temple wide

Yom Shishi, 12 Tishri 5779

Restoration Campaign Update...

By Temple Emanuel’s architect, David Hoffman. The article was the winning submittal in the 2004 Sylvia Wolens Jewish Heritage Writing Competition as administered by the Texas Jewish Historical Society. It will be published in the Society’s Journal. The listing of contributors, with updates, will return in the August Bulletin.


A Divine Collaboration

By David Hirsch Hoffman, FAIA


            Throughout history, human inspiration in many forms has manifested great things upon which our civilization has been built. Inspired vision captivates our intellect and moves us forward to greater heights of awareness. Inspired design produces buildings of pure function with integrity of form in which we find sustenance. Inspired art yields objects of beauty that invoke our wonderment and ignite our emotions. Individually, each inspiration can be a subtle influence on our lives. Collectively, they can have a powerful effect on generations. In the early 1920’s, the thoughts and talents of three inspired individuals combined to produce a magnificent and enduring house of worship in Beaumont, Texas. They were Rabbi Samuel Rosinger, architect Albert S. Gottlieb and artist Ze’ev Raban. And together, in the creation of Beaumont’s Temple Emanuel, these gifted men comprised a divine collaboration.


            The Temple Emanuel congregation in Beaumont, which grew out of an 1887 minyan, was actually formed in 1895 and originally consisted of fifty members. With the influx of people due to the discovery of deep oil at nearby Spindletop and the resultant boomtown economy, the congregation grew and they soon sought their own edifice. Their first temple structure was dedicated in December of 1901 and was a handsome frame structure with gothic windows, intersecting barrel vaults and twin onion domes flanking a Palladian entry. Rabbi Rosinger, then thirty-three years old, joined the congregation in 1910 after responding to an advertisement which listed their search priority for “ a good lecturer who can make himself agreeable with either Orthodox or Reform Congregation. In other words, we want a MIXER”.   Their unanimous selection of Rosinger proved to be a wise one as he successfully administered to Temple Emanuel for over fifty years.


            Born in Hungary in 1877, Rosinger attended universities in several European cities ultimately receiving a degree in philosophy and German literature. He emigrated through New York in 1904 where he pursued a master’s degree at Columbia University and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1908. His first pulpit was in Toledo, Ohio where he served for two years before engaging with Temple Emanuel in Beaumont. From the outset, he was a strong presence. As he later wrote, “ I gave them to understand right then that they were engaging not a lackey, but a leader whose specialty was religion. And Judaism is not a petrified creed, but a way of life; its interpretation and application must be left to the rabbi’s judgment.”


            At the urging of Rabbi Rosinger, when it was time to begin actual planning for the construction of a new temple to serve the growing congregation, a New York architect, Albert Gottlieb, was selected for the commission. Gottlieb had authored several papers on synagogue design, had published in The American Hebrew and made a presentation on the subject to the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1916.

His main design premise was that houses of worship for the practice of Judaism should express a spirit unique to its faith and embody in its physical form and detailing those qualities which best represent the characteristics of the religion: “solemnity, dignity, grandeur, nobility and withal simplicity and clarity.”


            Prior to World War I, American synagogue design had developed a pattern of emulating the styles of the churches in their local environments. The synagogue building had in effect assimilated with Western culture to the extent that there were few outward design expressions to distinguish it. The oldest surviving synagogue in the United States, the Touro Synagogue (1763) in Newport, Rhode Island is a good example. It is simplistically Georgian in style and is patterned after a Colonial meetinghouse. In Charleston, South Carolina, the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue (1843) was a Greek Revival structure utilizing, of all ironies, the Greek temple form. During the last half of the 19th century, the predominant style for temples and synagogues was in the Moorish/Islamic tradition. One of the most elaborate examples of this style is the Central Synagogue (1872) in New York City.


            Upon entering the 20th century, the styles were often mixed combining architectural elements from multiple origins. The first Temple Emanuel in Beaumont (1901) is an example of such an amalgam. It incorporated twin onion domes in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic tradition, gothic windows from the medieval period and a classically inspired symmetrical entryway. It was architecture born of the Diaspora which reflected the local culture of past experiences but it lacked Jewish expression. While Gottlieb recognized that this design emulation was evidence of the remarkable adaptability of the Jewish people, he also strongly felt that a religion that had stayed true to fundamental principles and traditions for so many centuries should have more of an expression of its own timeless spirit. It was against this backdrop that Albert Gottlieb sought to change the direction of synagogue design. Rabbi Rosinger, himself a forward thinker, eagerly provided support and encouragement in enabling Gottlieb to apply his design theories to the plan for the new Temple Emanuel.


            In a prelude to the actual design of the building itself, Rosinger and Gottlieb confronted their first planning consideration. Gottlieb was concerned that the configuration of the property purchased for the new building was an obstacle to efficient design. He wrote “…it is next to impossible to plan a building in which the seats face the East and still have a good arrangement for the building, not only                               from an architectural standpoint but also from a practical one”. While Rabbi Rosinger believed in the traditional orientation of worshiping toward Jerusalem with the ark located on the east wall of the sanctuary, he deferred to higher authorities and suggested that the architect contact Dr. Cyrus Adler, president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rosinger’s alma mater. This was a wise action on the part of the rabbi because, by deferring to others, he avoided a direct challenge to the preferences of the designer and consequently preserved a respectful and cooperative relationship between them. Adler, the administrator, referred the matter to Louis Ginzberg, the professor. Ginzberg was a highly respected author and professor of Talmud at the Seminary for over fifty years. He formulated a scholarly and concise but conclusive reply and referred to the “high antiquity” of the custom that originated in the Bible and is later reinforced by Talmudic interpretations and later Codes. The matter was then settled by the momentary but consequential participation of yet another collaborator, Ginzburg, in the design of Temple Emanuel. Both Rosinger and Gottlieb accepted his interpretation and proceeded to plan for the detailed design of the building whose congregation would pray to the east in the traditional orientation.


            Gottlieb sought to instill a Jewish identity in the design for his synagogue buildings. He rejected inappropriate and irrelevant architectural styles of the recent past and attempted to reinforce the religious character of his buildings through the use of architectural detailing. Even though Gottlieb’s overall exterior design for Temple Emanuel incorporated a modified Byzantine Revival style, characterized by an octagonal dome topped by a cupola, massive planar brick walls and selectively placed stone detailing, he remained true to his design precepts. He incorporated the tablets of Moses and the Star of David in both copper and stone that give the building his intended identifiable Jewish expression. A biblical inscription in cut stone over the entryway furthers the religious identity.


            Based on Gottlieb’s precepts, the rabbi and the architect conceived that the great domed sanctuary would be planned around an awe-inspiring and magnificent design feature whose symbolism would embody Jewish experience and virtues. They mutually decided that the symmetry of the octagonal sanctuary space would be dramatically reinforced by six massive leaded glass windows that would represent not only a high level of aesthetics but convey a rich sense of spirituality as well. To that end, they enlisted the talents of the third major collaborator in the design of Temple Emanuel, the artist Ze’ev Raban.


            Born Wolf Rawicki in 1890 in Lodz, Poland, Raban made aliyah to Palestine in 1912. Prior to that time, he had received training in the decorative arts in several of the cultural centers in Europe including Munich, Brussels and Paris. He was a complex artist who was exposed to extensive aesthetic influences and had produced a wealth of artistic expressions in a wide variety of media. As a member of the Belazel School of Arts and Crafts, he dedicated himself to the renewal of Hebrew art in Palestine. Much of his work was deliberately focused on strengthening the identity of an emerging Jewish state through the revival and artistic expression of Jewish symbolism. This emphasis was so consistent with the design goals of the Temple Emanuel undertaking and it must have been with the greatest of anticipation and expectation that the rabbi and the architect solicited the creative genius of the artist to join them in their pursuit.


            While the precise details of the interaction between the three dedicated men are unknown, the testament to their collaboration exists in the glorious statements in leaded glass that flank the central body of the sanctuary. The arched windows, each six feet wide by fifteen feet tall, are best described in the words of Rabbi Rosinger:

“It was with keen knowledge of Jewish history and pencil and brush handled with appreciation of the best in art that these windows came to be. Each window has a pronounced meaning. Centralized in each design is a single theme. Each panel is at once a delight to the eyes and a study, a liberal education in its particular phase of Bible history.” The principal figure in each of the windows is one of the six prophets: Jeremiah, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Moses and Ezekial. There is a wealth of other representation contained in the smaller detailing of the windows depicting biblical events and Jewish symbols.


            The second commandment reads “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath”. This dictate has been widely interpreted throughout history to not necessarily forbid the integration of human and animal representation in synagogue decoration but rather was offered to prevent idolatry and the actual focus of worship on those symbols. Examples of such decoration are plentiful and date back to the ancient past. It is clear that Rabbi Rosinger placed a high value on the aesthetic importance of the building’s decoration when he sanctioned Gottlieb’s design of the sanctuary being dominated by the windows and, with the solicitation of Raban’s participation, committed to the highest level of artistic manifestation. The traditional representation of elements with the lack of abstraction, the richness of the colors, the visual depth created by the unique pattern of texture to the glass and the placement of the windows in the appropriately scaled room combine to create a powerful expression. It is one that genuinely supplicates the worshiper and effectively facilitates a prayerful environment.


