In 1980 Rabbi Jimmy Kessler of Galveston published a letter in The Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston and in The Texas Jewish Post of Dallas/Fort Worth calling for the creation of a historical society to preserve the history of the Texas Jewish Experience. The first Gathering took place in San Antonio in March of 1980. The Texas Jewish Historical Society was organized with Rabbi Kessler as its first president. Read Rabbi Kessler’s article in the Texas Handbook Online(link is external).
Over the last 38 years, the Texas Jewish Historical Society has sponsored and encouraged research as well as provided a forum for scholars and students of Texas Jewish History. The Society Board meets quarterly in cities across the state to study the Jewish history of that area and conduct its business meetings. The Annual Gathering provides an opportunity to hear scholarly presentations, learn research skills and hear stories about growing up Jewish in Texas. The quarterly magazine is distributed to all of our members and to many University libraries, museums and archives worldwide. A permanent TJHS archive of source materials, documents, family, community and organizational histories has been established at The University of Texas in Austin as part of the Center for American History Collection. Several members of TJHS contributed articles to the recently revised, six-volume, HANDBOOK of TEXAS.
The TJHS has been instrumental in erecting several historical markers and has published the book, Deep in the Heart: Lives and Legends of Texas Jews. The Society also published a valuable book for genealogists documenting Jewish burials throughout the state. It is also on our website. It has also supported films and videos such as West of Hester Street about the Galveston Jewish immigration movement, This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale about Houston’s Riverside neighborhood, and At Home On The Range, Jewish Life in Texas, a video broadcast on PBS television.
Virtual Restoration of Small Town Synagogues in Texas can be viewed on the Internet, at: Synagogues This unique project provides an opportunity to retrace the experience of Jewish people in a number of small communities that no longer have a Jewish presence.
The Society participates in the Texas State Historical Commission contest by sponsoring prizes for essays on Jewish history.
In partnership with the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures Museum(link is external) in San Antonio, TJHS provided research materials and funding for a completely refurbished exhibit, SHALOM Y’ALL – THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE IN TEXAS. This museum is visited by thousands of school children and adults who gain a greater understanding of our culture, history and the challenges we have faced and overcome.
The Society is not just for this generation, but for many generations to come who deserve to know of their Texas Jewish heritage. Writing a history is one of those acts that add to the Jewish collective memory. The Talmud records the folktale of Honi the circle drawer, who learned an important lesson from watching an elderly man plant a carob tree. “You’ll not benefit from your efforts, old man, it will be long after your death when the tree gives its fruit.” The elderly man answered, “Of course, but I do this work for my children and my students and their posterity, not for myself”.