24 October 2006

Deep in the heart of Texas

I'm hunting down Texas Jewish resources in anticipation of my first trip to Texas, for the Houston-based Family Tree DNA conference.

The Texas Jewish Historical Society, in Austin, offers interesting resources, including virtual reconstructions of small-town Texas synagogues and a series of related articles by architect Robert P. Davis.

According to the American Jewish Yearbooks 1910-1928, writes Davis, some 40 Texas towns had at least one synagogue. Three generations down the line, that number is greatly diminished. The Texas Jewish Historical Society underwrote this project to preserve something of these vanishing synagogues and their communities.

Davis’ essays cover memory, synagogue design before and after WWII, a history of Texas Jews, a history of Jewish business in Texas, assimilation and migration.

The virtual restoration project uses CAD (computer-aided design) to recreate the buildings.

Two years ago, at Beth Hatefutsoth in Tel Aviv, a similar project recreated German synagogues destroyed during WWII. The popular exhibit was created by non-Jewish students, historians and technology professionals in Germany.

The Texas project's virtual restorations have three stages. The first is historical research to develop a documented description of the building. A three-dimensional solid model is constructed, and then digitized. Finally, audio tours recorded by former residents are added to the models, photographs and animations.

The recreated synagogues are in Abilene, Amarillo, Baytown, Breckenridge, Brenham, Brownsville, Bryan, Corsicana, Galveston, Jefferson, Kilgore, Laredo, Longview, Lubbock, Marshall, Midland-Odessa, Port Arthur, San Angelo, Schulenberg, Sherman, Texarkana, Tyler, Victoria, Wharton and Wichita Falls.

Several pages show photos of plaques listing the leading local families, and Wharton’s page even shows the synagogue’s huge BBQ pit.

On the left of the homepage, click on Synagogue Map and float your mouse over the counties to see links to families, synagogues and more. Under Links, view an interesting assortment of books on the Jewish presence in the West, as well as links to the region’s Jewish genealogical societies.

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