            Rabbi Rosinger had a very strong sense of the self-worth of the individual. In a sermon entitled “Man Can Become Godlike”, he once wrote, ““Man can rise to divine heights…Man is born fit to become the companion of God. He can rise to be the co-worker of the Creator.” With divine guidance, the rabbi, the architect and the artist all collaborated to collectively seek this level of attainment. In doing so, they brought into existence a house of worship of national significance and international prominence that inspires Jewish faith and will continue to serve its lofty purpose for many generations.

A Brief History of the Early Beaumont Jewish Community

By W. T. Block

(Originally published in The Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record in November 1984)

Dedicated to the late Rabbi N. J. Friedman, D.D., D. Th. 1

As strange as it may seem, not all early American states and colonies treated Jews as their equals. As far back as 1700, there is no record of differential treatment of Jews in South Carolina, whereas the state of Maryland saddled them with legal disabilities until 1825.2 Early Beaumont, Texas, like Charleston, South Carolina, offered an amenable and equitable climate for Jews to compete, and although Jewish settlement here came comparatively late, it quickly flourished.

Those Jews entering Texas during the 1840’s usually remained in Galveston and by 1867 had established a synagogue there. As economic opportunity developed elsewhere in Texas, many migrated from the Island City. Simon Wiess, a Beaumont merchant in the year 1838, is generally credited as having been the first Jew to arrive in Jefferson County. Wiess, however, married a Presbyterian, and apparently abandoned his Mosaic faith after his arrival in Texas.3 Except for itinerant wagon peddlers,4 no other Jews are known to have arrived in Beaumont until 1878, when Morris J. Loeb moved his family here and opened a cigar store.5 Wolf Bluestein and J. Solinsky settled in Orange in 1876. 6

1During the writer’s undergraduate years at Lamar University, Dr. Friedmann assisted him immensely in the fields of Colonial American Judaism, Jewish criminality, and Jewish juvenile delinquency.

The writer wishes to express appreciation to Mrs. Henrietta Galewsky and Mr. Lawrence Blum for checking this manuscript for accuracy of substance.

2O. Handlin, Adventure in Freedom: Three Hundred Years of Jewish Life in America (New York: 1954), p. 18; Lee Levinger, History of the Jews in the United States (Cincinnati: 1930), p. 91; 3. R. Marcus, Early American Jewry (Philadelphia: 1951), II, 67, 231; C. Reznikoff. The Jews of Charleston (Philadelphia: 1950), p.4.

3W. T. Block, “From Cotton Bales to Black Gold: A History of the Pioneer Wiess Families of Southeast Texas,” The Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, Vol. VIII (Nov., 1972), 39-60.

4Apparentiy Simon Goldman and Mordecai Primrose were two Jewish wagon peddlers who sold their wares in the town and countryside between 1845-1850. See Record of Retail Licenses, 1839-1851, Jefferson County, Texas, Archives.

5Unpublished manuscript, Lawrence Blum et al., “Founders and Builders, 1878-1923,” pp.2-3, copy owned by the writer.

6Tenth Census of the United States, 1880, City of Orange, Texas. For a list of some of the early Jews of Orange, see Galveston Daily News, May 24, 1896.

As the first Beaumonter to conduct Jewish services in his home, Loeb was to establish many ‘firsts’ for the city’s Jewish community. By the time of his death in 1908, he and his family had won the respect of all Beaumonters for their high moral standards, but his earliest years in this city may have been somewhat less placid. On at least one occasion, he “was threatened and told that the Community had no Jews and wanted none,” but this appears to have been a single or isolated instance. By 1881, Beaumonters viewed the arrival of other Jews as a foretoken of better days ahead.7

In 1881, a New Orleans newspaper observed: “Seven new stores have been built in Beaumont in the past forty days, and a number of Israelite merchants have settled here, a sure precursor of the prosperity which is to follow.”8 Before 1890, the term ‘Israelite’ was the common journalist jargon for Jew.

Late in 1880, Henry Solinsky and Morris Hecht of Orange, as partners, opened a store in Beaumont. They were soon followed in 1881 by Sid J. Levy, who opened the “Red Store;” Leon R. Levy, who founded the “Lone Star Store;” and a Jewish widow, Mrs. A. Schwerin, who operated a boarding house. Louis Schwartz arrived in partnership with Charles Oulif, but he soon bought out his partner. In the same year, D. Gordon built a store on Pearl Street.9

When Wolf Bluestein moved to Beaumont in 1881, Solinsky severed his ties with Hecht and re-entered business with Bluestein. Both men contributed to the performing arts within the city. In April, 1881, when the Blanchette Hall was remodeled and a new opera house was built, Solinsky bought it the following August and immediately left for New York in search of vaudeville talent. In October, the Bluestein Opera House opened on the second floor of the partners’ new brick building at Tevis and Forsythe Streets. It remained in use until the Crosby Opera House was completed in 1883. 10

7See Footnote 5.

8New Orleans Democrat. September 8, 1881, microfilm reel, New Orleans Public Library; unpublished manuscript, W. T. Block, “Emerald of the Neches: The Chronicles of Beaumont, Texas, From Reconstruction to Spindletop” (Nederland: 1980), p. 301, copies in the Mary and John Oray Library, Lamar University, and Tyrrell Historical Library.

9”Emerald of the Neches,” pp. 176, 232-234, 236, 238; for Leon R. Levy’s “Lone Star Store,” see Beaumont Enterprise, Sept. 10 and Oct. 8, 1881; see also biography, M. Hecht, Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, Souvenir, Beaumont, Texas, 1903 (Dallas: 1903), p. 53. Subsequent footnote references to the bulletins of the old Board of Trade or the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce will be abbreviated “B. C. C.

10New Orleans Democrat, August 5, 1881, mf. reel, New Orleans Public Library; “Emerald of the Neches,” pp. 238, 299; Beaumont Enterprise, Aug. 27, Sept. 3, and Oct. 15, 1881.

In September, 1881, the Beaumont Enterprise published its first reference to the Jewish holidays, noting as follows: “Today and tomorrow are Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. All the stores and places of business kept by the Israelites will be closed.”11

Three of Beaumont’s principal merchants and mill owners of 1880 were Mark, William, and Valentine Wiess, and although Gentiles themselves, they were no less sympathetic with the plight of immigrants who shared their father’s former faith.12

When Sam Lederer, a young, unmarried Jew of modest means, ar­rived in Beaumont in 1886, Val Wiess gave him immediate supervision of the grocery department of V. Wiess and Company, at that time Beaumont’s largest merchandising and insurance firm. In 1898, upon entering business for himself, Lederer returned the favor by employing a member of Wiess’ family.13

Solinsky, Bluestein, and Leon R. Levy quickly found a niche for themselves in Beaumont’s business community, and by 1889 Solinsky was a director of the new First National Bank. In 1881, only six months after his arrival in the city, he had been co-chairman of Beaumont’s annual Grand Tournament and Strawberry Festival of that year. By 1883, he was operating a cypress shingle mill. In 1888, a Galveston newspaper said of him:14

H. Solinsky is a wide-awake merchant, who by dint of fair dealing, close profits, and closer collections, has amassed quite a neat fortune. He is proud of his city and is always ready to aid in any enter­prise that will lead to the good of the town.

It would be false to imply that all of Beaumont’s Jewish merchants prospered equally, for each of them wagered his future in the marketplace even as non-Jews did. J. Feinberg entered business in Beaumont in 1887, and in 1889 he took bankruptcy, with M. Hecht as receiver, with assets of $3,000 and liabilities of $14,000. 15

11Beaumont Enterprise, Sept. 24; Oct. 1, 1881; “Emerald of the Neches,” pp. 222-223.

12See Footnote 3.

13Galveston Daily News, Feb. 15, 1888; Sabine Pass News, May 5, 1900.

14Beaumont Enterprise, June 11, 1881; Galveston Daily News, Feb. 15, 1888. Blum et al., “Founders and Builders, 1878-1923,” p. 4. in the only surviving photo of H. Solinsky known to the writer, he appears on an old horse-drawn fire engine as one of Beaumont’s first volunteer firemen of 1883.

15Galveston Daily News, Dec. 17, 1889; “Emerald of the Neches,” p. 396.

W. Bluestein was an enigmatic personage of rare talents. By the time of his death, his personal fortune equaled $75,000, a sizeable sum for that era. According to his obituary of May, 1896, he could neither read nor write, yet his competence at mental arithmetic, fractions, and compounding interest knew no peer. In his eagerness to learn to write his name, he once paid $100 to a teacher who failed his task, but Bluestein’s crude “BBX” on drafts and checks was honored by banks from Galveston to New York.

