Jewish culture area
When Jacob Schmidt wanted to emigrate to America in the late 19th century, his father protested, “Do you want to go to America and become a shaygetz (Gentile)?” Although Jacob came to San Antonio and founded the Orthodox Congregation Aguda Achim, undoubtedly his father’s concerns were shared by other Jewish settlers bound for Texas: How could they possibly retain a sense of identity in a land where less than one percent of the total population was Jewish, especially given the fact that their fellow Jewish immigrants came from a variety of nationalities and social backgrounds?
Some, like Ida Orinovsky’s family in Gonzales, found economic opportunity in small-town Texas and tenaciously held on to their rich cultural and religious heritage. They did so, in part, by joining Jewish immigrants from the surrounding countryside in worship.
Others, such as Celina Cohen’s family, eventually settled where there were larger, established Jewish populations. Celina recalled, “Around 1909 we moved to Wills Point, [which] had one street and boards for a sidewalk. Mama couldn’t talk English. She didn’t see a Jewish face and no place to buy kosher meat. So Mama told Papa, “You either take me where there’s some Jewish faces, or else.” The family moved to a thriving Jewish community in Dallas.
In Texas the Jewish movement from small towns to urban areas accelerated in the post-World War II era. Even so, Jewish populations remained a very small minority in a very big state. The defining characteristics of Jewish life were a devotion to charity, justice, and learning, and a love of family and of God.