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

Rodef Sholom Congregation


The first Jewish 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.

In 1879, at a meeting of the Eureka B’nai B’rith Lodge, it was resolved to form 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; and Charles Beer, Treasurer.

Sam Sanger of Waco

Sam Sanger of Waco

The Ladies Hebrew Aid Society was formed and put on 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.

A Sabbath School was begun in 1879.


The First Building

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

Because of its location and the low salary offered, Rodef Sholom had little success in gaining a long-serving rabbi during the 1800s.

Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1881

Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1881

Experienced members tended to lead its services while the rabbi was responsible for the sermons.

In between rabbis, Sam Sanger, a leading merchant and ordained rabbi, led services.

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

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

By that year, the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society acted as the congregation’s woman’s group, raising money to improve the synagogue and cemetery.

In 1894, the first recorded 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 and, after years of discussion,  officially affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) in 1907.

The Ladies Hebrew Aid Society  joined the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods in 1922.

Rodef Sholom has moved twice since the turn of the twentieth century.

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


  • Mordecai Podet, “Pioneer Jews of Waco, Texas,” Western States Jewish History 21/1&2.
  • Rose G. Biderman, “Sanger Brothers; Sanger Brothers and Their Role in Texas History,”Western States Jewish History 28/2.