Congregation Beth Israel (Houston)

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Congregation Beth Israel

Congregation Beth Israel of Houston, the oldest Jewish congregation in Texas, was founded in Houston in 1854.


Temple Beth Israel
Temple Beth Israel building, 1925–1967
Congregation Beth Israel (Houston) is located in Texas
Congregation Beth Israel (Houston)
Location in Texas
Congregation Beth Israel (Houston) is located in the United States
Congregation Beth Israel (Houston)
Congregation Beth Israel (Houston) (the United States)
Location3517 Austin St., Midtown Houston, Texas
Coordinates29°44′14″N 95°22′30″W / 29.73735°N 95.37496°W / 29.73735; -95.37496
ArchitectFinger, Joseph
Architectural styleModerne
NRHP reference #84001826[1]
RTHL #14339
Significant dates
Added to NRHPMarch 1, 1984
Designated RTHL1974

The congregation was founded in 1854 as an Orthodox Jewish kehilla and legally chartered in 1859.[2] The Orthodox Beth Israel Congregation in Houston opened in a former house that had been converted to a synagogue.[3] In 1874 the congregation voted to change their affiliation to Reform Judaism, sparking the foundation of Congregation Adath Yeshurun, now known as Congregation Beth Yeshurun.[2] Hyman Judah Schachtel was a past rabbi.

Beth Israel's Franklin Avenue Temple building was completed in 1874.[4][5] The temple was at Crawford Street at Franklin Avenue in what is now Downtown Houston. In 1908 the congregation moved into a new temple at Crawford at Lamar Street, in an area that was a Jewish community.[6] After the congregation left the Lamar site, the New Day Temple occupied it. As of 2016 The Grove at Discovery Green occupies the former Lamar site.[7]

A new temple at Austin Street and Holman Avenue was dedicated in 1925.[4][5] Originally it was considered to be a part of the Third Ward.[8]

The Moderne style, 1924-built Austin Street building, designed by congregant Joseph Finger, was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and was awarded Recorded Texas Historical Landmark status in 2009.[1]

In 1943 Temple Beth Israel announced that people who espoused Zionist ideals were not allowed to be members, so Emanu-El was formed by people who disagreed with the decision. As of 1967 Beth Israel accepts people with Zionist beliefs.[9]

In 1966 the Houston Independent School District purchased the 1920s temple building on Austin Street.[10][11] HISD began using that building -- at first -- as an annex for San Jacinto High School since the school's population was increasing.[10]

In the years leading to 1967, the Jewish community was moving to Meyerland. To follow the community,[6] in 1967 the congregation moved to a new temple on North Braeswood Boulevard. The former temple building on Austin Street became the first home of Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and was renamed the Ruth Denney Theatre. When the high school moved to new quarters, the building became a performance venue for Houston Community College's Central Fine Arts division and was renamed the Heinen Theatre.[1] The historic building is located in Midtown Houston.[12]

Rabbi David Lyon currently presides over the congregation of Beth Israel. [13]

Text of historical marker at site of Temple Beth Israel in Houston.


Current property[edit]

The current synagogue at 5600 North Braeswood Boulevard has a lobby with twelve needlepoints. The design of these needlepoints had inspiration in the Hadassah Medical Center's Chagall windows. The current synagogue facility has been expanded since its initial construction in order to house a Jewish school.[14]

The Shlenker School is on the synagogue property. The school is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest.


The cemetery owned by Congregation Beth Israel is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Houston.[15]

See also[edit]


  • Bell, Roselyn. "Houston." In: Tigay, Alan M. (editor) The Jewish Traveler: Hadassah Magazine's Guide to the World's Jewish Communities and Sights. Rowman & Littlefield, January 1, 1994. p. 215-220. ISBN 1568210787, 9781568210780.
  • Gore, Elaine Clift. Talent Knows No Color: The History of an Arts Magnet High School (Research in curriculum and instruction) Information Age Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1593117612, 9781593117610.


  1. ^ a b c National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ a b Olitzky, Kerry M.; Raphael, Marc Lee. The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, June 30, 1996, p. 346
  3. ^ Bell, p. 216.
  4. ^ a b Anne Nathan Cohen, The Centenary History of Congregation Beth Israel of Houston (Houston, 1954)
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b Gonzales, J.R. (2011-02-01). "Congregation Beth Israel through the years". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-02-03.
  7. ^ Barden-Smith, St. John (2016-10-23). "Temples of the gods: Houston's religious diversity reflects community". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2018-07-12.
  8. ^ Wood, Roger. Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues. 2003, University of Texas Press. 1st Edition. p. 73.
  9. ^ Bell, p. 217.
  10. ^ a b Gore, p. 8. Quote (from page 8 of Talent Knows no Color): << "A former Hebrew temple across the street from San Jacinto had been purchased by the school district in 1966 as an annex for the school's burgeoning enrollment" >>
  11. ^ Gore, p. 10 Quote (from page 10 of Talent Knows no Color): << "Denny was given her choice of three district-owned sites in the central city just outside of downtown Houston for the new school: W. D. Cleveland Elementary School to the west; Montrose Elementary School to the southwest; and the former Temple Beth Israel to the south. Denney, with the assistance of Barry Moore, one of her former Lamar drama students who had become an architect, toured all three sites, giving facilities for performance priority over any other consideration. The former Temple Beth Israel, the annex since 1966 for HISD's vocational San Jacinto High School [renamed Houston Technical Institute on June 1, 1971], seemed best suited for HSPVA's temporary use. Despite five years of district neglect, the sanctuary, attached two-story Levy Memorial Hall, and adjacent one-story Mendelsohn Education Building had the essential components for a small arts high school; use of this campus would only be necessary until HISD could pass a bond issue including funds for a new state-of-the-art building (...)" >>.
  12. ^ "Land Use & Development Map Archived 2008-12-03 at the Wayback Machine." Midtown Houston. Retrieved on April 4, 2009.
  13. ^ "Rabbi David Lyon Remarks Honoring Ellen Cohen at CancerForward". Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  14. ^ Bell, p. 218.
  15. ^ Davis, Rod. "Houston's really good idea Bus tour celebrates communities that forged a city." San Antonio Express-News. Sunday August 3, 2003. Travel 1M. Retrieved on February 11, 2012.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 29°40′37″N 95°29′16″W / 29.6769°N 95.4879°W / 29.6769; -95.4879