I left off the last article about my life in the Texas Hill Country by writing that I know there are other Jews living in the Hill Country but I haven’t located an organized Jewish community in the Blanco County or Comal County area.
Although with the passage of time, Judaism has truly become a family oriented religion, much of Jewish practice takes place in the home. However the continuity and preservation of the Jewish people has also rested in vibrant Jewish institutions; Hebrew schools, synagogues, yeshivas, kosher shops and other places Jews can be found. Many of these places served as central meeting places for Jews to meet, conduct business, worship, etc.
My sole experience with Judaism so far has been that of our small but vibrant congregation in Iowa City. Our synagogue, Agudas Achim (fellowship of brotherhood) had 200 families that held membership in the synagogue. As with every community in the United States and around the world, there are always interesting stories to be found about the locals. I believe Iowa City was a small microcosm of Jewish life in the United States. We had our local protestor (complete with sandwich boards touting her latest thoughts about the Middle East conflict), we had an interfaith dialogue with churches that were lively and respectful. We named our little ones, buried our dead and lived among other people in peace.
I think history bears out that Jews have lived just about everywhere that is habitable for humanity. My people have served in the courts and kingdoms of Europe; they’ve been doctors, lawyers, professors, scholars, working class, poor and everything in between all over the world. The most compelling point of Jewish history to me is the Jewish world before the Holocaust and World War II. The writer and daydreamer in me imagines what the Hasidic communities of Poland and Eastern Europe must’ve been like before the devastation of the Holocaust which claimed millions of Jewish lives but also millions of others deemed unacceptable; homosexuals, Christian dissidents, gypsies, handicapped, elderly. Before this hell on earth occurred there were the pious Jews, the world of Baal Shem Tov; storyteller and a man that deeply loved the G-d of Israel. He preferred praying in the forests and listening to the quiet than being cooped up indoors. I’d say almost every religion has a tendency to become aristocratic and laden with bureaucracy; there are always the revolutionaries that come along and bring the beliefs back to everyday folk.
One of the captivating parts of Jewish life is the stories handed down through the generations. As it seems to be with most groups, Jews are storytellers. Jews travel, they write about it. Along the way, they pass along warnings, reminders, superstitions and hopes. They talk and write about interesting characters, they write about mundane things like doing everyday work. It’s in the stories that a people’s character and communal personality are built. All of this is the heart of the Jewish people; we aren’t just our religion or laws. We are also our stories, struggles, dreams, we remind ourselves of whom we are through the ancestral memories chronicled in the Hebrew Bible or chronicled in the telling of survival by Holocaust victims. It’s all there, the past, present and future. You need all of this to be a complete person.
And this leads me to wonder about the first Jews in Texas, in particular in the Hill Country. I would love to hear from anyone and everyone that knows about Jewish life in Blanco and the surrounding communities. It’s in this learning that I understand the diversity of Jewish experience but also become a more planted Texan as I learn more about the history of this beautiful and imagination gripping area.
About the author: Kat Solomon has been in Texas for over 8 months now and is enjoying her forever home in the beautiful Hill Country. She lives with her fiancé and also co-hosts a blogtalk radio show for 10K Poets. Questions or comments can be sent to Kat at: firstname.lastname@example.org.