Documentary Film on Legacy of Laredo’s Jewish Community Bows at TAMIU May 23
Posted: 5/21/12

Documentary Film on Legacy of Laredo’s
Jewish Community Bows at TAMIU May 23

Laredo, Texas has a proud history – and that history includes the legacy of Laredo’s Jewish community. Next week, that legacy will be shared anew, thanks to a new documentary film created by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL).

The film will premiere in the Student Center 236 at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 6 p.m.

Oral historian and filmmaker Josh Parshall will be in attendance.  Jeanette Hatcher, TAMIU Special Collections librarian, has also prepared a special exhibit about Jewish life in South Texas that will be displayed in the TAMIU Student Center through June.  To learn more about the event, call the ISJL at 601-362-6357 or contact Hatcher at 956.326.2404.

The project was made possible thanks to the generosity of International Bank of Commerce (IBC). Lester Avigael, a longtime IBC board member and past president, passed away in 2008. Avigael was a pillar of the Jewish community, and  IBC chose to honor him with a significant gift to his synagogue, Agudas Achim, which enabled the Laredo Jewish Legacy Project to get underway.  It includes the documentary film production, as well as a new archival collection focusing on South Texas Jewish life that will be housed at TAMIU.

Hatcher said this is the inception of the University’s South Texas Jewish Heritage Collection.  

“The interviews being gifted to TAMIU will serve as a cornerstone of this Collection.  The film premiere is also an effort at raising awareness that we are seeking additional donations of materials relating to this Collection.  For example, we are looking for books, diaries, correspondence, and photographs depicting the various aspects of the lives and activities of local Jewish families,” Hatcher explained.

Agudas Achim, a Conservative congregation, partnered with the now-inactive Reform congregation, B’nai Israel. Together, they contacted the ISJL and commissioned a series of oral history interviews. ISJL’s Oral Historian, Josh Parshall, spent a week in Laredo, interviewing 17 current and former residents of the community. More than 20 hours of interview footage was collected. Parshall then edited together a 105-minute film, telling the collective story of Laredo’s Jewish community.

Some of the documentary highlights include:

              *German-Jewish merchants arriving in the area along with the railroads in the late 1800s

              *The establishment of B’nai Israel (Reform) in the 1920s

              *The growth of the Eastern European Jewish population, which was largely rooted across the border in Nuevo Laredo, as the USA had drastically limited immigration in the 1920s

              *The movement of those Yiddish-speaking Jews across the border in the 1940s

              *Later arrival of Jews from USSR and Latin American countries

              *Strong environment for retail during the postwar years until recently, when policy changes, economic troubles and violence in Northern Mexico have slowed business

              *Major figures in Laredo Jewish life, and Jewish contributions to the broader community.

The Laredo Jewish Legacy Project is another element of the ISJL’s ongoing commitment to preserving and sharing the legacy of the Southern Jewish experience. The  ISJL’s Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, accessible online, includes histories for over 220 Jewish communities across the South, all available online. Researched and written by the staff of the ISJL History Department, these illustrated online histories trace the story of Jewish settlement, from its origins, to the rise of established Jewish communities and congregations, and sometimes to their eventual decline.

The Texas section of the Encyclopedia, completed earlier this year,  includes long histories of such large Jewish communities as Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, as well as smaller towns like Palestine, Brenham, and Laredo.

For additional information about the TAMIU South Texas Jewish Heritage Collection, contact Hatcher at TAMIU at 956.326.2404 or email jhatcher@tamiu.edu.

The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) provides educational and rabbinic services to Southern Jewish communities, preserves the rich history of the Southern Jewish Experience, and offers community engagement opportunities and inclusive cultural programming throughout the organization’s thirteen-state region. To learn more about the ISJL and its programs, visit www.isjl.org, call 601-362-6357, or find the organization at www.facebook.com/theisjl

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Relations, Marketing and Information Services at prmis@tamiu.edu