Rodef Sholom Congregation: The Early Days of the First Synagogue of Waco, Texas

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Rodef Sholom Congregation

The first Jews settlers appeared in Waco, Texas in the early 1850’s

By 1870, about 50 Jews lived in Waco.

Waco’s first Jewish communal organization was the Hebrew Benevolent Association, organized in 1869.

The Hebrew Benevolent Society purchased land for the first portion of the Hebrew Rest Cemetery.

 

In 1873, the Eureka Lodge #198 of B’nai B’rith was chartered.

 

High Holy Day services were held in rented rooms and well attended by Jews from around the area.

The Hebrew Benevolent Association purchased a Torah

 

In 1879, at a meeting of the Eureka B’nai B’rith Lodge it was resolved to start a congregation and a building fund was initiated.

Regular weekly services were started and the Hebrew Benevolent Association contributed its Torah.

Rodef Solom’s charter was filed with the State of Texas that same year, and Waco had its first synagogue.

 

Rodef Sholom’s initial membership consisted of forty families.

Its charter listed officers “for its first year” as S. Sanger, President; H. Lewine, Vice-President; S.L. Samuels, Secretary; Charles Beer, Treasurer.

Sam Sanger of Waco

Sam Sanger of Waco

 

The First Building

The Ladies Hebrew Aid Society was formed and gave a ball to aid the synagogue’s building fund in 1879.

Additional money was raised from local Christian citizens and gifts from relatives and friends in other cities.

Groundbreaking took place in 1880 and dedication took place in 1881.

 

With the completion of the building, Waco now needed a rabbi.

Because of its location and low salary offered, Rodef Sholom experienced a number of rabbis over the years, but had little success in gaining a long serving one during the 1800s.

 

Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1881

Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1881

Rodef Sholom’s tradition was that experienced members tended to lead its services while the rabbi was responsible for the sermons.

 

In between rabbis, Sam Sanger often officiated at services,  being an ordained rabbi – but first, a leading merchant of Waco.

 

In 1891 the records of the synagogue were destroyed by fire while in the home of its Secretary, causing some discrepancies in the listing of the synagogue’s leadership during its first 13 years.

 

Sabbath School was begun in 1879.

The first Confirmation Service was held for seventeen youngsters in 1893.

By that year, the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society was clearly the congregations woman’s group, raising money to improve both the synagogue and improving the cemetery.

In 1894 the first recoded circumcision was held in Waco officiated by Rodef Sholom’s Rabbi E. M. Meyers.

Also in 1894, “Master Joe Block” became the first Bar Mitzvah.

 

By the turn of the century, Rodef Sholom, operated in the Reform tradition, after years of discussion, officially affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC)  in 1907.

Its womans’ group, Ladies Hebrew Aid Society,  joined the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods in 1922.

 

Rodef Sholom has twice moved since the turn of the Twentieth Century as its congregation has grown.

Rodef Sholom of Waco, 2nd building, 1921

Rodef Sholom of Waco, 2nd building, 1910

 

Rodef Sholom of Waco, Current Building dedicated in 1961

Rodef Sholom of Waco, Current Building dedicated in 1961

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information read the following article in Western States Jewish History

  • Pioneer Jews of Waco, Texas, by Mordecai Podet, WSJH, V21/1 & 2 (2 parts)
  • Sanger Brothers; Sanger Brothers and Their Role in Texas History; Rose Biderman, Rose G.; WSJH V28/2

Any pictures of Rodef Sholom and its founders would be appreciated.

 

 

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