A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF CONGREGATION BETH SHALOM
Jews have resided and prospered in the Brazos Valley including Bryan since the 19th Century and probably before. Graves in our cemeteries of Jewish frontiers folk go back to the mid-1860s. We have been here a long time but it was not until the early 1900s that the Jewish Community established its first permanent place of worship.
An excellent recap of our local history is found on the ISIL website is here.
The Jewish Congregation of Bryan began in the early 1900’s with a donation of a piece of land in Bryan by J. W. English, a gentile. This led to the erection of a lovely brick structure that was inaugurated as Temple Freda. Erection of Temple Freda was to be an ecumenical undertaking as many faiths gave money to build the Temple. Temple Freda still exists near downtown Bryan and was listed in National Registry of Historic Buildings after extensive renovations in the 1980s. Although it has not been used as a Jewish house of worship for many years, it had been used by many religions over the years as a house of worship fulfilling one of the major stipulations of the original gift; that the property must always be used for religious purposes or the property reverts to the original owners. The building is presently in a state of disrepair.
There are two Jewish cemeteries in Bryan. The oldest cemetery was established in the 19th Century and called Jewish Cemetery of Bryan. This historic Cemetery was recently renovated by the City of Bryan with assistance and guidance from Congregation Beth Shalom and has headstones dating to the time of the Civil War with the names of immigrants from as far away as Prussia and Palestine; Israel that is, not Texas. A second cemetery, established in the 20th Century, is called Temple Freda Cemetery. Both cemeteries are located within the Bryan City Cemetery. There are plots available in each and Congregation Beth Shalom is the provider for both of these properties. Temple Freda Cemetery is the location of our annual Memorial Service on the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah.
There are two student oriented Jewish organizations in College Station. The oldest of these is the Texas A&M University Hillel, the Jewish Student Association, was established at Texas A&M and is the original Hillel in the United States. The second is Rohr Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center which has a more Orthodox flair.
Congregation Beth Shalom, as it exists today, was established officially in 1968 as a member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement) and originally met and worshipped at the Hillel Center. There was no rabbi at that time. When the rabbi came to Hillel, differences ensued and CBS left Hillel to meet at different locations in B-CS including a public school, the Unitarian Church and the College Station Community Center, until a decision was made that CBS needed a permanent residence of its own. A large effort was mounted, pledges were made and money was raised by CBS through donations and fundraising (envelope-stuffing and bingo figured into this) to purchase this building. A non-profit organization known as Congregation Beth Shalom was formed. The building was purchased from a Baptist church in 1990. Interestingly, the building was built by Mormons. Our Ark was originally a baptismal font, but again with the help of our gentile friends, a permanent Jewish home was established. Although always small, we are mighty. Without a rabbi, the congregation has produced two rabbis and one cantor. Services are conducted by a collection of student rabbis, retired rabbis, part-time rabbis, and by congregants.
CBS is the only full-service family oriented Jewish association in the Brazos Valley. We receive calls come from non-affiliates near and far to ask questions about the Jewish community in the Brazos Valley as well as answer requests for assistance to local family members. We provide for our own and reach out to others. During the devastating times of Katrina and Wilma, our shul helped arrange temporary housing in the homes of our members for evacuated Jewish families from the Houston area.
We are a small, productive and proud group. We hope you will come see us and join us.