The Chosen Folks: Jews on the Frontiers of Texas

The Chosen Folks: Jews on the Frontiers of Texas

The Chosen Folks: Jews on the Frontiers of Texas

The Chosen Folks: Jews on the Frontiers of Texas

Synopsis

Texas has one of the largest Jewish populations in the South and West, comprising an often-overlooked vestige of the Diaspora. The Chosen Folksbrings this rich aspect of the past to light, going beyond single biographies and photographic histories to explore the full evolution of the Jewish experience in Texas.

Drawing on previously unpublished archival materials and synthesizing earlier research, Bryan Edward Stone begins with the crypto-Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition in the late sixteenth century and then discusses the unique Texas-Jewish communities that flourished far from the acknowledged centers of Jewish history and culture. The effects of this peripheral identity are explored in depth, from the days when geographic distance created physical divides to the redefinitions of "frontier" that marked the twentieth century. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the creation of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust, and the civil rights movement are covered as well, raising provocative questions about the attributes that enabled Texas Jews to forge a distinctive identity on the national and world stage. Brimming with memorable narratives,The Chosen Folksbrings to life a cast of vibrant pioneers.

Excerpt

Kinky Friedman, the country singer, crime novelist, and former Texas gubernatorial candidate, once described himself as “the bastard child of twin cultures.” “Both cowboys and Jewboys,” he explained, “wear their hats in the house.” This is a typical Friedman throwaway line: clever, a bit crass, played strictly for laughs. Like many of the jokes that pepper his songs and novels, though, it hints at something deeper. By calling himself a “bastard child,” Friedman implies that his two heritages, Texan and Jewish, are incompatible in some way, that their marriage cannot produce a legitimate child. At the same time, he calls them “twin” cultures, indicating that, however incompatible they appear, they still have much in common. The joke unites the two groups, each with its distinctive headgear, while reminding his listener that Stetsons and yarmulkes are really not the same at all.

The paradox in Friedman’s joke lies at the heart of Jewish life in Texas: Jews are both part of Texas history and not part of it, at home in the state but distinct from most of its people. They have managed to walk a fine line, accommodating the demands of secular life in Texas without sacrificing their separate religious and ethnic heritage. And they have found ways to contribute enormously to the state’s economic, political, educational, and artistic institutions while remaining loyal to a faith whose center of spiritual and institutional energy has always been somewhere else.

This book examines the juncture of these two cultural traditions, Texan and Jewish. Its method is primarily historical, and it explores in detail many . . .

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