So far as is known, Bluestein and Lederer were the only early Jews of Beaumont to engage in agriculture, the latter operating a rice farm south of the city in 1900, and Bluestein being one of the first commercial rice growers of Orange County., On December 1, 1892, he shipped 100 barrels of rough rice, a part of the first boxcar of rice ever shipped from Orange.17

Leon R. Levy became fully immersed in community affairs. In October, 1886, he was one of a Beaumont committee of four who raised $20,000 nation-wide to succor hurricane sufferers at Sabine Pass. During the 1890’s, he was a director of the Beaumont Improvement Company and the First National Bank; sat on committees or served as a delegate to nominating conventions; officered fraternal orders; and won an enviable reputation as financier and philanthropist.17

In 1881 it appears that Miss Julia Loeb was the only Jewish student among the 103 pupils at the Beaumont Academy.18 By 1893, at least 35 students of the Jewish faith were enrolled in the Beaumont schools.19

The earliest Jewish services were conducted in private homes, in the Bluestein or Crosby opera houses, and later in Lederer’s grocery store, Deutser’s Furniture Company, or in the Harmony Club, located above the Central Fire Station.

16Unpublished manuscript, W. T. Block, “The Growth of the Jefferson County, Texas, Rice Industry, 1849-1910,” p. 7; Galveston Daily News, July20 and Dec. 7, 1892; Jan. 1, 1900; Block, “Emerald of the Neches,” pp. 552-553; Sabine Pass News, May 5, 1900; Port Arthur Herald, January 6, 1900; Feb. 11, 1902. See also biography of Wolf Bluestein, “A Remarkable Man,” Galveston Daily News, May 24, 1896.

17Galveston Daily News, Oct. 17, 1886; “Emerald of the Neches,” p. 369; Blum at al., “Founders and Builders,” pp. 4, 8; biography and photos, L. R. Levy, person and store, Oil Exchange and Board of Trade, Advantages and Conditions of Beaumont and Port Arthur Today, 1902, p. 81; B.C. C., Souvenir, Beaumont, Texas, 1903, p.32; standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-1909 (A. J. Peeler, Houston: 1908), pp. 99, 139, 183.

18Beaumont Enterprise, June 25, 1881; Block, “Emerald of the Neches,” p. 207.

190n the date of the enrollment of the Beaumont schools in Sept., 1893, authorities estimated that 35 or more Jewish children were absent because celebration of the Jewish high holy days was in progress. See Galveston Daily News, Sept. 13, 1893.

In lieu of a trained rabbi, S. Feinberg, W. Bluestein, and probably others, acted as lay leaders for the Jewish assemblies, the latter possessing the only Torah in Beaumont in 1881. 20

Usually, Jewish weddings were the instrument for bringing visiting rabbis to Beaumont. Beaumont’s first was that of Sam Lederer to Mildred Hirsch, the daughter of Mrs. J. J. Loeb, in February, 1889, with Rabbi Kaiser of Galveston officiating at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.21 The second was that of W. T. Smyth to Jeanette Schwerin in May, 1891. 22

Beaumont’s third Jewish wedding of record was that of Mattie Loeb to George Bliss, a young merchant, in March, 1892. Rabbi Wilner of Houston officiated at the City Hall, where “floral decorations were beautifully and tastefully arranged.”23 The weddings of’ Jake Nathan to Annette Levy, daughter of the rabbi, in 1900, and Ada Feinberg to Henry Roos in 1901 were the Jewish social events of those years.24

In 1888, of six dry goods firms doing a combined annual business of $220,000, five of them, Schwartz Brothers, H. Solinsky, L. R. Levy, F. Hecht, and E. Morris, were Jewish-owned. Levy was also in the grocery business. In 1889, Schwartz Brothers built a three-story building to enlarge their business.25

In 1889, three other Jews, R. M. Mothner, Hyman A. Perlstein, and M. H. Hirsch, settled in Beaumont, each with a favorable effect on the community, and Perlstein with only $11.90 in his pocket. Mothner became Beaumont’s second jeweler (Alfred Schwaner, the first). He became an organizer and the first president of the Jubilee Lodge, B’nai B’rith, and later of the Chamber of Commerce and the Beaumont Fair Association. In 1902 he and Peristein brought in a Spindletop gusher on a site where, earlier, Captain Anthony Lucas reputedly had been unsuccessful.26

20Blum et al., “Founders and Builders,” p. 9.

21Marriage Book A, Nr. 1281, Feb. 24, 1889, Jefferson County, Texas, Archives; Blum et al., “Founders and Builders, 1878-1923,” p. 2.

22Marriage Book A, Nr. 1441, May 27, 1891, Jefferson County, Texas, Archives.

23Marriage Book A, Nr. 1509, March 2, 1892, Jefferson County; Texas, Archives; Galveston Daily News, March 7, 1892; “Emerald of the Neches,” pp. 514-515.

24Blum et al., “Founders and Builders, 1878-1923,” pp. 5-6; Beaumont Enterprise, Jan. 24, 1901. See also photo of Mrs. Henry Roos in B. C. C., The Beaumont Country (Oct., 1913), Vol. 111, Nr. 3.

25Galveston Daily News, Apr. 12, 1889; “Emerald of the Neches,” p. 389.

26See biography of R. M. Mothner, Sabine Pass News, May 5, 1900; see also Block, “Emerald of the Neches,” p. 544; also ad and photo, R. M. Mothner, Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-1909 (Houston: 1908), pp. 101, 197; Perlstein Papers, Special Collections, Mary and John Gray Library, Lamar University.

During the 1890’s, Hirsch’s Cordova Hotel and Bar were among the showplaces of Beaumont. The latter knew no peer between Houston and New Orleans in 1895, containing 211 incandescent lights, 11 ceiling fans, 2 private wine rooms, a bar and French plate mirrors valued at $5,000, and a stock of beer, liquors, wines, and tobaccos that one might expect to find only in a northern city. In 1897, his elegant 3-story brick residence, with its oriental cupola tower, similar to those of the first synagogue, was among the most ornate of the mansions on Calder Avenue, and a photo of it survives in a 1900 edition of the Sabine Pass News. It was the first resident to be dedicated by a secret organization, the Sons of Herman.27

H. Peristein, whose career began at fifty cents a day, worked as a blacksmith for Tom Ridley until the former acquired his own shop on Pearl Street in March, 1892. By means of frugal living, he acquired real estate at a rapid pace, and assisted further by the oil boom of 1901, he built Beaumont’s first ‘skyscraper’ in 1907, at the time the tallest building between Houston and New Orleans. S. H. Kress and Company occupied the first floor of the Peristein Building for several decades.28

In April, 1897, a disastrous fire destroyed fourteen Beaumont business firms, none of them Jewish, but three Jewish dry goods stores were heavily damaged, namely F. Deutser’s on Crockett Street, Mothner Brothers, and S. Sternberg.29

27Biography of M. H. Hirsch, Sabine Pass News, May 5, 1900; ibid., for photo of H. Hirsch’s residence; see also “Emerald of the Neches,” pp. 540-541; biography and photos, Cordova Hotel Bar and Hirsch residence, Oil Exchange, Advantages and Conditions of Beaumont and Port Arthur Today, 1902, pp. 14, 83.

28Blurn et al., “Founders and Builders,” pp. 4-5; E. P. Weinbaum, Shalom, America: The Per/stein Success Story (San Antonio: 1969), pp. 1, 16; see also photo, Peristein Building, B. C. C., Beaumont: The Twentieth Century City, 1912, p. ii.

29”Big Blaze at Beaumont,” Galveston Daily News, April 18, 1897.

Other Jews settled in Beaumont during the 1890’s, but the writer often cannot furnish the exact arrival year. Among them were Louis Mayer, merchant;30 Bernard Deutser, who operated the Lone Star Furniture Company;31 A. Flaxman, merchant; Joe and Leon Rosenthal, merchants;32 E. Szafir, stationer;33 and Gus Well and L. Perl, racket store owners. Mayer also became vice-president of the Neches Oil Company. Others were Jake J. Nathan, department store owner, who arrived in 1896, and H. and S. Nathan, the city’s first pawn brokers, who came from Galveston in 1899.34

Other early arrivals, dates unknown by the writer, were Jake and Sol Gordon as well as Alex Feigelson, each of whom was to contribute substantially to Beaumont’s cultural and economic progress.

In September, 1895, the Jewish citizens organized Congregation Emanu-el, now Temple Emanuel, with officers as follows: S. Lederer, president; L. Schwartz, vice-president; H. A. Peristein, secretary; M. Hecht, treasurer; M, Alschwang, Jan. (?); and L. R. Levy, H. Hirsch, L. Schwartz, S. Feinberg, and R. M. Mothner, trustees.35 They immediately engaged Dr. Aaron Levy as the town’s first resident rabbi.36 By 1895, temporary quarters were occupied variously in the Goodhue Opera House, Deutser’s store, and the Harmony Club until the first synagogue was erected in 1901 at Broadway and Willow streets.37

30See photo and ad of L. Mayer, Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-1909, pp. 99, 187, 189.

