Nate Arnold is a bona-fide history buff, specifically Cleveland Jewish history.
With his intense interest in all things historical, Cleveland and Jewish, many of his volunteer endeavors revolve around those three things.
Known as “a guide to Jewish Cleveland,” Arnold is known to lead bus tours of Jewish Cleveland, impersonate historical Jewish characters like Theodor Herzl and volunteer at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage as a docent. He’s also been to Israel 14 times, is a founder of Sigma Alpha Mu at Miami University and volunteered for the Soviet Jewry movement.
“I have always volunteered when I am able because I’ve never been financially able to do give back,” Arnold said. “So, this is my way of making a difference.”
CJN: Why did you decide to do tours of Jewish Cleveland?
Arnold: I started volunteering at the Maltz Museum in 2005. In 2007, the Maltz received a call from the Mandel JCC. They wanted someone to be a tour guide of historic Jewish Cleveland. The (museum's) director of volunteers at the time recommended I call the JCC and see if I can handle the project for them. The first one I did I received payment for, but from then on, I was strictly a volunteer. And I’ve led tours ever since.
I started doing most of my tours through the JCC and eventually did them for other organizations like Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Temple Emanu El and NCJW/Cleveland. I also arrange tours for family reunions and special events.
I really enjoy it tremendously. I get a big kick out of it. I’ve always been a volunteer. My first endeavor was at 12 years old, where my friends and I organized something to benefit the polio fund. We raised $100 for it with a carnival in my backyard.
CJN: What fascinates you about history?
Arnold: I am a fifth-generation Clevelander on my mother’s side and I’ve always been interested in my family and the history of Jewish Cleveland. It’s very fascinating to me and I’ve done a lot of research in that area about my own family and finding out what they’ve done. They owned apartment buildings in the olden days, where they housed immigrants from the old country. Many of those immigrants have gone on to do amazing things in our community.
So, it’s really about finding those connections for me. That is what originally got me started in this.
CJN: Why is giving back to the community an important part of your retirement?
Arnold: I’ve always wanted to be involved, but I couldn’t afford to make large donations. This is my way of giving back. All of my endeavors, besides the polio fund, have been Jewish-related. It’s my part of being Jewish and it’s also about having something to do.
I always looked forward to retirement and always dreamed of it. I just get a kick out of it and I have a lot of fun. Volunteering is my way of giving back to the wonderful life I’ve had here in Cleveland.
CJN: How does your Jewish identity play into your involvement?
Arnold: I call it “my thing.” It’s what I enjoy. My wife was a great Jewish educator and I followed her to Jewish educators conferences all over the country. That is when I learned to do impersonations of famous people in Jewish history like Theodor Herzl. (Judaism) is just integral for me. I incorporate the Jewish history of Cleveland into everything. I can’t really separate my Jewish identity from what I do.
CJN: Do you have a favorite volunteering memory?
Arnold: Probably the visits on my tours to the old Euclid Avenue Temple. It’s now the Liberty Hill Baptist Church. The building is very well kept and it’s a very nice church. And I know a lot of people who grew up at that temple. Many people haven’t been back there for years, and it’s always exciting to take people there to remember. It’s a true treasure. As you go into these old synagogues, you’ll see the Star of David on the pews and all over the place. A lot of those symbols still remain, and those symbols refer to early Christian tradition. After all, Christianity is an outgrowth of Judaism and that fascinates me. The whole thing is just fun and very interesting for me. I try to make it as interesting as I can for other people too. The best thing I can get from it is a nice, warm “thank you” in the end.
Arnold said as long as he remains healthy and active, being the community’s connection to historical Jewish Cleveland is something he wants to continue to do.
“I want to be with people somehow, someway,” he said. “I was a docent at the Maltz Museum for a long time and now I’m preparing to go back. It may boil down to that’s all I can do eventually, but at least I will be doing something. I’d be happy to do it. I’d never be able to just do nothing. I have to be in front of people and be able to talk, teach and act. It’s all the same thing. Presenting information to people so they enjoy it. That’s what I do.”