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Jewish Relations

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John Peck, 52, is the senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. A Tucson native, he is in charge of community planning, communications and community relations for the federation. He's well-known around town; in his previous career, he worked for Pulitzer Newspapers, Inc., for 18 years, retiring in 1991 as the managing editor of the Arizona Daily Star.


Tell me about the Jewish Federation.

The Jewish Federation has been known for years as the central address for the Jewish community. A number of years ago, it went through a process of decentralization. Agencies including the Jewish Community Center, the Tucson Hebrew Academy ... and others were owned by the federation, and the budgets and operations were all centralized. But we the agencies were decentralized, and they developed their own corporate structures. The federation continues to have a close relationship with them; they're beneficiary agencies. Money raised through our annual campaign goes to support them. ... The federation conducts an annual campaign that raises money for both the local programs as well as overseas programs and allocations. We raised $3 million last year. There's also the Department of Jewish Education and Identity, with adult and child education, and the Jewish Community Relations Council. We deal with interfaith projects, hunger programs, clothing drives, toy drives and other service projects. We also have the Jewish Community Foundation, the Arizona Jewish Post ... and we run jewishtucson.org.


I see. That's a lot.

We bring those pieces together. My role in community programming is to be the staff professional for strategic planning and community planning for the federation. We also just delivered a report--a substantive population study of the Jewish population of Southern Arizona. For the first time, we looked and where the population is and where service needs are. It's something that came out of a strategic planning process that was started about four years ago.


Any interesting findings in the study?

We have a high percentage of single-person households and a high percentage of interfaith marriages. We also have a growing population, where nationwide, the population is shrinking.


Why do you think the community growing here?

The community generally is growing in Tucson, Jewish and non-Jewish. It's growing for everybody.


Has the federation taken a stance on the war?

No. The federation hasn't taken a stance. The Jewish people are not a monolith in their views or opinions. There is a rich diversity. We are supportive of basic social service issues. Our Israeli emergency fund drive raises money to support victims of terror in Israel. The issue of terror is of deep importance for the world and for our community, because of our connection to Israel and our history. Jews are among the most preeminent victims of terrorism. ... Israel was not one of the countries that was an active partner in the decision to go into Iraq. But Israel has a historic and symbiotic relationship with the United States. The federation is made up of so many different facets. It's a family. We support and cheerlead and argue and help and offer constructive critical insights with each other.


Personally, do you have a position you'd like to share?

(Long pause.) I pray daily for peace, and I have for a very long time. And I am afraid I will have to continue for a long time. I am concerned; every life is important, and every life lost is important.


Have there been any threats to the community since the war push started?

No. It won't surprise you to hear that we're generally pretty vigilant. We've had reason to be more sensitive to those issues on a regular basis, along with a lot of other minority populations. Not a week goes by that we don't get some sort of pointed letter expressing hate and ill wishes. Each time, it's a disappointment. But I am not as surprised as I used to be. We're always prepared for a crisis. Every year, before the major holidays, the Community Relations Council sends out advisories to agencies, synagogues and temples, telling them to make sure their doors are locked and that they have security precautions and heightened sensitivity. But there have been no specific threats in the last few weeks.


Anything else?

The Jewish community is a family, but we're also a part of the bigger community, which is also a family, although its squabbles and its arguments often become more pointed and dangerous. If all of us focused on the idea of wanting a world of justice and mercy, we'd get to that place a lot faster, with a lot less terror.

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