31Biography of Bernard Deutser, Sabine Pass News, May 5, 1900; see also “Emerald of the Neches,” p. 544; biography of B. Deutser, B. C. C., Souvenir, Beaumont, Texas, 1903, p. 12; photo and ad, Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-1909, pp. 108, 205; and photo of Deutser Fur­niture Company, Beaumont: The City Awake, 1906, p. 6.

32Before moving to Beaumont, A. Flaxman was one of the earliest Jewish merchants in Orange. See Orange Tribune, Sept. 12, 1879. See also Blum et al., “Founders and Builders,” p. 4; B. C. C. Statistical Review of the Progress of Beaumont for 1925, p. 73; photo, J. Rosenthal, and ad, Rosenthal-Deutser Dry Goods Company, Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-1909, pp. 99, 194.

33Photo, Szafir’s Stationers, Souvenir, Beaumont, Texas, 1983, p. 8; also photo and ad of E. Szafir, Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1908-1909, pp. 100, 206.

345ee biographies of Jake J. Nathan and H. and S. Nathan, Sabine Pass News, May 5, 1900. See also “Emerald of the Neches,” pp. 411, 527, 538-539, 542; biography and photos, J. J. Nathan, self and store, Oil Exchange, Advantages and Conditions of Beaumont and Port Arthur Today, 1902, p. 80.

35”Organization of Temple Emanuel,” Galveston Daily News, Sept. 22, 29, 1895; photo, A. Feigelson Wagon Works, B. C. C., Beaumont, The Twentieth Century City, 1912, p. 46. For a history of the Gordon families, see also F. Weinbaum, Shalom, America.

36Biography and photo of Dr. Aaron Levy in Oil Exchange, Advantages and Conditions of Beaumont and Port Arthur Today, 1902, p. 72; Blum et a!., “Founders and Builders,” p. 9.

37Blum “Founders and Builders,” p. 9. A photo of the first Temple Emanuel synagogue, built in 1901, appears in B. C. C., Beaumont: The City Awake, 1906, p. 16; B. C. C., Beaumont: The Twentieth Century City, 1912, p. 2.

Somewhat earlier (exact date unknown) the Hebrew Women’s Benevolent Association, under Mrs. Loeb and her daughters, Mildred (Mrs. S.) Lederer and Julia (Mrs. H.) Bohrer, was organized, its goal being to act as a cemetery association, raise funds for a synagogue and charitable purposes, and sponsor social and cultural events.38

Hebrew Rest Cemetery, north of Magnolia Cemetery, was purchased and surveyed by them in September, 1897, and later was deeded to the con­gregation. As early as August, 1895, the Benevolent Society sponsored a steamboat excursion on the Neches River, complimenting various young ladies. From 1895 on, its principal activity was the annual masquerade ball at the Goodhue Opera House, attended by Jews and non-Jews alike. In 1900, the women donated $3,000 toward the installation of electric lighting and interior decorations of a synagogue.39

Rabbi Levy, as the voice of the congregation, plunged headlong into community affairs, as have his successors since then. In September, 1896, he won much acclaim from Christians for an eloquent address at the opera house, entitled “The Jews Versus Christians.” He also contributed many newspaper articles and taught a school.40

In May, 1896, both Jews and Gentiles filled the temporary quarters to watch Dr. Levy confirm the first class of eight confirmants, namely, Cipora Solinsky, Celia Hirsch, Dora Hecht, Ada Feinberg, Rebecca Hirsch, Daisy Nathan, Harry Solinsky, Leon Hecht, and Sol Gordon. Choir music was furnished by Misses Annie Morris, Sophie and Atelia Levy, Hannah Nathan, and Mr. Itzig.41

A Jewish social event of March, 1897, identifies many young unmarried males of the synagogue who were living in Beaumont at that time, as follows: Joe Solinsky, J. Frank, Itzig, S. Stern, H. Horwitz, J. Nathan, J. Gordon, Abe Solinsky, M. Alschwang, and Oswald Levy.42

38Biuin et al, “Founders and Builders,” pp. 5-6.

39Galveston Daily News, August 12, 1895; Sept. 2, 1897; and Jan. 25, 1898; Blum et al., “Founders and Builders,” p. 10.

40Galveston Daily News, Sept. 22, 1896. See also Footnote 36.

41Ibid., May 17, 24, 1896.

42Ibid., March 28, 1897.

Other early Jewish organizations included the Council of Jewish Women, organized on April 15, 1901, by Miss Jeanette Goldberg of Jefferson, Texas, vice-president of the Texas Division. Its first officers included Mrs. L. R. Levy, president; Mrs. Leo Mothner, vice-president; Mrs. Wolf Hecht, treasurer; Mrs. E. Deutser, recording secretary; and Miss Beatrice Cohn, corresponding secretary. The committee chairwomen included Mrs. M. Loeb, Mrs. H. Burkenroad, Sarah Levy, Mrs. R. M. Mothner, Mrs. J. J. Nathan, Mrs. B. N. Brown, Ida Hirschfeld, Mrs. Aaron Levy, Mrs. H. Hirsch, Mrs. M. Hecht, and Mrs. L. Goldstein, the latter’s husband being Beaumont’s first Jewish physician. Among the organization’s activities was the founding in 1903 of a circulating library, funded by an annual fee of $1.50. 43

Also in 1901, the Chamber of Commerce released a list of Beaumont’s most beautiful young women, who were selected by voting. Among them were several Jewish young ladies, as follows: Mrs. B. N. Brown, the Misses Celia and Rebecca Hirsch, Mrs. Henry Roos, and Miss Dora Hecht. 44

Although not limited to Jewish members, the charter meeting of the Order of the Sons of Herman indicated that the lodge was dominated by Jews at its beginning, perhaps because many were of Germanic origin. The first officers in April, 1897, were as follows: H. Hirsch, president; L. R. Levy, vice-president; C. A. Steinweg, secretary; M. Hecht, treasurer; Oswald Levy, conductor; M. Czarsinski, guard; and Gus Weil and S. Sternberg, directors.45

In February, 1898, Jubilee Lodge of B’nai B’rith, a Jewish men’s frater­nal order, was organized in Beaumont, its goal to sponsor social and benevolent causes. The charter members were: R. M. Mothner, president; 3. J. Solinsky, vice-president; J. J. Nathan, treasurer; M. Hecht, secretary; L. R. Levy, warden; J. Feinberg, guardian; and L. Solinsky, S. Feinberg, and L. R. Levy, trustees. In effect, it is possible to estimate approximately the date of some Jews’ arrival in Beaumont by the time their names appear in news items.46

43Blum et al., “Founders and Builders,” p. 7; “History of the Council of Jewish Women,” B. C. C., Art Souvenir-Beaumont, Texas, 1901, p. 36; “History of the Council of Jewish Women,” Oil Exchange, Advantages and Conditions of Beaumont and Fort Arthur Today, 1901, p. 56.

44B. C. C., Art Souvenir-Beaumont, Texas, 1901, p. 38.

45Galveston Daily News, April 14, 1897.

46Ibid, Feb. 16, 1898.

The Harmony Club, another Jewish men’s social order, was organized on February 19, 1899, its founder and first and second presidents being Maurice Goldstein. In January, 1901, its officers were Abe Goldsmith, president; J. S. Gordon, vice-president; Wolf Hecht, secretary; Bernard Deutser, treasurer; and Joe Rosenthal, house steward. Other members of 1901 included Charles Stern, Silvestor Greenwood, M. Hecht, W. G. Hecht, L. Solinsky, Joe Solinsky, Abe Solinsky, D. L. Goldstein, J. Goldstein, A. Zwirn, L. R. Levy, S. Lederer, E. Deutser, Louis Schwartz, Sid Levy, Sidney Mayer, Morris Levy, E. Szafir, Sr., B. Szafir, Jr., Alex Szafir, H. Hirsch, R.        M. Mothner, Leo H. Mothner, S. Feinberg, Isadore Feinberg, Henry Roos, Nathan Roos, J. S. Gordon, H. Nathan, Sam Nathan, S. Light, E. Goldsmith, N. T. Cook, A. Cahn, J. Wiess, and Carl Broune.47

Two of the above-named members, Sam Nathan and Simon Light, also belonged to Beaumont’s Company D, Third Texas Infantry, during the Spanish-American War, and each returned to Beaumont after the war was over. During World War I, the city’s Jewish community was less fortunate. One young soldier, Sam Lewis, lost his life in that conflict.48

Unfortunately, all archives of the earliest Jewish activities in Beaumont have long since disappeared, and the old members of that era are deceased. The bulletins of the old Board of Trade or the early Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, 1901-1925, provide, however, many biographies and photos of the early Jewish community. And fortunately, the Galveston Daily News preserved much information for posterity by publishing something of early Beaumont Jewish activities at least weekly over a long period of years. As an example, the following announcement of January, 1898, reveals these facts:49

The Jewish Ladies’ Benevolent Society is meeting with every suc­cess in arranging for the third annual ball tomorrow night (Jan. 25) and the number of tickets sold indicates that the ladies will score a special hit. The bail will take place at the (Goodhue) Opera House, and there are a large number of the latest fancy costumes to appear at the entertainment.

