Scope and Contents
Six boxes of correspondence, programs and other event materials, books, newsletters, news clippings, bulletins, photographs, sermons, memorabilia, and video (VHS) and audio recordings document the history of, and activities at, Shearith Israel Congregation in Wharton, Texas, from 1921 to 2002. Of particular interest is the Parachet (Ark curtain) that was used in the Synagogue until it closed in 2002, video of the 75th anniversary banquet, photographs of the now destroyed Synagogue's interior and exterior including from the groundbreaking ceremony in 1956 and photographs from the last service at Shearith Israel in 2002.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish material from the Shearith Israel Congregation collection must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library.
The Woodson Research Center use policy is that researchers assume sole responsibility for any infringement of privacy, literary rights, copyrights, or other rights arising from their use of the archival materials. In addition to any restrictions placed by donors, certain kinds of archival materials are restricted for the life of the creator plus 50 years. These materials include, but are not limited to, student grades, transcripts, and any job applications or recommendations.
Biographical / Historical
Shearith Israel Congregation had its inception in 1899 when the Jewish citizens of Wharton, Texas, first met to conduct religious services, using members' homes as meeting places. Later, under the leadership of I. Ditch, a congregation was organized and Sabbath services were held each Friday night and Saturday morning in the lower floor of the old Masonic Lodge Building. The first Torah used by the congregation was ordered from New York by Mr. Ditch.
As the community grew and the number of Jewish families increased plans were formulated for the building of a Synagogue. A committee composed of Joe Schwartz, Ben Davis, T. Gordon, and M. Bernstein solicited funds and the Synagogue was built on the corner of Rusk and Burleson streets in 1921. The officers of the Congregation at that time were: Ben Davis, President; Joe Schwartz, Vice President; A. M. Smith, Treasurer; Herman Davis, Secretary; Trustees, T. Gordon, M. Levine, I. Kurtz, and L. Smith. In addition to the officers the congregation listed as members the following: J. Goldman, B. Leder, P. Alpard, L. Abovitz, S. Yarno, M. Berstein, D. Gordon, I. Kreitstein, and J. Abovitz.
At first the membership consisted mainly of Wharton citizens, but as the Jewish population increased in surrounding towns the congregation expanded to include those who lived nearby from El Campo, Bay City, Ganado, Edna, Palacios, and Richmond, making a total of 85 members.
In 1940, President Ben Davis headed a committee to build the Jewish Community Center. A tract of 2.14 acres was purchased and the building was completed in the fall of 1940. It was located just off the Bay City Highway near the city park.
Rabbi Israel Rosenberg came to Wharton to assume the pulpit of Shearith Israel in 1955, and remained the community’s spiritual leader until 1978. A year after Rosenberg’s arrival, the community dedicated a new, state-of-the-art synagogue building in the shape of a six-pointed Star of David at 1821 Old Lane City Rd., that was designed by Houston Jewish architect, Lenard Gabert. The construction of a Religious School building and the Maynard Smith Memorial Library followed in 1961.
Perhaps, the most notable and enduring feature of the property, however, was the barbecue pit. Shearith Israel’s annual barbecue fundraiser, the social event of the year for the community, attracted hundreds of Jews and non-Jews from the area, as well as relatives and former members, who descended upon Wharton to eat chicken and coleslaw.
The synagogue closed its doors in 2002, when membership dwindled from a peak of 400 members down to just 39, and sold its facilities. In 2010, the main building burned to the ground, and, besides the community hall that still stands, visitors to the site today will see nothing but a concrete slab where the sanctuary and school once stood.
“History of Shearith Israel,” Box 5, folder 10 and