poets' Square Roof Top Santa Show

6:30 and 8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 23

Poets' Square Neighborhood, Fifth Street and Columbus Boulevard


The residents of the Poets' Square neighborhood grasp the concept of community. The neighborhood has been occupied by many of the same families for decades. Together, they have nurtured a holiday tradition that has been passed down from household to household.

Twenty-four years ago, Dr. Donald Saelens, his wife, and another neighbor created the Roof Top Santa Neighborhood Show. They approached other neighbors with the idea, and more than 25 people agreed to participate.

"Dr. Saelens headed the show for 12 years, and he then decided to pass the badge down to my husband," said Susan Modisett, one of the organizers of the Poets' Square Roof Top Santa Show. "The first year we ran it, we had it at our house, and we've moved it from house to house since then."

Despite changes among the organizers, the event remains true to the late Dr. Saelens' vision. He would often talk about how his parents would drive him around Iowa, his home state, so he could look for Santa among the rooftops. So when Saelens created the Poets' Square show, he wanted it to take place on a rooftop.

The 30-minute musical skit begins with Santa singing on the roof, then sliding down the chimney into the house and acting out the Christmas story of Jesus' birth. Afterward, children and their families can meet Santa, eat treats with him, snap photos and plead for what they want for Christmas.

The neighborhood starts planning the show weeks in advance. Nearly everyone living in Poets' Square has had a part in bringing the tradition to life.

"It shows how neighbors can come together and work together to bring something good to our community," Modisett said.

The event is free, but visitors are encouraged to bring canned food for the Community Food Bank.—I.T.

'Tis The Season for Jazz

Tucson Jazz Institute Winter Concert

3 to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 23

Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd.


The Tucson Jazz Institute has a lot to celebrate this year: Its TJI Ellington Big Band was named the top high school big band in the U.S., and the top community big band, by Downbeat magazine and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

TJI bands have traveled around the country this year, performing before thousands in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But now, the rehearsals are focused on the annual TJI Winter Concert.

"These young musicians have accomplished a lot this year," said Scott Black, co-founder and combo/improvisation director of the Tucson Jazz Institute. "At this concert, we'll be celebrating those accomplishments with Tucson, the community we represent everywhere we go."

TJI, formerly known as the Jazz Academy, has nurtured local jazz talent for the past 10 years and developed a national, as well as local, fan base. The musicians and singers at TJI range from middle school students to high school students. Many of them have been with the institute for years, with their lives revolving around jazz.

TJI hosted its first winter concert the same year it opened its doors. It is one of the many ways the institute has found to showcase members' talents.

"We are constantly trying to figure out different ways to keep the momentum going, and keep our shows exciting," Black said.

This year's winter concert will feature six big bands performing jazz from the 1930s to the 1960s. There's also a jazz choir, and three smaller bands will perform jazz arrangements of holiday music.

"Our winter concert and the other performances we have throughout the year has helped us gain a loyal fan base," Black said.

Admission is $15 to $20; and free for seniors and children younger than 12. —I.T.

Tucson Reborn

Global Birth Day

10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 22

Reid Park Demeester Outdoor Performance Center, 900 S. Randolph Way

(770) 330-6880;

Lots of people have been wondering if the world is going to end on Friday, Dec. 21, because that's when the Mayan calendar supposedly stops.

But Birth 2012, a so-called "Global Birth Day," holds the opposite view.

"We're right at that moment when there are problems that can apparently destroy our entire life-support system," according to a video about the event from Barbara Marx Hubbard, a futurist, author and public speaker who created the concept of The Synergy Engine, a global online networking platform. "But there's another way of looking at the very same fact. ... Joining together, we can 'gentle' the birth of a universal humanity and guide our Earth community into its next evolutionary stage."

In other words, despite global warming, unsustainable human population growth and overconsumption, all hope is not lost. In the midst of such scary, world-altering phenomena, some folks—like the Rev. Angel, a protégée of Barbara Marx Hubbard—are creating a new, optimistic vision of our future.

And they're doing it here the very day after the infamous Dec. 21 with Birth Tucson 2012. "We are a movement committed to creating an evolutionary shift of consciousness," the Rev. Angel said on the event's website.

Most of the activities in the daylong event will be housed in a huge and colorful "Wheel of Co-creation Tent." The tent will feature exhibits and workshops, a performance stage featuring local bands, arts and crafts, healing sessions and more.

The evening schedule includes performances by a children's choir, Tohono O'odham dancers and a mariachi band, and a sacred hoop dance by Tony Redhouse. The event also includes a laser light show.

The event is free and open to all. —A.M.

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