It is in the hands of capable committees and will pass off smoothly. Invitations: Mesdames L. Solinsky, J. J. Loeb, and W. T. Smyth. Reception: Mesdames H. Hirsch, S. Feinberg; Messrs. R. M. Mothner. H. Hirsch, and S. Feinberg, Floor~ Messrs. H. Horwitz, Leo Mothner, Abe Goldsmith, and J. Frank. The ball is given for the benefit of a fund that is being raised to build a synagogue for Emanu-el Congregation in this city.

47B. C. C, “History of the Harmony Club,” B. C. C., Art Souvenir-Beaumont. Texas, 1901, p. 36; photos of Harmony Club officers, ibid., p. 23; 011 Exchange, Advantages and Conditions of Beaumont and Port Arthur Today, 1902, p. 56.

48Blum et al., “Founders and Builders,” pp. 7-8; Beaumont Enterprise, Oct. 1, 1898.

49Galvesron Daily News, Jan. 23, 25, 1898.

Space will permit only a minute statement of local Jewish history beyond 1902, but the writer would be remiss if he failed to mention more of Jake Nathan, the entrepreneur-merchant who always “sold it for less.” A newspaper article of 1900 described him as owning the “leading and largest clothing store” in Beaumont, a thirty by ninety foot edifice with displays on both floors. Located in the Goodhue block opposite the depot, the store employed ten clerks. By 1910, Nathan’s occupied a new four-story building, and the number of employees had tripled.50

By 1906, Beaumont had one synagogue, valued at $10,000, and with sixty-five members. Its Jewish Sabbath school had 45 children in attendance.51 Rabbi Friedlander had replaced Rabbi Levy in October, 1901. His successor was Rabbi Elkin, Dr. Samuel Rosinger, who came in 1910, would devote fifty years of his life to Beaumont’s religious and secular matters. At the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century, Temple Emanuel completed a new synagogue at 848 Broadway, at a cost of $110,000 and designed to accommodate 600 worshippers. In 1925, a sister congregation, Kol Israel, was also meeting at the corner of Pine and Elizabeth streets.52

This brief account is only a page of a story that might fill a book. Beaumont’s Jewish community is now over a century old, and in barely a decade more Congregation Temple Emanuel will celebrate its centennial anniversary.

For the nearly 1,000 Jews of Beaumont, and other Jews and congregations within the Golden Triangle, their heritage is indeed rich and immense. It developed solely because a few hardy souls, their Mosaic ancestors, chose to brave the unknown quantities of the “sawdust city” (Beaumont) in search of a better way of life, and they proceeded then to contribute their work and talents to it.

50Sabine Pass News, May 5, 1900; Photo, Nathan Dry Goods Company, B. C. C., Beaumont: The Twentieth Century City, 1912, p. 13; biography, Jake J. Nathan, Souvenir, Beaumont, Texas, 1903 (Dallas: 1903), p. 20.

51B. C. C., Beaumont: The City Awake, 1906, pp. 6, 10, 16.

52Blum et al., “Founders and Builders,” pp. 11-12; B. C. C. Statistical Review of the Progress of Beaumont for 1925, pp. 84.85. Note: all annual Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce bulletins referred to in the footnotes may be authenticated in the Tyrrell Historical Library. Pre-1893 Daily News microfilm is available through interlibrary loan from North Texas State University library. Daily News microfilm, 1893-1912, is available at Lamar University, Mary and John Gray Library.


By W. T. Block

American Jews are most often defined in three categories which to some degree is determined by their points of origin in Europe. The "Sephardic" Jews, those of Spanish and Portugese ancestry, could be identified by the Latin surnames, their progenitors having been either expelled from Spain by Queen Isabella in 1492 or, as "Marranos" (meaning swine or New Christians), made outward manifestations of Christianity while retaining the inner trappings of Judaism which they practiced in private. The Marranos were to become the most persecuted group ever to be oppressed by the Spanish Inquisition, with thousands of them burned at the stake in both Europe and the New World. Although many Marranos ended up in Colonial America, the first contingent to arrive here were actually Jews who came to New York City in 1654, expelled by the Spanish from a former Dutch colony on the coast of Brazil. Altogether, about 1,500 Jews reached the colonies prior to 1775, all of them of Sephardic descent.

For the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, liberal revolutions and other circumstances brought thousands of "Ashkenazic" or German Jews to American shores until, by 1880, they comprised about 98 percent of the 250,000 Jews then residing in the United States. For the most part, these were descendents of the Jews expelled from England by King Edward I in 1290 A. D. and from France by King Charles VI in 1394 A. D., and as a result, had settled in the "Germanies," the 350 independent free cities, principalities, duchies, margraviates, etc. of Central Europe. For some reason, Jews were blamed for the spread of bubonic plague throughout the Middle Ages.

Beginning in 1881, due to Russiam pogroms and persecutions, the flood gates opened when in forty years time (up until 1921), 3,000,000 Jews came to the United States, quickly filling up the "Lower East Side" tenements to overflowing and spilling over into the rest of America. These were the "Hasidic," or "Orthodox Jews," from the "Pale of Settlement" in Eastern Europe, many of whom can be recognized on the streets of New York by their traditional black clothing, beards, and peculiar sideburns. Of the 6,000,000 Jews in the United States today, about half of them are "secular Jews," retaining Jewish identity, but not otherwise connected to any synagogue.

In religion, America's Jews break down into three additional categories--as Reformed Jews, Conservative Jews, or Orthdox Jews. In earlier days, many Orthdox Jews refused to let their children marry Reformed Jews, and perhaps some still do. The Sephardic Jews of the colonies were Orthodox members (since they predated the Reform movement), who kept the dietary laws, etc., but about 1850 the immigrant German Jews brought Reformed Judaism with them from Germany, which had scuttled many of the Orthodox trappings regarding food and clothing. About 1900, the Conservative Jewish movement was born in New York City, which blended the more acceptable facets of both Reform Jewry and Orthodox Judaism.

+ Many Americans are still unaware that America's Jews most often reflect patterns of livelihood here that were fashioned for them in medieval Europe. Even where Jews were tolerated, such as in Holland, they were subjected to distinctive dress customs (wearing the Star of David), special and exorbitant taxation, and specific ghettoes in which to live and trade, whereas many large Dutch cities, such as Maastricht, Utrecht, and Deventer, barred Jews from residence there as late as 1785. Everywhere in medieval Europe, Jews were disfranchised politically and religiously (no religious assemblies outside the home, etc.) and barred from land ownership, the medieval guilds, and the universities. Hence, they were restricted to two fields of endeavor either barred to or disdained by Christians -- the retail trades and usury. For instance, in the England of 1,200 A. D., Jews could trade in raw wool or in finished garments, but they could not belong to the weavers' guild, the carders' guild, the dyers' guild, etc., or any process in the manufacture of clothing.

Traditionally, Jewish immigrants arriving before 1920 began there merchant careers as road vendors - as either pushcart hawkers on New York's Lower East Side or frontier wagon peddlers in small town and rural America. By 1785, some colonial Jews had emerged as entrepreneurs, controlling the fur trade routes of New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The Franks brothers and Michael Gratz of Philadelphia were merchant shipping families, accruing large fleets of ships, as did Aaron Lopez and Jacob Rivera of Newport, Rhode Island. Other Jews of Newport controlled the candle-making and whaling industries there.

In general, Jews sought out the Golden Triangle counties of Texas (Jefferson, Orange and Hardin) when economic opportunites became better there than elsewhere, principally Galveston and Houston where the early Jews congregated. And Judaism being an urban religion best practiced and maintained in association with others, Jews who hawked their wares on the frontier always risked losing their religion. The first Jew to arrive in Jefferson County, Simon Wiess, opened a store in Beaumont in 1837, sold out and opened another in Port Neches in 1838, but he eventually removed to Wiess Bluff, Jasper County (the head of tidewater navigation) in 1840, where he became the middleman of Neches River commerce, particularly the cotton trade. Although Wiess abandoned his faith and married a Presbyterian, his sons, Valentine, Mark, and William Wiess (who were Christians), became wealthy Beaumonters who befriended many penniless, immigrant Jews who later settled in the "sawdust city." Apparently, between 1840 and 1878, the only other Jews who came to Beaumont were itinerant wagon peddlers who hawked their wares in the countryside. According to Jefferson County's "Record of Retail Licenses, 1838-1851," Simon Goldman and Mordecai Primrose paid fees to "hawk and peddle" in Jefferson County between 1845 and 1850.

