Scope and Contents
The Westheimer/Simon Family papers consist of materials related to Congregations Emanu El, and Beth Israel, such as sermons, programs, obituaries, and church bulletins, as well as more personal family materials like newspaper clippings, correspondence, books, memorabilia, photographs (family members, etc.), membership cards, and legal documents. Many events related to the Westheimer / Simon Family are also recorded in a number of certificates, diplomas, yearbooks, and invitations, and the collection boasts two VHS tapes and two cassette tapes, as well as several scrapbooks / memory books devoted to weddings, births, and deaths in the family. The materials are in good condition, and range in date from 1920 to 2012.To assist in genealogical research and making connections between the many people represented in this collection, the arranger’s constructed family tree can be found in the control folder.
Biographical / Historical
Mitchell Louis Westheimer:
Born in Baden, Germany, on August 22, 1831, Mitchell Louis Westheimer moved to Texas in the 1850s, and married Babette Betty Hirsch on August 26, 1860. Westheimer became naturalized as an American citizen in 1867, and with his wife raised sixteen children: eight of their own, three orphans, and five children of relatives. Westheimer purchased at auction a 640-acre tract extending from what is now Bellaire Boulevard north beyond what is now Westheimer Road in Houston. The tract became known as the Westheimer Plantation. It featured a large, plantation-style residence on the site of present Lamar High School, stables for the livery, and a racetrack. In the 1860s Houston had no public schools, so Westheimer built a school on his farm, hired a teacher, and allowed area children to attend free.
A miller by trade, Westheimer owned a flour mill in Houston, became a hay merchant in the 1850s and 1860s, and built the first streetcar rails in Houston. He spoke seven languages and often served as an interpreter for the bank and post office. Beginning in the 1880s Westheimer opened the Houston Livery Stable and eventually brought over five nephews from Germany--Max, Sidney, Adolf, Sigmund J., and David. Some of his nephews formed in 1883 the Westheimer Transfer and Storage Company, which has been in operation ever since, and a funeral home. Westheimer and his family became leaders in Congregation Beth Israel, the oldest continually active affiliated synagogue in Texas, and he served as an officer and trustee of the congregation in the 1870s and 1880s.
In 1895 Westheimer dedicated a portion of the land from his plantation to Harris County to provide right-of-way for a short-cut road to Columbus and Sealy. This road was denominated Westheimer Road and runs west from near downtown Houston over thirty miles to Fulshear. It is the longest major thoroughfare in Texas. M. L. Westheimer died at St. Joseph's Infirmary on August 2, 1905, at 3:45pm following an operation. He was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Houston.
Biographical note provided courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association.
Dr. Robert Irving Kahn:
Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Emanu El, and a beloved teacher, preacher, and shepherd for thousands of his congregants and many others across the city and the nation, Rabbi Kahn preached and lectured all over the U.S., but had perhaps the greatest effect on his chosen home city, Houston.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1910 to Morris and Sadie Kohn, Kahn entered a joint program at the University of Cincinnati and the Hebrew Union College at sixteen, graduation with a B.A. in 1932, and becoming ordained as a rabbi in 1935. He later returned to school for a Doctorate of Hebrew Letters in 1950, and earned an honorary Doctorate of Divinity in 1960 from the Hebrew Union College.
Shortly after graduating, Rabbi Kahn came to Houston to be Assistant Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel, where he worked under the influential Rabbis Henry Barnston, Henry Cohen, and Samuel Rossinger, and Bishop Michael Quinn.
In 1939, Bob Kahn met his wife of 62 years Rozelle Rosenthal, and they married in 1940. A year later, Rabbi Kahn volunteered for service as a wartime chaplain and served in a series of posts including New Guinea and the Philippines with the 6th Medical Battalion of the 6th Infantry Division, leaving Rozelle at home with the first of their three children, Alfred.
Rabbi Kahn returned home when the congregation Emanu El formed in Houston, and the synagogue leaders asked him to become their rabbi. He served Emanu El as Senior Rabbi for 33 years, and in 1978 became Rabbi Emeritus, making his mark on the community as a visiting lecturer at the HUC-JIR, and as faculty of the University of Houston, St. Thomas University, and St. Mary's Seminary. Rabbi Kahn also wrote a weekly column, “Lessons for Life,” for 25 years, and authored several books, including “Lessons for Life, Ten Commandments for Today,” “The Letter and the Spirit,” and “The Words of My Mouth,” a collection of his sermons published by his congregants following his retirement.
Throughout his long life, Rabbi Kahn served as President of the Houston Rabbinical Association, the Kallah of Texas Rabbis, and President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, in addition to serving on the Boards of the Alumni Association of his seminary, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Alumni Board of Overseers of the HUC-JIR, and the North American Board of the World Union of Progressive Judaism.
Rabbi Kahn was also a dedicated Houstonian, serving on numerous social agency boards, including Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Travelers Aid, Mental Health, Muscular Dystrophy, Houston Metropolitan Ministries, United Way, the Herman Eye Clinic, and the Rothko Chapel. He was a member of B'nai B'rith, of which he became president, the Masons, Scottish Rite, and the Shriners. He was president of the Houston Rotary Club and was its District Governor, Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Texas, and Chaplain of the Arabia Shrine Temple of Houston, the Houston Police Department, and the American Legion. In addition, he was a member of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee of the United Jewish Appeal.
Rabbi Kahn was honored by the Boy Scouts of America with the Silver Beaver and the Ner Tamid Awards; by the Freedom Foundation with a George Washington Medal; by the French Government for service to veterans; by the Masonic Order with the 33rd Degree; by the Zionist Organization of America District with the Robert I. Kahn Lodge; and by the State of Israel with the Prime Minister's Medal for Israel Bonds. A forest was planted in his honor in Israel. He received the Torch of Liberty Award by the ADL, the Humanitarian Award by the AJC, and the Brotherhood Award by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He was appointed to the Vatican II Committee on Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations in the Houston-Galveston Diocese.
Greatly loved by the many people whose lives he touched, Rabbi Kahn lived to 92 years old, and passed peacefully surrounded by loved ones.