By Harriet P. Gross
A dear friend, who’s moved far away but remains a faithful TJP reader, writes this after seeing our last few issues: “I would tell everyone who’s graduating from rabbinical school that there’s a job waiting in Dallas!” And it does look that way, with a good number of young clergy coming here in recent weeks.
It wasn’t always like this. Dallas newcomers may find it hard to believe that when I arrived here in 1980, there were fewer congregations than there are new rabbis who’ve recently arrived in town in time to prepare for the High Holy Days.
Let’s walk together through some local Jewish history. Our co-religionists gathered first on Dallas’s south side, until Central Expressway cut through the heart of their community. Then the northward move began. The three major synagogues — Temple Emanu-El, Shearith Israel and Tiferet Israel — relocated to their present homes in the early 1950s (and yes, there were others left behind, to be lost forever except in blessed memory).
“Migration” to the north continued. Forward-looking Emanu-El saw that this would escalate and encouraged its members to consider volunteering as founders of a new Reform synagogue in the newly developing area. So, that’s how Temple Shalom came into being: not a breakoff, but what our Christian neighbors might call a “foundation.” A few young Conservative families also wanted a spiritual home closer to their new everyday ones, and Shearith lent its expertise — in the person of the late, much-beloved Ron Gruen — to guide them in forming what would become Richardson’s Congregation Beth Torah.
All that was in the late ‘70s. In the early ‘80s, Chabad arrived on the scene in the person of Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky, and an explosion of Orthodox growth began. Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, every stream of Judaism flowed full locally, as fledgling congregations of every kind sprang up and began moving toward today’s maturity. Who would have guessed that the tiny town of Plano would become a city, and the citified home of several brand new congregations? Emanu-El’s treasured Rabbi Gerald Klein was heard saying, several years before his passing, “I’m getting calls from places I never even heard of before, like Parker and Melissa and Little Elm. I’ll have to start telling people that my territory ends at the Oklahoma border!”
There were eight congregations total at the time I moved to Dallas. Now, the number verges on fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, seemingly becoming almost as numerous as the stars in the sky. And Jewish population growth has also fueled the parallel creation of many vital institutions to provide everything necessary for true Jewish living: education, recreation, community services of all kinds. Plus, of course, the need for more rabbis and other Jewish professionals to lead us. Growth begets growth, for when there’s a base of Jewish necessities to build on, more Jews will come to join us and help us continue to expand.
Jewish communities everywhere have been born, and grown; eventually, sadly, some of them have declined. Our area is in its fast growth period, which all of us can help to continue. Something basic we can do is recognize the importance of recording our growth. So I’m hoping every one of our congregations and other institutions will help the Dallas Jewish Historical Society fill its accessible archives with materials from our precious past and our living present.
DJHS has always known that “today is tomorrow’s history” and, as a 30-plus-year resident, I know how fast today turns into tomorrow. I look back on those three decades and see that I’ve been living in the midst of an exciting story — the tale of a city’s growing Jewish history. My friend is right: Dallas’ welcome mat is out for more rabbis to serve the many Jews now coming here. Here, they can enjoy a rich Jewish life in the present and, together with all of us, contribute to a vibrant future.