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El Paso, Texas

EL PASO, west Texas city bordering New Mexico and situated on the Rio Grande River across from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico; Jewish population (1969) was approximately 4,500 out of a total population of 400,000. Its general population increased significantly with the expansion of the Southwest and numbered 750,000 in the early 2000s but the increase of the Jewish population did not keep pace proportionately. There were approximately 5,000 Jews in El Paso in 2005. The Jewish population was unusual in its low median age range, its large proportion of American-born newcomer families, and its large proportion of third-, fourth- and fifth-generation American Jews. Despite its geographic isolation from important Jewish population centers, the El Paso community maintained organizational counterparts of several Jewish institutions and philanthropic agencies. El Paso was a major crossroad for the east-west and north-south trails of the 1800s. There were Jews in El Paso as early as 1850 and major influxes of Jews occurred after each of the world wars. Many Jewish pioneers were involved in business transactions with Mexican government and anti-government forces, with the U.S. Indian Bureau, and with the U.S. Quartermaster Corps. Many Jewish soldiers were stationed at Fort Bliss and other military installations in the area and a sizable number of these stayed on after discharge. Mount Sinai Temple, the oldest Jewish institution in El Paso, is located in the Mission Hills district of the west side of the Franklin Mountains where most Jews reside. In 2005 this Reform congregation consisted of approximately 480 members. Congregation B'nai Zion (Conservative) is located further west and has a comparable membership. Although there was an Orthodox congregation in El Paso between the world wars, none existed by the 1960s until Chabad came to town.

The El Paso Jewish Federation coordinates Jewish organizational activities and the annual Jewish fundraising appeal which originated in 1935. El Paso also boasts a Jewish Family and Children's Service, housing for the elderly, and a Jewish day school, El Paso Hebrew Academy, with grades 1–8. Each of the congregations has a religious school for children and there is a great deal of informal Jewish learning sponsored by many of the local institutions. El Paso is home to a Holocaust Museum and Study Center that serves the Jewish as well as the non-Jewish community. A sizable collection of Judaica was established in the library of the University of Texas at El Paso by the family of the late Dr. Vincent Ravel.

By the 1960s, El Paso Jews were primarily merchants. As in much of the United States, by the new millennium, El Paso's Jews were increasingly professionalized, including lawyers and doctors, accountants, academics, businesspeople, and others.

Sources:Broddy, in: Southwestern Studies, 3 (1965); Freudenthal, ibid., no. 3; L.M. Friedman, Jewish Pioneers and Patriots (1942), 367–74; F.S. Fierman, The Impact of the Frontier on a Jewish Family: the Bibos (1961); idem, in: El Paso County Historical Society, Password, 8 (1963), 43–54; idem, Some Early Jewish Settlers on the Southwestern Frontier (1960); idem, in: aja, 16 (1964), 135–60; W.V. D'Antonio and W.H. Form, Influentials in Two Border Cities: A Study in Community Decision Making (1965); R. Segalman, "A Test of the Lewinian Hypothesis on Self-Hatred Among the Jews" (Thesis, N.Y. University, 1966).

[Ralph Segalman / Anne Schwartz Schaechner (2nd ed.)]

Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.