Virtually since its founding in 1849 by Jacob De Cordova, the son of Sephardic Jews, the city of Waco has had a Yiddishe hartz — Yiddish for “a Jewish heart.”
Waco-area Jews have played vital roles in the commercial, spiritual and cultural life of Texas.
Their activities include merchant princes like the Sangers, the Goldsteins and Migels, to industrialists like the Lipshitzes; from civic leaders like Bernard Rapoport to civic distractions like the brassy Gussie Oscar, vaudeville impresario.
The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life recently released an additional 39 histories from Texas to its Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, an online historical guide to the Jewish South.
The articles arrive in time for the Jewish High Holy Days, which begin at sundown Wednesday with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5772, followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on the eve of Oct. 7.
And Waco is one of the featured articles found at www.ISJL.org, because of research funded by grants from the Texas Jewish Historical Society and Humanities Texas.
More than 200 Jewish communities across the South have histories posted on the site, researched and written by the ISJL History Department staff.
The Texas essays trace the story of Jewish settlement in the Lone Star State from its immigrant origins to the rise and sometimes decline of Jewish communities and congregations.
Stuart Rockoff, director of the ISJL history department, and author of the Waco segment, said the work is based on original research into synagogue records, local newspapers, public documents, the U.S. census, oral histories and numerous published works.
The Texas section of the Encyclopedia also incorporates original oral histories conducted by ISJL oral historian Josh Parshall. Many of the online Encyclopedia entries feature excerpts from the video interviews.
“We are not claiming this is the complete history,” Parshall said. “We hope that people send us additional stories and information so we can continue to update this work in progress.”
ISJL projects in the Texas section of community histories should be completed by the end of the year, Rockoff said.