History of TJHS
In 1980 Rabbi Jimmy Kessler of Galveston published letters 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. As a result, in March 1980 a first Gathering of interested Texans took place in San Antonio to organize the Texas Jewish Historical Society, with Rabbi Kessler as its first president. Today, the Texas Jewish Historical Society has over 550 members. Since its founding, the TJHS has sponsored and encouraged research, publications, and projects on Texas Jewish history, providing a forum for scholars, students, journalists, and genealogists.
TJHS Officers and Board of Trustees meet quarterly in cities across the state to study the Jewish history of that area and conduct its business meetings. The TJHS Annual Gathering in different cities also provides an opportunity to hear scholarly presentations, learn research skills, and hear stories about growing up Jewish in Texas. TJHS awards grants to researchers and organizations for documenting or preserving Texas Jewish history. The TJHS Speakers Bureau provides recommendations for presenters at events and conferences. TJHS also organizes travel tours that focus on the history of Jewish communities in the United States and other countries. Since 2020, TJHS has utilized Zoom for its Board Meetings and Speakers Bureau, expanding its reach and potential for members to participate across the state as well as out-of-state.
The TJHS Collection was established at the Briscoe Center for American History, at the University of Texas at Austin. This Collection contains the administrative records of the Texas Jewish Historical Society, as well source materials; documents; and family, community, and organization histories, dating from 1824 to the present. TJHS maintains a web-database of Texas Jewish burials which is updated with any Jewish persons buried in the state. TJHS prepares documentation of Jewish cemeteries in an effort to earn historic designation from the Texas Historical Commission. TJHS has also supported the Houston Jewish History Archive, a collaborative effort between Rice University’s Program in Jewish Studies and the Woodson Research Center in the Rice University Fondren Library.
- TJHS TRAVELING PHOTO EXHIBIT provides historical photographs of Jewish life in Texas, loaned temporarily to qualifying organizations.
- In partnership with the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures Museum 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 faced and overcome by Jews throughout Texas.
- A TJHS-sponsored project — VIRTUAL RESTORATION OF SMALL TOWN SYNAGOGUES IN TEXAS — provides an opportunity to retrace the experience of Jewish people in a number of small communities that no longer have a Jewish presence.
- TJHS has supported and publicized 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.