Documenting Women’s Service: The Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood in Waco

Rodef Sholom Sisterhood yearbooks, 1951-1952, 1972-1973
Each year, the Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood published yearbooks that included officer and member lists, event calendars and activities completed that year. Their records at the Texas Collection include yearbooks from the 1950s-1990s. [Waco] Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood records, Accession #3159, Box 1, Folder 10 and Box 3, Folder 2.

By Casey Schumacher, Texas Collection graduate assistant and museum studies graduate student

Did you know that The Texas Collection has more than 20 collections documenting the Central Texas Jewish community? We recently completed processing of the Rodef Sholom Sisterhood records, and in honor of Women’s History Month, we thought we would spotlight this organization that has played a major role in the growth of McLennan County’s oldest and largest Jewish congregation.

Waco Rodef Sholom Sisterhood ledger, 1960
The most thorough records in the collection are meeting minutes and ledgers. The Sisterhood kept excellent financial records, which demonstrates their ongoing commitment to financially support the activities of their congregation and its Religious School. [Waco] Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood records, #3159, Box 1, Folder 12.

As early as the 1850s, Jewish settlers came to the Waco area but had no organized congregation to celebrate festivals, holy days or worship services. After the International Order of B’nai B’rith established Eureka Lodge No. 198 in 1873, forty families in the Waco area formed the Rodef Sholom congregation and began raising funds for the construction of a synagogue. Usually, when we think of early leaders of Temple Rodef Sholom, we think of Sam Sanger, Isaac A. Goldstein and Louey Migel. However, construction of the synagogue was a congregational effort, and the Jewish women of Waco certainly played their part.

In 1879, the Rodef Sholom Ladies’ Hebrew Society (LHS) decided to host a ball to raise funds for the new synagogue. The ball was a great success and thanks in part to the LHS, the first synagogue was dedicated in 1881. The LHS was not finished with their work, however. They continued to support the growth of the congregation and raise money for congregational events. In 1922, the women of the LHS joined the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods and changed their name to the Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood.

The construction of the first temple clearly demonstrates how women played an important role in the early history of Rodef Sholom. The Temple has constructed two other synagogues since the LHS held their ball, and the women of the temple have been consistently involved. Today, the Sisterhood’s primary mission lies in organizing cultural programs for the congregation and supporting the temple’s Religious School. Obviously, the commitment of Rodef Sholom women has not wavered over the years.

Waco Rodef Sholom Sisterhood art exhibition and auction flyer, 1974
Carrying on the mission of the original founders, the Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood continues to host community events, including bake sales, freezer sales and cultural programs. This flyer for an art exhibition and auction is one of many advertisements produced by the Sisterhood. [Waco] Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood records, #3159, Box 3, Folder 4.
Female leadership at Rodef Sholom reached new heights in 2012 when Laura Schwartz Harari became the temple’s first female rabbi. In addition to a distinguished career in education, Rabbi Harari serves as the President of the Greater Waco Interfaith Conference and is a regular instructor for Baylor University’s Lifelong Learning Program.

The Temple Rodef Sholom Sisterhood records at The Texas Collection consist primarily of the Sisterhood’s membership, financial and publicity records from 1960-1990, although there are records from as early as 1919 and as late as 2005.

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