The purpose of this research guide is to provide links to resources relating to the history of the Hebrew and Jewish community of the Rio Grande Valley. The guide provides information on community members who have made a lasting impact on the Valley and links to primary and secondary sources among our collections as well as external links of interest.
Jewish people, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, first arrived in Mexico and Texas as early as the 1500s during the Spanish conquest of the New World. The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) has documented the long connection of Jewish immigrants to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, including contributions to the cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, and Mercedes and the wave of colonization in the 1830s - 1850s. Moreover, many individuals of Jewish and Hebrew descent have been instrumental in the establishment and growth of commerce, philanthropy, and local government in deep South Texas.
Sam Feldman was born in Poland, where he emigrated from at age 12. Feldman lived in New York and other places in Texas before settling in the Valley in 1926. He was a WWI veteran and a member of the American Legion for 35 years. He was active in the business community having successfully established Feldman's liquor stores throughout South Texas. Feldman was also active in the Jewish community and served as president of Temple Beth Israel in Harlingen. Mr. Feldman and his wife Clara, raised two sons Charles and Henry.
During prohibition, Feldman was in the scrap metal business. He owned and operated Harlingen Iron and Metal Company. After prohibition, he distributed liquor wholesale but got into the retail business to sell off excess inventory after his business partner fell ill. In 1944, Feldman pled guilty to charges of violating price ceilings. Charles and Henry took over the operation of Feldman's Liquor Stores after their father died in 1953.
Sam Perl (1898–1980), otherwise known as "Mr. Brownsville" was born in Podhajce, Austria. The Perl family emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Galveston in 1900. Upon seeing an advertisement for a men's clothing store in Brownsville, Sam and his brother Leon, sought to acquire it in 1926. Perl Bros. clothing store called The Fashion was located between 12th & 13th Streets on Elizabeth. The store relocated within downtown Brownsville a few times and boasted the most modern storefront in Brownsville in 1937.
Sam married Stella Cohn in 1928 and the couple raised two children. Sam, Leon, and Stella helped to establish regular Jewish religious services for the relatively small community in Brownsville. In the early 1930s, Temple Bethel-El was established with the assistance of the Perl family, and in the absence of an ordained rabbi, Sam served as the temple's spiritual leader. He was active in other community organizations, serving as a founding member of Charro Days, Brownsville Chamber of Commerce President (1945), and Chairman of the Brownsville Housing Authority.
Learn more Joseph, Harriett, and Sondra Shands. 1993. Sam Perl: Mr. Friendship and Mr. Temple Beth-El of Brownsville, Texas. Locus 5 (2): 145–61.
Ben Levine was born in Poland in 1904, but his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1905. Sometime between 1924 and 1926, he moved to the Rio Grande Valley, settling in Harlingen where he opened The Man's Shop. He and his wife Fannie raised two sons, Lewis and Leonard, who eventually joined the family business.
Ben Levine was active in the business investment and Jewish communities. He served as a member of the local chamber of commerce, advocated for Jewish welfare, especially during WWII, and served as president of Temple Beth Israel in Harlingen.
Read more about the Levines and The Man's Shop in the Valley Morning Star, 19 Nov. 1968.
Ruben Edelstein (1918–2014) was a Jewish community leader and businessman. His father, Morris Edelstein (1888–1967), came to the US from Lithuania and settled in Brownsville in 1912, eventually establishing Edelstein's Better Furniture.
Ruben graduated from Brownsville H.S. (1935) and Brownsville Junior College (1937) and earned his BBA from UT-Austin (1939). After graduation, Ruben returned to Brownsville to help his father with the family business. He answered "the call" during WWII, joining the US Army and serving as an artillery captain in Europe. After the war, the three Edelstein brothers, Ruben, Ben, and Arthur, took over operations of the furniture stores and eventually grew the business to several locations throughout the Valley.
Ruben married Bernice (Kalmans) in 1956 and raised two children in Brownsville. The couple was prominent in community affairs and philanthropic organizations. Ruben was a Rotarian for nearly 80 years and served on the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, Gladys Porter Zoo, and United Fund (now United Way). During his term as mayor of the City of Brownsville (1975–9), Ruben established the Brownsville Community Health Clinic, emergency medical services, and public transportation.
Documentary film "Remember My Soul," by Jillian Glantz. From the cover: "Jews have been in the New World since Columbus landed in 1492, yet their presence in many regions has been largely overshadowed because of the common practice of being Jewish in secret, known as Crypto-Judaism. Remember My Soul unearths the history of Sephardic Jews in South Texas and explores how their contributions to regional customs & culture have shaped the identity of people in the borderlands."
The research guides compiled by UTRGV staff and students are intended to assist patrons who are embarking upon new research endeavors. Our goal is to expand their knowledge of the types of resources available on a given topic, including books, archival materials, and websites. In so doing, our compilers have taken care to include collections, digital items, and resources that may be accessed not only through UTRGV but also via other institutions, repositories, and websites.
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