Beaumont's first Jewish residents who practiced their religion in their home were the Morris J. Loeb family, who opened a cigar store in Beaumont in 1878. As the first Beaumonter to conduct family Jewish services, Loeb was to contribute many Jewish "firsts" in his adopted city. By the time of his death in 1908, he and his family (which included daughters Julia Bohrer, Mildred Lederer, and Mattie Bliss) had won the respect of all Beaumonters for their high moral standards, but their earliest years in the"sawdust city" may have been somewhat less placid. On at least one occasion, he was "threatened and told that Beaumont had no Jews and wanted none," but that appears to have been an isolated instance. Three years later, according to the New Orleans "Democrat" of September 8, 1881, Beaumonters viewed tghe arrival of other Jews as a foretoken of better days ahead. The paper noted that: "Seven new stores have been built in Beaumont in the past forty days, and a number of Israelite merchants have settled here, a sure precursor of the prosperity which is to follow." (Until 1890, "Israelite" was the common journalist jargon for Jew.)

Thus, it appears that Beaumont may have offered an amenable or as amenable and equitable climate for Jews to compete as existed anywhere, one where Jews could flourish, much like they did in early Charleston, South Carolina, rather than an inequitable climate such as that in early Baltimore, Maryland. As early as 1700, there is no record of differential treatment of Jews in South Carolina colony, whereas the state of Maryland, as late as 1825, had to pass its notorious "Jew Bill" to relieve its Jewish citizens of extra taxation and other disabilities not shared by Gentiles. The writer believes that, unlike Beaumont, a fear of retail competition at early Orange, Texas, may have soured the business climate for Jews there, whereas Beaumont's principal merchants of 1880, the three Wiess brothers, probably set the pattern for friendship and encouragement which allowed the early Jews of Beaumont to flourish.

Orange developed a small nucleus of Jews even before Beaumont. James Solinsky and Wolf Bluestein arrived there in 1876. By 1880, the census enumerated several more, all listed as "general merchants," as follows: Ignatz Kahn, Leopold Krager, Louis Jacques, Morris Hecht, A. Flaxman, F. Philefsky, and Jacob Racke. Bu 1895, other Jewish merchants in business there included R. Sokolski, Levy and Company, and Aronson and Brother. However, by 1880, Henry Solinsky (the second Jew in Beaumont) had already left Orange for Beaumont, although he also kept his Orange store open. By 1881, he was followed by Morris Hecht, A. Flaxman, and Wolf Bluestein. Bluestein, who also owned the first Torah, may have conducted the first joint Jewish services in Beaumont. Whether or not an anti-Jewish climate prevailed that triggered these removals to Beaumont is sheer speculation, but Orange had a long reputation for violence and prejudice. In 1856, greed and envy sparked the 60-day, "Orange County War," that expelled 35 free and wealthy Mulatto families back to Louisiana and cheated them of their large holdings of land and cattle. In 1879, the town's rowdies tried to run a priest out of town at gunpoint and warned him never to return. In August, 1881 the same border hooligans shot down the sheriff in cold blood with buck shot.

Late in 1880, Henry Solinsky and Morris Hecht of Orange, as partners, opened a store in Beaumont. They were soon followed in 1881 by Sid J. Levy, who opened the "Red Store;" Leon R. Levy, who opened a general mercantile firm, the"Lone Star Store;" and a Jewish widow, Mrs. A. Schwerin, who operated a boarding house. Louis Schwarz opened a dry goods firm and during the same year, D. Gordon built a store on Pearl Street.

When Wolf Bluestein moved to Beaumont, Solinsky severed his ties with Hecht and re-entered business with Bluestein. In April, 1881, when the Blanchette Hall was remodeled and a new opera house was built, Solinsky bought it and immediately left for New York in search of vaudeville talent. In October, the Bluestein Opera House opened on the second floor of the partners' new brick building on Forsythe Street. It remained in use until the new Crosby Opera House was completed in October, 1883.

In September, 1881, the Beaumont "Enterprise" made its first mention of the Jewish holidays in Beaumont, as follows: "Today and tomorrow are Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. All the stores and places of business kept by the Israelites will be closed."

Solinsky, Bluestein, and L. R. Levy quickly found a niche for themselves in Beaumont's business community. Solinsky soon became a director of the new First National Bank, the first co-chairman in 1880 of Beaumont's annual Grand Tournament and Strawberry Festival, and became the owner of a cypress shingle mill. A Galveston newspaper said of him:

"H. Solinsky is a wide awake merchant, who by dint of fair dealing, close profits, and closer collections, has amassed quite a neat fortune. He is proud of his city and is always ready in any enterprise that will lead to the good of the town.

L. R. Levy quickly became a director of the bank also, as well as president of the Beaumont Improvement Company. He officered many committees and fraternal orders, and won for himself a reputation as financier and philanthropist. Wolf Bluestein, as both commercial rice grower and merchant, was an enigmatic individual of rare talents, whose personal fortune had already reached $75,000, quite a tidy sum for the 1880's. He could neither read nor write, yet his competence at mental arithmetic, fractions, and compounding interest knew no peer. In fact, other merchants often came to him to verify their figures. Bluestein's crude "BXX" on drafts and checks was honored by wholesalers and banks as far away as New York.

The earliest Jewish services were conducted in private homes, in the Bluestein and Crosby Opera Houses, and later in Lederer's Store, Deutser's Furniture Company, or in the Harmony Club. In lieu of a trained rabbi, S. Feinberg, Bluestein, and sometimes others acted as lay leaders for the Jewish assemblies, and the latter possessed the only Torah in Beaumont in 1881.

After 1885, the trickle of arriving Jews continued. S. Feinberg opened a store in 1887; Sam Lederer came in 1886 to manage the grocery department of Valentine Wiess and Co. His marriage to Mildred Hirsch, daughter of Mrs. Loeb, in 1887 was Beaumont's first Jewish wedding, and later, Lederer opened his own business.

In 1889, five of Beaumont's six largest dry goods firms, Schwartz Brothers, H. Solinsky, L. R. Levy, F. Hecht, and E. Morris, were Jewish-owned and did a combined annual business in excess of $200,000. In the same year, three other jews, R. M. Mothner, M. H. Hirsch, and Hyman A,. Perlstein, arrived, the latter with only $11.90 in his pockets. Mothner became Beaumont leading jeweler as well as the first president of the town's Chamber of Commerce and the Beaumont Fair Association.

Before opening his own shop, Perlstein worked as a blacksmith for others for 50c per day. In 1902 Perlstein and Mothner brought in a new Spindletop gusher on a site where, earlier, Capt. Anthony Lucas reputedly had been unsuccessful. During the 1890s, Hirsch's Cordova Hotel Bar, with its magnigicent bar and French plate mirrors, was the show place of Beaumont, containing also two wine rooms, 11 ceiling fans, 211 incandescent lights, and a stock of wines, beers, liquors, and cigars equal to anything in New Orleans.

During the 1890's, the trickle of Jews progressed to a healthy flow, enabling the young colony to think in terms of a new synagogue and a local rabbi. E. Deutser, Leo Mothner, and S. Sternberg opened stores on Crockett Street, which burned down during Beaumont's business district fire of April, 1897. Other new merchants included Bernard Deutser of the Lone Star Furniture Store; A. Flaxman, merchant; Joe and Leon Rosenthal, merchants; E. Szafir, stationer; Gus Weil and L. Perl, racket store owners; Jake J. Nathan, the town's first department store owner; H. and S. Nathan, Beaumont's first pawn brokers, and Louis Mayer, merchant.

About 1894, Mrs. Loeb and her daughters organized the Hebrew Women's Benevolent Association, which became the oldest Jewish organization in Beaumont. Its goals were to raise funds for a new synagogue and charitable purposes, to sponsor social and cultural events, and to act as a cemetery association. In 1895, they purchased Hebrew Rest Cemetery, which they deeded to the congregation in 1897. Also in 1895, they began sponsoring Beaumont's annual masquerade ball at the Goodhue Opera House, which was attended by everyone who could afford a ticket, and the balls continued for many decades afterward. Another group, the Council of Jewish Women, was organized in April, 1901.

In September, 1895, the Jewish community organized Temple Emanuel congregation about the time of the Jewish New Year, and they immediately engaged Dr. Aaron Levy as the city's first resident rabbi. In 1901, the first synagogue, a wooden building which cost $3,435, was completed at Broadway and Willow, and the Hebrew Women's Association donated $3,000 more, earmarked for lighting and interior decorations. In 1901, Dr. Levy left for a new assignment and was replaced by Rabbi Friedlander, who also remained only a few years. His successor, Rabbi Elkin, remained until 1910, when he was replaced by Dr. Samuel Rosinger, who remained the Temple's spiritual leader for fifty years and brought a new era to Judaism in Beaumont. One of the witticisms often told about Dr. Rosinger's arrival concerned the Temple's advertisement in a northern Jewish publication to engage a new rabbi at an annual salary of $1,500. The publication's editor laughed and suggested that $1,500 might buy the Temple a good bartender, but never a good rabbi. The editor was wrong.

