HIS f306N • TEXAS JEWS
10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Numbering today about 130,000 people, the Jewish population of Texas is larger than that of any other southern state except Florida or any other western state except California. But Jews remain fewer than one-percent of the state's population, and Texas still seems, as historian Cyrus Adler described it in the 1920s, "one of the last corners of the Diaspora."
Jews have lived in Texas since the 1820s - unless reports of an earlier Spanish "crypto-Jewish" presence are true - and the Jewish experience there reveals many of the same religious, communal, political, and social currents common to Jews throughout the Americas. Jewish Texans sought compromises that allowed them to preserve much of their distinctive tradition while blending acceptably into the gentile mainstream. They built defenses against anti-Semitism, though rarely experienced it. They argued with each other over preferred worship practices and over Zionism. They found a place in American society largely through their involvement in commerce and trade, though Jews have been present in every field and profession including the most Texan enterprises of all cattle and oil. They established social and religious institutions which, while always much fewer than gentile ones, made Jews a powerful force in every community they entered. Neiman-Marcus and Dell Computer, founded by Jewish Texans, are international institutions. And yet, as Kinky Friedman's career demonstrates, something about the idea of a Texas Jew can still provoke laughter. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, this course will explore both the historical reality and the mythic perceptions of Texas Jews. With a strong reliance on primary materials including archival, artistic, and documentary sources students will examine the complexities of Texas-Jewish identity, draw parallels to Jewish experiences elsewhere in the United States, and consider what it means to be a Jewish Texan.