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From Bathurst to Blanco

Reflections of a Toronto Jewish ex-pat in San Antonio

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Texas Flag. The Lonestar state

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Remember the Alamo! Remember your Jewish roots! 

 In the city of San Antonio, the struggle is real, but not impossible, as far as maintaining a Jewish identity.

 It’s not like Toronto or New York, where there are neighbourhoods that boast Jewish businesses as far as the eye can see. It’s not Dallas or Houston, where there are some sizeable communities as well.  

 A brief backgrounder: the history of Jewish existence in San Antonio dates back to 1715, with families from Northern Mexico. In 1835, there were local Jews fighting in the Texas War of Independence. 

A formal community was formed in 1850 with a wave of German immigrants to Texas.  

 The first congregation was Temple Beth El, founded in 1874. Later, eastern European immigration led to the formation of Orthodox and Conservative congregations, beginning with Agudas Achim in the 1890s.

 By 1937, an estimated 6,900 Jews lived in San Antonio. With the rise of a military industry, the number grew to 9,000 by 1984. The number is closer to 12,000 today. 

 Being a Toronto transplant, and a person who had no shortage of opportunities to be active in my culture, the differences between Toronto and San Antonio are surely felt. 

 You want sufganiyot at Chanukah? You need to settle for jelly doughnuts at the local doughnut chain.  The one kosher restaurant closed three years ago. If you want kosher products and/or Israeli products, there is one grocery store. One! In Thornhill, there were three within 10 minutes driving distance. 

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But being small also has its perks: My son’s Sunday school only costs $440 a year, running most Sundays from September to May.  It is run by Temple Beth El, and teaches students everything from tzedakah to conversational Hebrew. A program like that would easily run in the thousands back in Toronto.

 There is also a well-run Jewish Community Centre with a Hebrew charter school operating out of it. That means free, if you can get in.  A full-scale curriculum with a mixture of Hebrew language instruction, all paid by the taxpayer.  

 But what truly has struck me this tiny community has always packed both a political and social punch. In the early 1900s, the community raised funds for the Zionist cause, and hosted talks by David Ben Gurion and other leaders. There were active branches of Labur and Betar Zionists. When Britain closed off immigration of Jewish people to Palestine in the 1930s, the local congregations were actively lobbying Texas senators to condemn the policies. 

 The community is very entrenched in the politics today. Case in point, San Antonio’s mayor Ron Nirenberg is of Jewish roots, and the former Texas Speaker of the House is Joe Strauss, a Jewish San Antonian. 

 A plaque in downtown San Antonio highlights the tremendous contributions of the Jewish womens’ chapter during the war years, including midwifery. Nowadays, congregations like Temple Beth El feed the hungry and run other drives. On Martin Luther King Jr weekend, Jewish, and Black Baptist communities, get together to run coordinated services, designed to promote awareness and respect of one another.

 In Toronto, I sewed my Jewish roots. In San Antonio, I discovered something even more special: the concepts of Tikkun Olam and love for one’s neighbor.

Doron Berger is a finance professional, a Toronto ex-pat now living in the US. He was a former reporter for Afterword newspaper for five years, and was a feature writer for LandmarkReport.com, an online news site.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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