As of 1900, the following list is believed to contain the names of about 80 percent of the Jewish families living in Beaumont, as follows: M. J. Loeb, H. Bohrer, Maurice Goldstein, Abe Goldsmith, J. S. Gordon, Wolf Hecht, Bernard Deutser, Joe Rosenthal, Leon Rosenthal, Charles Stern, Silvestor Greenwood, M. Hecht, Gus Weil, L. Solinsky, Joe Solinsky, Abe Solinsky, Dr. Louis Goldstein, J. Goldstein, A. Zwirn, L. R. Levy, Sid Levy, S. Lederer, E. Deutser, Louis Schwartz, Sidney Mayer, S. Feinberg, Morris Levy, E. Szafir, Sr.; E. Szafir, Jr.; Alex Szafir, Isadore Feinberg, Henry Roos, Nathan Roos, H. Nathan, Sam Nathan, Simon Light, E. Goldsmith, N. T. Cook, A. Kahn, J. Wiess, Carl Broune, W. T. Smyth, J. Frank, H. Horwitz, Dr. Aaron Levy, S. Sternberg, - Itzig, S. Stern, Sol Gordon, Oswald Levy, M. Alschwang, A. Flaxman, Louis Mayer, and H. A. Perlstein.

In April, 1898, two young Jewish men, Sam Nathan and Simon Light, marched away with Beaumont's Company D of the 3rd Texas Infantry to fight in the Spanish American War, and both of them returned after the war ended. The Jewish community was not so fortunate during World War I. One young soldier, Sam Lewis, was killed in action in that conflict.

Temple Emanuel was a Reformed congregation from its beginning. However, beginning about 1900, another type of immigrant began to join the ranks of the Mosaic faith in the "sawdust city," the Hasidic or Orthodox Jews, common to the "Pale of Settlement" in Western Russia or the Austro-Hungarian empire. These practitioners of Judaism kept every facet and commandment of their faith exactly as they interpreted them, with customs of dress and dietary laws sometimes at odds with Beaumont's older community of Reformed Jews of Germanic or Ashkenazic origins. And it was inevitable that some conflict between them and perhaps even a competing congregation would result.

Between 1910 and 1960, Dr. Rosinger led Temple Emanuel through a half-century of unprecedented progress. During the same fifty years, the Jewish shopkeeper along Pearl, Orleans, and adjoining thoroughfares was the norm for Beaumont's old business district, and although there were three larger department stores, Nathan's, Rosenthal's, and Max Feinberg's, there were no shopping malls and no chain stores (except 'five and dimes') for them to compete with. As one might expect, the new rabbi soon became noted for a combination of courage and compassion, loyalty to Judaism, a fierce commitment to principle which sometimes provoked anger, and yet he was one of the most gentle of men, "no matter what one's creed or station in life."

Dr. Rosinger enjoyed excellent relationships with all facets of the religious and civic communities. He served as chairman of the Red Cross Board, the Jefferson County Tuberculosis Association, and through his efforts, the tuberculosis hospital was built. At other times, he served as president of the Rotary Club, was chairman of the Municipal Hospital, a director of Boy's Haven, and he edited the Rotary Bulletin for twenty years. It was also his sad lot to have to stand up to the Ku Klux Klan's vitriolic hate and intimidation in Beaumont between 1920-1925 (the Klan was both anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic). And the writer attributes as one of the causes for the downfall of the Jefferson County Klan to be the uncomprising opposition exerted by Dr. Rosinger and several of Beaumont's prominent Jewish and Catholic businessmen.

Around 1912, Orthodox Jews began the founding of Congregation Kol Israel, which was slow at first because of their limited numbers. There first spiritual leader was Rev. L. M. Yellen, who performed daily religious services, as well as celebration of the High Holy Days in September, in a rented hall. The leaders of Kol Israel, E. I. Greenberg, L. Perl, Max Horwitz, Max Feinberg, Aymen Waldman, Ben Blum, Ben Dorfman. and J. Solomon, decided to locate their first synagogue building at Pine and Elizabeth Streets in 1917, and in 1918 Kol Israel engaged Rabbi Stern as its first full-time, resident spiritual leader.

Under the guidance of Rabbi Benjamin Wade in 1926, Kol Israel built its Hebrew Institute, which housed both the Hebrew school and the social club room for its members. One of the fraternal auxiliaries of the synagogue was the Anshe Chaim Lodge, which purchased and maintained Kol Israel Cemetery and later deeded it to the congregation.

The good times of the 1920's soon turned sour, into ten years of unprecedented depression, which also took a heavy toll among the Jewish merchants. Kol Israel members soon learned that they could neither pay a rabbi's salary nor the notes on the synagogue's mortgage. But with diligent effort, the membership was able to keep mortgage payments current, although they had to do without the services of a trained and paid spiritual leader.

The World War II years revived the Jewish community of Beaumont considerably, and a large number of Jewish young men soon went away to war (in 1942 the writer was in the same company with Sigmund Greenberg of Beaumont). The Jewish community was soon caught up in all segments of the war effort, including the war bond drives and building ships at the Pennsylvania Shipyard.

In 1947 Rabbi Hyman Solomon was engaged as Kol Israel's new rabbi, and members became acutely aware of the need for a new and larger sanctuary. However, the construction plans had to be delayed for five years because of the congregation's large financial burden of bond commitments to the new state of Israel. In April, 1952, Kol Israel members voted to embrace the Conservative tenets of worship instead of Orthodoxy. The next year, a new building site was purchased near IH-10, and in May, 1953, ground-breaking ceremonies were held as a result of the prodigious efforts of J. P. Freedman, Mose Goldstein, the Rogers families, and other members.

On May 23, 1965, Congregation Kol Israel celebrated its Golden Jubilee celebration under Rabbi Maurice Idell, whose magnificent cantorial voice is still remembered by many local Jews. The 1960's were also years of signifiant social and economic change everywhere, and Beaumont was not immune to those movements which carried the shopping districts to the edge of town and doomed the inner-city business districts to slow death and decay. Hence, while the Rogers Brothers were building Gateway and Parkdale Malls, the passing of the "mom and pop" shops on Pearl and Orleans Streets, be they Jewish or orherwise, became imminent.

There were other social forces at work in the Jewish community as well. Jews have always educated their children far beyond the general American norm, but usually one offspring remained behind to operate the family store, or set up a new shop nearby. At the same moment, the national chain stores, such as Worth's, Lerner's and Tom McCann, in the malls were replacing the small shops downtown; Jewish teenagers were opting more and more for careers in law, medicine, business management, banking, real estate, insurance, and engineering, fields that eventually would carry them to Houston, Dallas, or elsewhere. Hence, Jewish horizontal and vertical mobility, coupled with a declining Jewish birth rate of much less than two per family, and linked to a non-proselyting religion that depends on its children for Jewish growth, small-town Judaism has a future about as retrogressive as that of the Shakers.

Finally the memberships of Congregation Kol Israel and Temple Emanuel agreed to merge into one congregation. All Jewish children, totaling 80 at this time (1988), attend one religious school, but members do have a choice of worship, either Reformed or Conservative, and a special chapel was built for Conservative worship. In 1971, the actual merger took place, and the Kol Israel synagogue and property were offered for sale.

Temple Emanuel also quickly felt the need for new quarters following the rapid Jewish growth after World War I. (The one million East European Jews who were reaching American shores every year for more than two decades were suddenly choked off by the National Origins Act of 1924, thus condemning millions more to death at Hitler's bloody hands.) Under Dr. Rosinger and H. Perlstein, Temple Emanuel dedicated its new sanctuary, with the copper dome and the magnificent stained glass windows designed in Jerusalem, at 1120 Broadway in December, 1923. During the 1950's, the synagogue witnessed additional construction activities. The Rosinger Center was completed in 1957, and in 1962, the Chinski school building and Jacob S. Gordon Chapel were added.

In 1960. Dr. Rosinger was declared rabbi emeritus and was succeeded by Dr. Newton Friedman. The new rabbi actually served the Temple congregation from 1957 until his sudden death in 1970. Long known as a most articulate speaker and proficient scholar, Dr. Friedman wholly immersed himself in synagogue and community affairs and was the first local rabbi to become president of the Beaumont Ministerial Alliance. About 1969, during an interview, he estimated to this writer that there were about 1,000 Jews living in Beaumont. After his death, his extensive library was donated to the Mary and John Gray Library at Lamar University.

Rabbi Beno Wallach, who served Temple Emanuel from 1970 until 1978, was the first to serve the unified congregation. He was replaced in the latter year by Rabbi Norman Lipson, who remained until 1982. The congregation was again fortunate to engage a young scholar, Rabbi Herbert Rutman, who also was very active in community affairs, but his tenure, like that of Dr. Friedman, was sadly cut short by his sudden and untimely death in 1984. He was replaced by Rabbi Peter Hyman of Florida, who remains to the present day (1988).

