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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Reference Services!

Did you know that the Southwest Collection’s reference staff has created several bibliographies and research guides? One of the most robust examples of this is our African American Bibliography. It describes many of the materials in our collections relating to African American history, including books, manuscripts, oral histories, photograph collections, and newspapers. Such bibliographies are often essential to navigating the thousands of linear feet and many millions of individual documents in our archives

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Although we have many digitized collections as well published finding aids housed on Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) and our own website, the guidance of experienced reference staff highly familiar with our holdings is also of invaluable use to researchers. Fortunately, the Southwest Collection’s Randy Vance and Nicci Hester, with the assistance of our many subject archivists and librarians, are able to provide that assistance. One way in which they accomplish this is through our Reference Files. Containing over 18,000 folders of information about West Texas (Lubbock and the South Plains in particular), Texas Tech University, and the Southwestern United States in general (Arizona, New Mexico, and other states), our Reference Files cover topics such as ranching, agriculture, oil, towns and counties in Texas, and a wide assortment of other subjects. Materials in the files include newspaper clippings, brochures, programs, tourist/travel information, biographies, oral history abstracts, and inventories of SWC manuscript collections.

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The Holden Reading Room

Our reference desk is located in the Holden Reading Room. Reading room hours are Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. During the Fall and Spring semesters, Tuesdays and Thursdays see the doors remaining open until 7pm.

Reference requests may be made by email, phone (806-742-9070), mail (MS41041, TTU, Lubbock, TX 79409), or fax (806-742-0496). Please note that some materials may require 1-2 days for retrieval. Copies of materials may be made, but with an associated cost. Details can be found here. Please allow up to three weeks for replies and duplication orders, particularly of photographs and oral history interviews.