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Beth Yeshurun Officially Designated Texas Historic Landmark

By: Daniel Bissonnet

The much-anticipated installation of a Texas Historical Commission Landmark at Congregation Beth Yeshurun was conducted on Sunday, Oct. 23. More than 100 congregants, synagogue leaders, government officials and others attended the ceremony.

The Commission designated Beth Yeshurun as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 2019, but the pandemic delayed the installation ceremony until Sunday.

Speakers at the event included Senior Rabbi Brian Strauss, congregational president David Stein, U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, City Council member Abbie Kamin and Harris County Historical Commission Dedication chair, Debra Blacklock Sloan.

Cantor Rachel Goldman performed a musical rendition of the Shehecheyanu prayer, and Jennifer LeVine led Beth Yeshurun Day School students in the Pledge of Allegiance and singing Hatikvah.

Speaking with the JHV before the event, Rabbi Strauss said: “We think about all those who came before us, how happy and proud they must be of the building that they worked so hard to build.

“The community that they put so much effort into creating is now being recognized by our state with this important designation. What that means for the future of our congregation is that this is a permanent place where Jewish learning, prayer and community will continue to thrive going forward.”

Fletcher commented to the JHV: “Congregation Beth Yeshurun has played an essential role in our community’s history-from opening its doors and welcoming people after World War II to helping achieve women’s ritual rights.”

“I am proud to represent Texas’ diverse and dynamic 7th Congressional District, which includes the heart of Houston’s thriving Jewish community and I am grateful to have witnessed the historical dedication of Congregation Beth Yeshurun.”

District C Council member Kamin told the JHV: “From floods to the pandemic, this historical designation was a long time coming, but well worth the wait.

“It was special to be together in recognition of the significance of the congregation for our Jewish community and the city as a whole.”

The Texas Historical Commission awards Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks to buildings at least 50 years old that are worthy of preservation for their architectural and historical associations.

A 13-minute video documentary of major milestones in Beth Yeshurun’s history was a highlight of the celebration.

Beth Yeshurun was founded as Adath Yeshurun in 1891 and moved into its first building in 1895. A new building opened in 1908, where the synagogue remained until 1946.

In 1924, Beth El was formed by a group of Adath Yeshurun members who wanted more liberal, modern practices, mainly mixed-gender seating and musical instrument accompaniment in services. After almost a decade of negotiations, Beth Yeshurun and Beth El merged in 1946 with provisions for both groups of worshipers.

In 1947, funding and plans were created for its third home on Southmore Boulevard, where Beth Yeshurun flourished. It moved to its current Beechnut Street location in 1962.

In 1998, Beth Yeshurun began a renovation and expansion project that was completed in 2004. The synagogue today incorporates three sanctuaries: J.B. Greenfield Chapel, Freedman-Levit Sanctuary and Barg Family Sanctuary. Extensive damage to these worship areas and throughout the buildng from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was remediated over several years.

The mid-century modern synagogue was designed by Eugene Werlin and Leonard Gabert Sr.

Werlin designed homes in River Oaks and Braeswood. He was the architect for Henke-Pillot grocers, multiple Weiner’s and Danberg’s stores, the Sakowitz Post Oak store and Meyerland Plaza.

Gabert designed homes in Houston and synagogues in Baytown, Schulenberg and Wharton, Texas.

Beth Yeshurun’s architectural details include a 26-foot-high stained glass of the Burning Bush over the Ark, two large mosaics depicting Judaic symbols flanking the bimah and the Ner Tamid, eternal light designed by renowned Israeli artist D.H. Gumbel.

Jennifer Sutton, Beth Yeshurun’s director of Development, acknowledged many who contributed to the success of the event. “Special thanks go to Glen Rosenbaum, who managed the Historical Landmark application with historical preservation consultants Anna Mod and Amanda Barry, as well as Gary Swartz.

“We are also thankful to those who participated and supported the historical video produced by Douglas Newman, including Lonnie Schooler, Rabbi Jack Segal, David Stein, Erin Rees of Ward & Ames, Rhona and Bruce Caress, Beth Yeshurun Sisterhood, Stephen Fox, Joshua Furman and the Rice University Jewish Archives, Kaplan Museum of Judaica, Dean Mills, Vicky Richker, Jerrad Bloome, Andy Burger and David Bush and Jim Parsons of Preservation Houston, who also awarded Beth Yeshurun with the Good Brick Award just last year for our restoration efforts post-Harvey.”

Beth Yeshurun is the oldest continually active Conservative Jewish congregation in Texas, and the largest Conservative congregation in the United States.

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