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The history of the Jews in Brazos County, Texas covers a period of over 140 years of Jewish history in Brazos County, Texas. Many notable individuals and communities have contributed to this history beginning with early Jewish settlement in 1865. This history includes the present Jewish communities and individuals of Brazos County and Texas A&M University.
One of the first Jewish temples in Brazos County, Texas is Temple Freda. Built in 1912, the temple is still in use as of 2007[update], making it one of the three oldest religious buildings still in use in the county. The temple is named for Ethel Freda Kaczer (1860–1912), wife of the president of the Jewish community when the synagogue was built. The temple is unique for a Jewish place of worship in that it is named after a woman.
Since 1982, Texas A&M University's "Center of Heritage Conservation" has focused on the history of Temple Freda as one of its historical projects. The temple structure is built in Greek Revival style and also exhibits Classical Revival style with Beaux-Arts architecture elements. Temple Freda is associated with the Jewish cemetery "Temple Freda Cemetery," which is also a part of the National Register of Historic Places of Texas.
There are two Jewish cemeteries in Bryan. The older of them was established in the 19th Century and is called the Jewish Cemetery of Bryan. This historic Cemetery was recently renovated by the City of Bryan with assistance and guidance from Congregation Beth Shalom, Bryan TX (see below) and has headstones dating to the time of the Civil War with the names of immigrants from as far away as Prussia and Palestine (now Israel). The second cemetery, established in the early 20th Century, is called Temple Freda Cemetery (see above). Both cemeteries are located within the Bryan City Cemetery. Plots are available in each, and Congregation Beth Shalom provides for both of these properties. Temple Freda Cemetery is the location of an annual Memorial Service on the Second Day of Rosh Hashana.
Texas A&M Hillel is the oldest Hillel Foundation organization in the United States. The organization was founded in 1920, three years before the national Hillel Foundation was organized at University of Illinois. Texas A&M Hillel began as the "TAMC Menorah Club" and was organized in 1916 by Dr. Jacob Joseph Taubenhaus. Born in Safed on October 20, 1884, Taubenhaus was chief of the plant pathology and physiology division of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M) from 1916 to 1937. During his life, he was also a leader in Jewish affairs at the university. He and his wife, Esther Taubenhaus, founded in 1920, the "TAMC Hillel Club" with assistance from Rabbi David Lefkowitz of Dallas.
In 1958, Texas A&M Hillel opened up a building of its own. During this period, some members of Temple Freda in Bryan, Texas left to attend services at the Hillel building in College Station, Texas. Presently, Temple Freda's Torah is under the care of Texas A&M Hillel. After Mrs. Taubenhaus retired Shirley Reiser became the Director. She remained as director until 1982. She was the wife of Dr. Raymond Reiser a Distinguish professor in the department of biochemistry. She was lovingly knows as the mother away from home. The Reiser's came to College Station in 1940. Dr. Reiser enlisted in the Army Medical Corp in 1943 and they returned to College Station in 1945 with two kids in tow.
Rabbi Dr. Peter Tarlow, an expert in tourism security, has been the executive director of Texas A&M Hillel since 1983. A scholar in the area of tourism safety, he is a consultant for the tourism industry, and the founder of "Tourism & More Inc." Tarlow is married to Sara Alpern, an associate professor of history at Texas A&M who specializes in women's studies.
Congregation Beth Shalom, Bryan TX (CBS) was established officially in 1968 as a member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement). Its members originally met and worshipped at the Texas A&M University Hillel Center, but until 1990 it also met at numerous other locations in Bryan-College Station, including a public school, the Unitarian Church and the College Station Community Center. In 1990 CBS purchased a building at 101 North Coulter, Bryan, TX. Originally a LDS church, at the time of purchase it was a Baptist church, and currently is a synagogue, or shul. Around this time CBS became a non-profit corporation with the official name Jewish Congregation of Bryan-College Station, but still known as Congregation Beth Shalom.
Despite having no full-time a rabbi, and often no part-time rabbi, CBS has produced 2 rabbis and 1 cantor. Student rabbis, retired rabbis, and part-time rabbis and cantors conducted services as have the congregants. Currently CBS has about fifty families and twenty individual members, and (part-time) Rabbi Barry Diamond. The shul has an active adult education program, two book clubs, a Sisterhood, a volunteer-led religious school, a volunteer-led Bar/Bat Mitzvah program, and teen youth activities in UNITY. CBS has enjoyed social interactions through fundraisers (including Deli on the Brazos), a music program, as well as B’nai Mitzvahs and social gatherings to honor lay or clergy visitors.
CBS is represented on the Brazos Valley Ministers group, and enjoys a strong community presence, with numerous visits to and from its gentile neighbors (including four different churches and congregations), where a common heritage is shared, particularly at Passover. CBS is for Jewish community as a whole, and welcomes calls from non-affiliated Jews wanting to learn about the Jewish community in the Brazos Valley, and is a source of information about Jewish burial in the Brazos Valley. CBS has provided assistance to local family members, and during the devastating Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, CBS helped arrange temporary housing in members' homes for many Houston area Jewish families. The CBS website is http://www.cbs-bcs.org/.
Starting in 2004, the Gamma Kappa chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu was rechartered at Texas A&M. Sigma Alpha Mu, as a historically Jewish fraternity, has served an integral part of Jewish life at Texas A&M ever since, currently with 41 members.
Chabad of Brazos Valley, also known as the "Chabad Center of Texas A&M," was founded on July 10, 2007, in the home of Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff and Manya Lazaroff. With the opening of Chabad of Brazos Valley, students at Texas A&M University have been provided with a regular Shabbat dinner and lunch program, Pesach seders, and Purim parties. On December 4, 2007, the Jewish Aggies, a student group at Texas A&M, lit the largest menorah in the state of Texas. Jewish Herald-Voice reported that Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff is facilitating the writing of a Torah scroll at Texas A&M. Rabbi Lazaroff stated that “As our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel suffer daily hardship, now is the time for us to come together. What better way than through the core of our existence – the Torah.”