BBQ with a side of bagel and schmear, y’all: An Israeli-American on Jewish Life in Texas
How does a working Jewish mother of three who grew up partially in Israel, spent her formative years leading youth minyan services and attending Hebrew High School in New Jersey, and completed university studies in International Relations and Opera in Boston and New York go from brisket on rye at NYC’s Katz’s Deli to BBQ beef brisket tacos with pico de gallo, lime, and cilantro on a flour tortilla at Smoke Dallas?
Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex especially, is one of the hottest locations for tech and investment companies looking to expand. With corporate subsidies, a low (-ish) cost of living compared to the east or west coasts, and a fair share of excellent and award-winning public and private schools, businesses across the country and even internationally are flocking in droves to establish new headquarters.
My husband and I had been living in Germany for seven years when he broke the news of his offer for relocation to the US. “Where?” I asked, excited to possibly land back anywhere on my beloved east coast. I could be closer to my parents, great schools, and great bagels.
The answer was Dallas. Even though he was to be promoted to Head of Real Estate for the Americas, my husband could not choose a different location for the new headquarters.
Dallas? I had never lived in Texas besides two stints at the Austin Opera in 2010 and 2011 – a six-week rehearsal period and five performances, which gave me the chance to hang out on Congress Ave. between rehearsals and buy a pair of pink cowgirl boots to take back to Germany.
Texas had to mean cowboy hats, hunting rifles, Bible-thumping, bacon, and twang. Were there even any Jews in Dallas? I found my answers on Facebook. I immediately searched for Jewish groups in Dallas and learned that the greater Dallas area is home to over 60,000 Jews.
The author’s little cowgirl
While many of them call North Dallas home with parents and grandparents that also grew up in the same area as their now grown grandchildren, they are spread throughout the city. Dallas boasts at least 27 temples and synagogues according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
Everyone is represented, from the Reform, to Traditional, Progressive, Conservative, Sephardic, Orthodox, and Chabad. I didn’t expect such an amazing outpouring of information from absolute strangers online when I asked, “Where should we live?,” “Where do you send your kids to school?,” and “Where can we check out High Holiday services?” for the first time in the online group of more than 2,000 Dallas Jewish moms.
In addition to those answers, I also got the goods on Jewish realtors, dentists, and pediatricians, not to mention where to find the best kosher grocery section for Passover and decorations for Hanukkah. (Tom Thumb ran out of gelt, Target still had some!)
A Facebook group for Young Dallas Jewish moms
Although there are many places of worship, what I’ve found in my 18 months in Dallas is that the heart and soul of Judaism and social justice works hand-in-hand and across congregations. After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the Dallas Jewish network started working immediately.
With hundreds of volunteers, coordination ran smoothly through Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Dallas and the Federation. Temple Emanu-El worked with Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church to prepare thousands of meal packages sent down south the first weekend after the storm.
Twenty-five thousand new pairs of underwear were delivered to Dallas shelters. Security guards from Dallas were sent to Houston to protect kids at the makeshift day care programs so parents could tend to their flood issues without worrying about their kids. There is a massive challah bake underway to deliver Rosh Hashanah challah to every member of the reform congregation in Beaumont.
Shearith Israel directed volunteers to the JFS site and the Federation to make sure all efforts were coordinated and optimized. The congregation is now planning a mitzvah project for their fall festival in November that will focus on raising funds for hurricane relief efforts down in the Houston area as well as around Miami/Key West.
Shearith Israel’s website
The Jewish High Holidays are of course usually the time for the ‘big push’ in terms of asking for donations and funding for capital campaigns, but this year, many of the congregations are focused on their neighbor down south, and the cleanup and recovery efforts in Houston and the surrounding areas.
Chabad of Plano collected 200 pounds of kosher meat, the JCC became a drop-off point not only for preschool, but for diapers and donations. The Jewish Learning Center of Dallas put out a call for household cleaning items in a late-night effort to load a truck to its maximum capacity. Ohr Hatora and Shaarei Tfila supplied over 2,000 meals, and the list goes on and on.
Facebook was the big mobilizer. Email lists from congregations, the Federation, and constant updates were everywhere online. People just kept showing up to help.
Hudy Abrams, co-director of the Jewish Learning Center of Dallas where my five-year-old son attends Sunday Hebrew School, described it best in a Facebook post to the parents and friends that showed up to help: “Humbled. Awed. Completely Blown Away. How can one put into words the outpouring of love, concern, support, dedication and generosity our Dallas Jewish community has shown over these last few days for our brothers and sisters in Houston? It moved me to tears to see how much people care and were willing to help in whatever way they could, no matter how busy their own personal lives were.”
And so it seems that I’m now a Jewish mother in the land of cowboys, where the Code of the West still holds true: A cowboy always helps someone in need.
There are certainly still a few things I’ll need to get used to: chicken and waffles and open carry just to name a few. And as my children grow older, they’ll also face elements of frustration and misunderstanding that come with being a religious minority. There is Christmas in the public schools and the local soccer league didn’t grant our son’s U6 team a ‘bye’ week for Yom Kippur’s Saturday morning game as we requested.
But for now, Dallas is home. And I can have my New York bagel with jalapeño schmear.
Nili Bueckert recently relocated to Dallas after spending seven years as an expat in Germany. An opera singer, she has performed professionally on stages from Chicago Lyric Opera to NYCO to Oper Leipzig. Nili also works as a public relations and social media consultant in the arts. She and her sister-in-law wrote and designed a “post-baby book” called “Toddler Tales: My Very First Book of Memories and Friendship.” Check it out here: www.toddlertalesbook.com.