SAN ANTONIO, city in S. central Texas; 2005 population, 1,144,646; Jewish population, 12,000. As early as 1715, three years before the founding of the city, several courageous families from northern Mexico had settled on the banks of the San Antonio River. Among them were members of the Carvajal family, of Jewish descent. Two Jewish patriots of the Texan Army fought the Mexican troops in San Antonio in 1835 – Surgeon Moses Albert Levy, and Edward Israel Johnson. With the advent of Texas statehood and the simultaneous immigration to Texas of Jews from Germany and Alsace-Lorraine, a permanent Jewish community in San Antonio was established around 1850. By 1855 Jews established their own cemetery. In 1856 they had organized the Hebrew Benevolent Society, re-organized in 1885 as the Montefiore Benevolent Society; and in 1870 the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society was formed. By 1874 there were enough Jews to found a formal congregation, Temple Beth-El (Reform), although Jews had been gathering for worship in private homes for years.
With the mass immigration of Central and East European Jews from the early 1880s into the 20th century, more Orthodox Jews reached San Antonio. These traditionalists founded their own cemetery in 1885, organized their own congregation, Agudas Achim, in 1889, and established a talmud torah in 1909. As Agudas Achim became Conservative, a third synagogue – Orthodox-Rodfei Sholom-B'nai Israel, was created in 1908. Many organizations proliferated: the first B'nai B'rith lodge was chartered in 1874; a chapter of the Zionist Organization of America was formed in 1904; a section of the National Council of Jewish Women began in 1907; and a chapter of Hadassah was organized in 1918.
In 1922 the San Antonio Jewish Social Service Federation (now the Jewish Federation of San Antonio) was created to coordinate the many community groups. During World War I the influx of Jewish military personnel in the South Texas area brought the need for extensive hospitality and services in San Antonio, a major military post. This tradition, supervised by the National Welfare Board, continued throughout the years and four wars.
In the last third of the 20th century, scores of northern Jews moved to the Sun Belt, and the Jewish population of San Antonio nearly doubled during this period. In 1985, emissaries of Chabad Lubavitch established a base in San Antonio. In 1989, a Reconstructionist congregation, Beth Am, was established, and in 2005, Temple Chai, a second Reform congregation was founded. Congregations and rabbis of all wings of Judaism have traditionally enjoyed unusually harmonious and productive relationships.
Jews have been cordially accepted in all phases of industrial, commercial, and professional life in San Antonio. However, social acceptance in its highest ranks was once limited, although today there are no barriers to such acceptance. None of the three predominately Jewish social clubs organized from 1887 onward survived. San Antonio Jews have not sought political office, by and large, but the community has produced leaders in every other phase of civic life: manufacturing, creation of department stores, agriculture, banking, and the professions.
Jews have distinguished themselves in the city's philanthropic and cultural activities. Rabbi David Jacobson, together with the local Roman Catholic archbishop and the Episcopal bishop, is credited with the peaceful racial desegregation of San Antonio in the 1960s. Other prominent leaders have included: Alexander Joske, pioneer merchant and philanthropist; Dan and Anton Oppenheim, pioneer bankers, ranchers, and Confederate officers; Mayer and Sol Halff, pioneer merchants and ranchers; Frederick Oppenheimer and his wife, pioneer art collectors and museum benefactors; Max Reiter, founder of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra; Rabbi Samuel Stahl, Helen Jacobson, Jocelyn Straus, Richard Goldsmith, Charles Martin Wender, and Michael Beldon, civic workers; Joe and Harry Freeman, agriculturalists and philanthropists; Sylvan Lang, leader in legal education; and Perry Kallison, agriculturalist and local radio personality.
F.C. Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio (1937); S. Viener, in: AJHSP, 46 (1956/57), 101–13; AJYB, 2 (1900– 01), 472–3; Temple Beth-El, San-Antonio, Texas, Diamond Jubilee 1874–1949 (1949).