During an interview with Dr. Hyman in May, 1988, the new spiritual leader of Beaumont's Jewish residents is quite optimistic about the future. He noted that although the same retrogressive forces are still active, they may have leveled off and at least are working both ways at times. In 1987, Temple Emanuel lost six families to other cities, but it also picked up six new families to balance the loss. There are now 225 families and perhaps 500 persons in Beaumont who are synagogue-affiliated, leaving perhaps 350 or more "secular" Jews who are not affiliated. There are now 80 children in Hebrew school, and perhaps altogether, 850 or 900 Jews left in Beaumont.

The writer would likewise suggest that the year 1950 was probably the apex year of Jewish progress and enumeration in Beaumont, when perhaps as many as 1,500 to 1,700 Jews resided locally. The beginning of that decade would have been marked by the high "baby boom" birth rate, and also would have predated the decline of the "mom and pop" Jewish shopkeepers as well as the rapid demise via death of Beaumont's original Jewish immigrant population.

The remnants remaining of former Jewish communities in Port Arthur and Orange paint a much more dismal picture. Certainly, economic opportunities at Orange were much less during the early years of the century, and between the World Wars, the town's population hovered at about 7,000 persons, the residents tied economically to a couple of sawmills, as well as two or three shipyards that built wooden boats.

Despite economic boom times between 1940 and 1980 that saw Orange's permanent population skyrocket to about 50,000 and a number of chemical and rubber plants locate there, it does not appear that the small Jewish community there was greatly enhanced thereby. Perhaps as many as 20 or 25 Jewish familes may have lived there after World War II, but if so, no attempt was made to organize a congregation or build a synagogue. Some Orange Jews undoubtedly attended Sabbath services in Beaumont or Port Arthur in earlier times, but neither synagogue has any recollection of Orange Jews attending or belonging in recent years. The writer has no knowledge of lay services conducted in private homes there. Mrs. Lothar Goldstein of Temple Rodef Shalom added that it was her understanding that about three Jewish families survived there, and perhaps as many as two of those were intermarried with non-Jews. Hence, Judaism in Orange, which at no time was ever robust and sinewy, is effectively deceased.

Almost from its beginning in 1895, Port Arthur has had a nucleus of Jewish merchants that once lined both Proctor Street, Houston Avenue, and connecting thoroughfares. At its peak, a colony of perhaps 400 or 500 Jews resided in Port Arthur between 1920 and 1960. For forty years or more until it closed, Bluestein's Department Store on Proctor Street was the equivalent of Beaumont's White House Dry Goods Co. Temple Rodef Shalom began about 1920 in the downtown shopping district of that seaport, and as ethnic residential pattern began to change, in fact explode, after 1950, the Temple relocated in the then eastern edge of town (although black residential neighborhoods have encircled it again).

In discussing the plight of the Jewish community there with Mrs. Goldstein, the current spiritual leader and widow of the former rabbi, there is very little historical information available about the Temple, and the congregation there has grown so small, about 30 families, that it has long been unable to afford a rabbi. The last rabbi, Dr. Lothar Goldstein, who died in 1984, was already retired and had to supplement his income by working as a clinical psychologist.

The present congregation are all middle-aged or older, mostly retired, and there is only one child in Hebrew school. Only one of the thirty families is young enough to have children in the home. Hence, with all of the present-day social forces in action which have worked so devastatingly against the survival of small town Judaism -- extremely low birth rate, loss of all young people to Houston, the passing of the inner-city business district and the "mom and pop" Jewish shopkeepers, Port Arthur Judaism, too, will one day wither and die, and some might add that it already has.

It would be historically remiss for the writer to omit some mention of the social, economic, and cultural contributions of the Golden Triangle Jews, past and present, for these contributions far exceed the Jewish pro rata population in the three counties. In the economic realm, members of the Greenberg family founded The Fair Stores chain about seven decades ago, and that first store has since mushroomed many times over to cover now all points in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.

Two of the four Rogers brothers, S. J., N. J., Ben and Victor, were optometrists, who long ago founded the Texas State Optical Company, which now has expanded over the same geographic area as the The Fair. Rogers Brothers Investments built and developed Gateway Shopping Center and Parkdale Mall. That firm's real estate and business dealings would extend from Beaumont to the East Coast, and they have created thousands of new jobs as a result.

Concerning local charities and the fine arts, the names of Mrs. Julie Rogers and Mrs. Betty Greenberg come readily to mind. When the city of Beaumont remodeled the old city hall into a theatre and fine arts center, its name was changed to the Julie Rogers Theatre. Years ago, members of the Miller family presented the R. C. Miller Library building in the westend to the city of Beaumont. And Jewish names have long been associated with presentations of the Beaumont Music Commission, the Beaumont Civic Ballet, and Beaumont Civic Opera.

It would be physically impossible to name everyone who perhaps deserves some recognition, but a few names should be mentioned. Dr. L. Goldsltein was Beaumont's first Jewish physician around 1900, and since then, many others in the medical field, among them Drs. H. A. Phillipson, Harris Hosen, Gus Scheps, Sigmund Blum, H. J. Kaplan, and P. Greenberg, have walked in his foot steps. Certainly, some of Beaumont's Jewish attorneys, namely, Carl Waldman, Jerry Nathan, Joel Grossman, and Regiona Rogers, should be mentioned, the latter only recently serving a term as regent of Lamar University. The Jewish educators on the faculty of Lamar University include Drs. Monte Sontag, Robert Swerdlow, Saul Aronow, and Ralph Brookner.

In summary, Judaism in the Golden Triangle arrived relatively late, but has now passed the century mark of its existence. At one time, Beaumont and Port Arthur provided ideal settings for the small Jewish shopkeepers; and many of them, principally recent immigrants from Europe, came to take advantage of the opportunities offered. However, with the changing times, the shifting residential patterns, the old business districts, and the "mom and pop" Jewish merchants who once thrived there are now relics of a long gone past. In Orange and Port Arthur, Judaism has already become an "endangered species," already virtually extinct, and sadly the writers sees no change there except continued retrogression. Beaumont's Jewish community does show promise of survival, even though the community probably totals only one-half of its former size. Coupled with the very low Jewish birth rate (from which all new members are derived) and the modern propensity of Jewish young people to relocate elsewhere, the writer predicts that, by the turn of the century, 99 or more percent of the Texas Jews will be relocated in the five largest cities, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio.


W. T. Block, "A Brief History of The Early Beaumont Jewish Community," TEXAS GULF HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD, XX (Nov., 1984), 42-54; IBID, Block, "From Cotton Bales To Black Gold: A History of The Pioneer Wiess Families of Southeast, Texas," VIII (Nov., 1972), 39-61; HISTORY OF THE BEAUMONT JEWISH COMMUNITY, Oct. 17, 1987, pamphlet, pp. 1-11; TEMPLE EMANUEL; THE FIRST 75 YEARS, anniversary program, pp. 1-6; Lawrence Blum et al, "Beaumont's Jewish Founders and Builders, 1878-1923," unpub. MSS, n. d., pp. 1-14; W. T. Block, "The Hebrew Frontier Experience: An Account of The Mosaic Faith in Colonial American Society," Unpub. MSS, 1970, 1-27 (also contains an extensive bibliography); New Orleans DEMOCRAT,1881; Galveston DAILY NEWS, 1889-1898; W. T. Block, EMERALD OF THE NECHES: THE CHRONICLES OF BEAUMONT, TEXAS, FROM RECONSTRUCTION TO SPINDLETOP (Nederland: 1980), 1-576; also the following Beaumont Chamber of Commerce bulletins, which contain many biographies, Jewish advertisements and pictures, and histories of Jewish synagogue auxiliaries and social clubs, as follows: SOUVENIR, BEAUMONT, TEXAS, 1903; ADVANTAGES AND CONDITIONS OF BEAUMONT AND PORT ARTHUR TODAY, 1902; THE BEAUMONT COUNTRY, 1913; BEAUMONT, THE CITY AWAKE, 1906; BEAUMONT, THE TWENTIETH CENTURY CITY, 1912; and STATISTICAL REVIEW OF THE PROGRESS OF BEAUMONT, 1925; also, STANDARD BLUE BOOK OF TEXAS, 1908-1909, (Houston: 1908), devoted entirely to Beaumont; Sabine Pass NEWS, May 5, 1900; E. P. Weinbaum, SHALOM, AMERICA: THE PERLSTEIN STORY (San Antonio: 1969); O. Handlin, ADVENTURE IN FREEDOM: 300 YEARS OF JEWISH LIFE IN AMERICA (New York: 1954); L. Levinger, HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN THE UNITED STATES (Cincinnati: 1930); J. R. Marcus, EARLY AMERICAN JEWRY (3 vols.; Philadelphia, 1951); A. J. Karp, THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA (5 vols.; New York, 1969; and Beaumont ENTERPRISE, 1880-1881.