Hanukkah, History, and Lubbock, Texas

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This year Hanukkah, an eight-day Jewish holiday also known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, began on November 27th and will continue until sundown December 5th. The Jewish community of Lubbock, Texas (the city in which the Southwest Collection is located) has been celebrating this holiday at its Congregation Shaareth Israel since 1934. From 1960 to 1980, Rabbi Alexander Kline presided over this event, and his papers at the Southwest Collection contain a tremendous amount of his research into and personal thoughts about the holiday. These culminated in the sermons he would share with the congregation.

An art historian well as a rabbi, Alexander S. Kline was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1903. He emigrated to the United States in 1921 to study art history at the University of Cincinnati, and was ordained as a Rabbi in 1933. He received his Doctor of Divinity from the Hebrew Union College in 1958. While Rabbi of Congregation Shaareth Israel, Kline was known for his art lectures at the Museum of Texas Tech University. But his thoroughly-researched, scholarly sermons were what touched the heart of the Lubbock Jewish community. Each piece was written by hand on the back of memos, bulletins, correspondence with other religious groups, and a host of other documents that are an interesting set of research materials unto themselves! The image above is the first page of his sermon on Hanukkah delivered in 1978.

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Before composing his sermons, Rabbi Kline would review all of the information he had gathered throughout decades of rabbinical service. The sermon about Hanukkah was no exception. One of its themes addressed ignorance. During the holiday season, Jews often found themselves being asked about their Christmas plans. At the bottom of the image above, taken from the December, 1978 issue of Amarillo, Texas’ Temple B’Nai Israel Bulletin, an anecdote that Kline cited to address this phenomenon can be seen (although the explanations of Hanukkah by 2nd and 3rd graders, located along the side of the paper, deliver their own amusing message.)

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This image is not only a great example of why none of us should store newspaper clippings atop other documents (they emit hydrochloric gas, resulting in the brown rectangles across the middle of the paper,) but is also one of the bases for Kline’s other theme: tolerance. This is the first page of a document describing an incident that occurred in White Plains in 1950. Although the event transpired nearly three decades before Kline’s sermon, examples like this helped Kline outline the historical tension between two religious groups that had long struggled to negotiate a relationship within the bounds of the freedom that America provided.

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What then could Jews do to combat ignorance and encourage tolerance? Rabbi Kline proposed many answers, but above excerpt from The Southern Israelite on November, 30, 1956, was one that he adhered to closely. Take pride in your Jewishness, he counseled, and emphasize the magnificent holidays in the Jewish calendar, namely Hanukkah, that young Jews could enjoy while surrounded by Christian’s festivities.

Rabbi Alexander Kline’s papers are full of intriguing lectures granting insight not only into his rabbinical mind, but also into the unique needs of a West Texas Jewish congregation. We’ve published other blogs about the Congregation Shaareth Israel as well as our other Judaic materials, and we encourage you to take a look at those as well. And, as always, curious researchers may contact our Reference department to arrange to view any of our collections.

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