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.