For the holidays I thought I might shed some light on a little Texas history close to home that some may not know.
The congregation was founded in 1854 as an Orthodox Jewish kehilla and legally chartered in 1859. The Orthodox Beth Israel Congregation in Houston opened in a former house that had been converted to a synagogue. In 1874 the congregation voted to change their affiliation to Reform Judaism, sparking the foundation of Congregation Adath Yeshurun, now known as Congregation Beth Yeshurun. Hyman Judah Schachtel was a past rabbi.
Beth Israel’s Franklin Avenue Temple building was completed in 1874. The temple was at Crawford Street at Franklin Avenue in what is now Downtown Houston. In 1908 the congregation moved into a new temple at Crawford at Lamar Street, in an area that was a Jewish community. After the congregation left the Lamar site, the New Day Temple occupied it. As of 2016 The Grove at Discovery Green occupies the former Lamar site.
A new temple at Austin Street and Holman Avenue was dedicated in 1925. Originally it was considered to be a part of the Third Ward.
In 1943 Temple Beth Israel announced that people who espoused Zionist ideals were not allowed to be members, so Emanu-El was formed by people who disagreed with the decision. As of 1967 Beth Israel accepts people with Zionist beliefs.
In 1966 the Houston Independent School District purchased the 1920s temple building on Austin Street. HISD began using that building—at first—as an annex for San Jacinto High School since the school’s population was increasing. In the years leading to 1967, the Jewish community was moving to Meyerland. To follow the community, in 1967 the congregation moved to a new temple on North Braeswood Boulevard. The former temple building on Austin Street became the first home of Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and was renamed the Ruth Denney Theatre. When the high school moved to new quarters, the building became a performance venue for Houston Community College’s Central Fine Arts division and was renamed the Heinen Theatre. The historic building is located in Midtown Houston.