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BOOKS & THE CULTURE IDJewish Stars in Texas Rabbis Who Made History BY GEOFF RIPS JEWISH STARS IN TEXAS. By Hollace Ava Weiner. Texas A&M University Press. 302 pages. $29.95. From the frontier to the modern suburbs of Dallas, Hollace Weiner’s new study covers 100 years of Jewish history in Texas, organized around the story of 11 rabbis, each a pioneer of Texas Judaism. If you’re expecting to find gun-toting, circuit-riding rabbis on horseback, a la Clint Eastwood in a yarmulke telling a shopkeeper open on Saturday to “Make my minyan,” you’re going to be disappointed. But if you want to know what happened in this state before all those yenkees invaded in the last 20 years, launching jihads in every respectable Southern Reform congregation and inserting more Hebrew in the prayer service \(and wearing prayer shawls and yarmulkes in a way that seems to say that the local yokels don’t know how to dress There is a distinct Southern Reform tradition. It is based on a combination of necessity, 19th century European liberalism, the growth of democratic nations, and the fact that Jews were no longer locked in the shtetl, but were able to become civic and community leaders. It was partly assimilation to evade the anti-Semitism that was very much a part of American life until World War II. But it was also assimilation in a very positive way, taking advantage of the doors that opened to the life of the larger community and the opportunity to engage in the larger, often difficult, political and social debates of the time. Very often engagement in the community for Reform Jewish leaders meant fighting for social justice and serving the greater community. These rabbis stood up to the Klan, backed civil rights, built ties with Mexico, helped thousands of more recent immigrants, championed the working class, and were catalysts for intellectual and cultural life in communities that were just emerging from their founding as frontier towns. It wasn’t universal, but the liberalism of religious practice in many of these Southern Reform Jewish leaders was often matched by a liberalism in political life, particularly on matters of race. Talk about traditions: Put away the tallis and tell me where that political and social leadership is now. Where are the Henry Cohens and Ephraim Frisches and Levi Olans today? And where are the congregations who expect their leaders to be catalysts for change? Hollace Weiner, a veteran of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newsroom, does talk about a few or thodox and conservative rabbis in passing, but she concentrates on 11 Texas rabbis 10 Reform and one Conservativewho had significant effects on their communi ties. Most came to Texas from Europe via the Northeast, the Midwest, or the South. Most were raised in Orthodox households and came to more liberal practice as a new generation in this country or through Reform movements in Europe. Either by design or by happenstance, all became big fish in the little pond of Texas Judaism and seemed to revel in that position, particularly in comparison to their colleagues leading congregations in the Northeast, where rabbis were a dime a dozen. Perhaps the most influential of all these leaders was Rabbi Henry Cohen of Galveston, rabbi to the state’s most prominent Jewish community at the turn of the century. Cohen served Galveston from 1888 to 1952 and in the process became known as the chief rabbi of Texas. He raised ecumenism to an art form, convincing Galve El Paso Rabbi Martin Zielonka with Temple Mount Sinai’s basketball team Courtesy Temple Mount Sinai, El Paso, TX 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 22, 2000