Shalom Austin is restoring an Orthodox Jewish synagogue it relocated Feb. 13 to the Dell Jewish Community Campus from Brenham.
B’nai Abraham Brenham Historic Synagogue is the oldest Orthodox synagogue building in the state of Texas and was built in 1893, Shalom Austin CEO Jay Rubin said. The synagogue served as the sole Jewish house of worship in Brenham for mostly Polish and Lithuania immigrants until the 1960s. Brenham residents Leon and Mimi Toubin have maintained the building since then.
“The Jewish population dwindled [in Brenham], and … the Toubins wanted to preserve it in hopes the Jewish community would grow in Brenham,” Rubin said.
When that didn’t happen, the Toubins reached out to Jewish congregations throughout the state to gauge their need for an Orthodox synagogue.
One of those organizations was Shalom Austin. It already has a conservative synagogue and reform Temple Beth Shalom but not an Orthodox synagogue, Rubin said. Congregation Tiferet Israel, an Orthodox congregation, will use the building for its services, but B’nai Abraham will also be open to the community to rent for life cycle events, such as weddings or bar mitzvahs, Rubin said.
The Dell Jewish Community Campus, located at 7300 Hart Lane, opened in 2000 and also includes the Austin Jewish Academy and Jewish Community Center. The land previously was owned by the Hart family.
It was a 2.5-year process to relocate the 1,700-square-foot building. It arrived in Austin in three pieces after making the 90-mile trek from Brenham. Crews will restore the interior and exterior of the building and make necessary upgrades—such as rewiring, making ADA-accessibility upgrades and installing new heating, ventilation and air conditioning—to bring the building up to code. Rubin said he hopes repairs will be complete by summer.
Rubin said he fell in love with the synagogue’s simplistic and classic New England country church exterior.
“Inside it looks very much like a synagogue in Eastern Europe with dark wood and a balcony. It’s an interesting contrast,” Rubin said. “It looked like a place my grandfather or great grandfather would have worshiped.”
B’nai Abraham sits adjacent to a running trail and Gan Yaniv, an outdoor gathering space with a shallow pool and cedar pergola. Rubin said his assistant director suggested the location because of Gan Yaniv and surrounding trees.
“It won’t clash with the other architecture,” he said.
The synagogue, however, will lose its historic designation with the Texas Historical Commission and National Register of Historic Places because buildings must be kept in their original location for those designations. Rubin said it is a price Shalom Austin was willing to pay.
"Our feeling was that is was more important that [B'nai Abraham] be used and contribute to the future rather than just preserve the past," he said.
For more information on B’nai Abraham, visit www.shalomaustin.org/Brenham.