The attractions of the New World – a promise of limitless potential and religious freedom – appealed to Jewish populations just as it did most everyone else who arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, before 1821, Jews who practiced their religion openly were not allowed to legally live in Texas, a mandate established by the Spanish Catholic colonists. But the termination of Spanish control over the Texas territory also ended religious exclusionism. As a result, a number of our oldest communities including Waco, Brownsville, and Castroville were founded by Jewish immigrants.
Congregation Beth Israel in Houston became the first chartered Jewish synagogue, founded in 1859. Temple B’nai Israel in Galveston followed in 1868. San Antonio received Beth El in 1874, Temple Emanu-El of Dallas was established in 1875, and Beth Israel of Austin in 1876. The pattern continued through the turn of the 19th century and, today, dozens of cities across the state host Jewish communities and synagogues.