The Chosen Folks: Jews on the Frontiers of Texas

By Bryan Edward Stone | Go to book overview

Introduction

Kinky Friedman, the country singer, crime novelist, and former Texas guber natorial candidate, once described himself as “the bastard child of twin cultures.” “Both cowboys and Jewboys,” he explained, “wear their hats in the house.”1 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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