“So happy, I could blow a fuse,” 1957

With my friend and colleague Josh Furman from Jewish Studies I have been (and continue to be) on a mission to save precious and fragile pieces of the history of Jewish Houston that were damaged in the floods caused by Harvey. First at United Orthodox Synagogue, then today at Beth Yeshurun I have been alternately frantic, heartsick, and elated. I’ve ripped out my share of sheetrock over the last week but this is a way to help that lets me use the skills of my job. It’s also forced me to acknowledge my limitations. This is extremely humbling. Here’s Josh and Rabbi Sarah Fort this afternoon amid the wreckage:

Today I painstakingly separated and dried the soggy pages of a treasure: the Golden Anniversary history of Congregation Adath Yeshurun, founded in Houston in 1891. Is there another copy somewhere else? I don’t know but I couldn’t sit around and wait to find out.

What’s the Rice connection? There are dozens of dozens but here’s one that jumps to my tired and foggy mind right away. This is a picture from the history of Rabbi Wolf Willner, who served the congregation for two decades:

Willner was a graduate of Yale, BA 1885, MA 1887. He was a strong proponent of higher education for women and his daughter Zillah enrolled at Rice and graduated in 1917 in the second class. The Willner family also opened their home to Jewish girls from out of town, enabling several of them to attend Rice too.

This is, as I mentioned, an ongoing effort. The Jewish community was especially hard hit by Harvey and I can’t bear to think of any more of this kind of material being lost. If you have something of historical interest or know someone who does please send me an email at kean@rice.edu. Even if it’s damaged we may be able to save it.

Bonus: One of the things I encountered that made me smile was this little ditty from the Beth Yeshurun Men’s Club. I like to think of those rascals sitting around and really belting it out.

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