Lubbock’s Jewish Community and the Congregation Shaareth Israel Records

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This is the cover page of the first issue of Congregation Shaareth Israel’s monthly newsletter.

There are more than a few collections housed at the Southwest Collection that focus on religion. We hold, for example, the records of the local and greater Texas Unitarian Universalist Church as well  as those of various Lubbock Christian congregations. Perhaps some of our most interesting collections record the history of Lubbock’s Jewish community, the largest of which is the records of the Congregation Shaareth Israel.

The Congregation traces its origins to the early 1930s when the success of Lubbock’s Jewish community in business, and its overall satisfaction with the area, enticed more individuals and families to move to Lubbock. As a result, the need to establish a synagogue was soon identified. Several different buildings were adopted or built to house the growing congregation over the ensuing years, the most prominent of which was a Synagogue built at 23rd and Avenue Q in 1942. Most recently, in 1985, the Congregation built a temple in southwest Lubbock.

The records contain eclectic materials ranging from art history notes to artifacts, correspondence between members as well as between the Congregation’s administration and national organizations, membership directories, and financial and legal records. A complete set of newsletters, such as the one depicted in the image above, dating from 1960 until the mid-2000s are present, as are a number of photographs and sermons. Many materials relate to the new temple’s construction in 1985, as well as to the life and career of the Congregation’s longest serving rabbi, Alexander Kline, who presided from 1960 to 1981. An ongoing effort to gather oral histories from long-time community members has resulted in a number of recordings that are also available to SWC patrons.

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Much of the collection pertains to religious and service groups associated with the Congregation, such as its ‘Sisterhood’. The Sisterhood was involved closely with the Lubbock community at large, most notably through the Food-a-Rama hosted each year from 1969 to 1986. This was an event in which the Sisterhood cooked and sold traditional Jewish foods to the larger community. Once a year, Lubbock residents lined up to buy knishes, blintzes, cabbage rolls, and matzah ball soup.  Food-o-Rama was a major fundraiser for the congregation until it was discontinued. From 1959 until the present, the Sisterhood has published their Year Book, an example of which can be seen in the image above. The Year Book chronicled the activities of Congregation members and other events of note in the Jewish community.

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The Congregation strove to closely align itself with Lubbock, Texas at all levels, but also provided for its membership in tangible ways. The document above is the purchase agreement between the Congregation and the Lubbock City Cemetery to procure plots for local families. Assisting with these arrangements has been a mainstay of Lubbock’s Jews since the 1920s, years before even the Congregation was officially established.

It’s difficult to do justice to unique scope of these records. They are a treasure. When matched with related collections, such as the papers of the aforementioned Rabbi Kline or the gathering of miscellaneous West Texas Jewish history the SWC has dubbed the Jewish Archival Collection, they only become more useful. We encourage interested researchers to contact the Southwest Collection’s Reference Department to arrange for a closer look. Furthermore, Congregation Shaareth Israel’s history as told in its own words, as well as its contemporary events and activities, can be found on their website.

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