Deep In The Heart The Lives & Legends of Texas Jews

DEEP IN THE HEART THE LIVES & LEGENDS OF TEXAS JEWS by Ruthe Winegarten and Cathy Schechter Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1990 253pp., $29.95

PIONEER JEWISH TEXANS THEIR IMPACT ON TEXAS & AMERICAN HISTORY FOR 400 YEARS 1590-1990 by Natalie Ornish Dallas: Texas Heritage Press, 1989 324pp., $39.95

With a picture of the holy ark and Torah at the center of a montage on its cover, Deep in the Heart sets the mood for linking Texas with Jews and Judaism. The cover photos — culled from 550 in the text — portray women, men and children engaged in diverse activities, an altogether appropriate foreshadowing of what follows.

It is, of course, refreshing to read a history in which women are as well-represented as men; small communities, as visible as large; unpopular but important stands’, as thoroughly covered as some which Texas Jews are proud to-remember.

But women are not only integrated into the text; they also have their own chapter, “The Changing Role of Women’,’ where we learn about a variety of women. They include actress Adah Isaacs Menken (1835-1868), called the “Naked Lady of Nacogdoches” because of the flesh-colored body stocking she wore in the play “Mazeppa”

They also include Vilna-born ophthalmologist, Dr. Ray K. Daily, one of the first women and Jews to graduate from a Texas medical school. She served on the Houston school board for 24 years and consistently supported unpopular progressive stands. When she promoted federally funded lunch programs, she was called a communist.

Jeanette Miriam Goldberg of Jefferson became secretary of the Jewish Chautauqua Society in 1923; a plaque in the synagogue she attended declares: “Of Judaism, she was the high priestess” Winegarten and Schechter speculate that if she and women like her had “been born in another time, they would probably have become rabbis”

We learn of less savory episodes. In 1943 Houston’s Congregation Beth Israel adopted the strongly anti-Zionist “Basic Principles” which advocated a minimum of Hebrew in the services and rejected the notion of kashrut. References to “Israel” in the “Union Prayer Book” were changed (in some synagogues) to “followers of Judaism” As a result of this controversy, which reached the nation on the pages of Time magazine, a breakaway congregation, Temple Emanu El, was formed.

In addition to the 550 photos, the book contains a glossary, timeline, notes and index. It is an important source for scholars and lay-persons — as is Natalie Ornish’s Pioneer Jewish Texans.

Ornish writes that her purpose has been “not to glorify any individuals or families, but rather to show that there was a Jewish presence in Texas from the very beginning, even before the days of the Republic” Her coverage of the years of the Conquis-tadores (1500’s) is extensive, but her treatment of more recent times reveals some inexplicable gaps. It is difficult to see how anyone could discuss the Jewish presence in Texas, specifically in Houston and Dallas, without mentioning the “Basic Principles”

Although she devotes considerable space to such women as Dr. Daily and attorney Hermine Tobolowsky, “Mother of the ERA in Texas’,’ in general, the female presence is under-represented.

Ornish’s text contains more than 400 photos, bibliography and notes, as well as appendices covering such items as land grants to Jews from 1835-1888 and a discussion of whether Jean Lafitte was Jewish.

Both Pioneer Jewish Texans and Deep in the Heart are worth reading. Neither should be allowed to languish on the coffee table.