At the Heart of it All :: Why My Family Chooses to Live in Houston’s Jewish Community


We all have the conversation. You know the one. You have finally found your life partner, and the logistics come into play on where you want to “settle down.” There are so many things to consider when choosing where you will live for the forseeable future. Do you want kids? And if so, you have to find a safe neighborhood that is kid-friendly, and it needs to be zoned to a great school system. And when you live in a city like Houston, here is the cliffhanger question:: Do you want to live out in the suburbs and get more for your money, or sacrifice space and luxury for a home nestled smack in the middle of the metropolitan area that is close to everything with little-to-no commute to work?

My husband and I chose the latter, and here is the main reason why :: we wanted to live in the heart of the Jewish community – an area that primarily spans the Bellaire/Meyerland neighborhoods in Southwest Houston.

When I was growing up, my parents placed great value on our education system, as well as instilling a strong Jewish identity. We had a large family and it made more sense to live in the suburbs and commute to our Jewish activities inside the city. And so every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, my dad would drive 30 minutes each way from Sugar Land to Congregation Beth Israel in Meyerland for Hebrew lessons, where we studied for our bar and bat mitzvahs {a Jewish rite of passage for children turning 13}, and for religious school, where we learned about Jewish history, and were briefed on the current state of Israel – the Jewish holy land. It was a lot of driving and pretty wearing on us, but it was totally worth it because I never lost my connection with my spiritual self.

There was one hiccup in this elaborate plan my parents made, and that was that I never knew what it was like to grow up in a Jewish community. Three times per week I would see these “friends,” but most of them were really just aquaintances. When I did try to make deeper connections, many of them already had their own cliques {you know how middle school and high school goes} and many of them had known one another since they were babies. I still managed to make some very close friends, especially when my parents sent us on a 6-week trip to Israel with 60 other kids through a program called Houston Pilgrimage. On that trip, I found myself bouncing around from one group of friends to another – each of them accepting me and making me feel like I belonged, but I ultimately felt like I never wanted to commit to just one group. I wanted to be friends with everyone.

When my husband {who was fortunate enough to grow up in the Jewish community} and I began to seriously talk about where we would live and what we wanted for our kids, I knew I wanted them to develop the same Jewish identity my parents strived so hard for me to have. I also knew I wanted to give them the opportunity to live in the middle of it all {if we could afford it} so that they never felt the type of exclusion, or “wandering gypsy” experience I ended up having. I’m also lazy and didn’t want to drive an hour roundtrip three times per week.

In 2009, we bought our first house in Meyerland. It was an older ranch-style home that had been slightly updated, and it was a completely perfect “starter home.” As we began to plan our wedding, I reached out to a Rebbetzin {An Orthodox Rabbi’s wife} in the Chabad community, who so graciously learned with me {they don’t consider themselves teachers}, and helped to prepare me for a Mikvah – a sacred immersion into water to obtain purity;; a monthly ritual for some women, but a one-time thing pre-wedding day for me.

A photograph of a husband and wife standing next to a Sold real estate sign.

We got married at Congregation Beth Israel, a reform synagogue where we both have nostalgic memories from our youth. As newly-weds, we would often go back there on Friday nights for Shabbat services. That’s where we prayed for our baby that we knew one day we would have, but it was just taking a little longer than we expected. We participated in organizations such as YAD {Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation}, and volunteered for community service through Houston Hillel, a college-based Jewish organization that offers activities, programs and social events for students.

A photograph of a man and a woman getting married at a synagogue.

Later, after we had the baby we had been praying for, we took him to several Mischpacha {family} & Me activities and events through the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center {JCC} such as  Open Gym, Open Swim and Tot Shabbat – all programs geared to develop a sense of Jewish enrichment from a very early age. Once my son was old enough, I enrolled him in pre-school at United Orthodox Synagogues {UOS} Goldberg Montessori Day School. It is the oldest Jewish Montessori school in the southwest region of the United States. Not only does each classroom have a trained and certified Montessori teacher, but also a Judaics teacher, who spends a good percentage of the day teaching the children about stories from the Torah, songs in Hebrew, and helping them to understand and celebrate all of the Jewish holidays.

When we found out we were pregnant with baby number two, we ended up moving into a larger home in Bellaire. Coincidentally, our next-door neighbor happened to be a rabbi at Congregation Beth Yeshurun. I’m not sure what it is about living next to a rabbi, but everything felt right in the world, and it gave me comfort to know that if I needed anything from a guidance perspective, I could walk next door and get some support.

A photograph of a mother holding a child in front of a house.

Of course, my daughter followed in her brother’s footsteps attending all the fun programs and the same day school. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate for everything my kids have been exposed to in the Jewish realm. I often catch one of them singing a song or prayer in Hebrew. And they know exactly what is going on when we observe Shabbat every Friday night with my parents. They don’t know any other way, and to me, that is so beautiful. This is all part of who they are, and it will stay with them as they continue to grow. They will know important values, traditions, and experience the rituals and rites of passages that help them to acknowledge that there is a greater power that exists in their lives. And hopefully that will shape them to be stand-up, respectful adults…along with our impeccable parenting, of course. {Ya gotta fake it until you make it, right?}

A photograph of a young boy wearing a yarmulke and eating lunch.

All of these elements I’ve mentioned are my personal experiences, and  just a fraction of what Jewish life can be if you live in this community. There is an astonishing variety of synagogues and day schools ranging in religiosity from reform to orthodox Judaism. The JCC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston are prominently aligned side by side on the outskirts of Meyerland – each doing so much good, and having so much to offer.

On any given Saturday, you might see religious Jews confidently walking from their homes to their synagogues {or shuls} on the Sabbath. Several surrounding grocery stores stock and sell Kosher food for those observing the Kashrut dietary laws.

When we flooded from Hurricane Harvey, it was ultimately the Jewish Community that came to the rescue. The JCC {which also flooded drastically in many buildings} quickly became the hub of supply distribution for flood victims. They quickly and seamlessly mainstreamed a way for people all over the area to come and pick up anything from bins to Sharpies to help with the process of immediate recovery.

We received money and gift cards donated through Congregation Beth Israel to help with our recovery. Congregation Emanu El, Greene Family Camp and the JCC formed Hurricane Harvey Day Camp  for children of flood victims just days after the flood to help entertain the children, which allowed parents to take care of the necessary steps to sort through and remediate their homes.

Jewish Family Service worked with the Jewish Federation to give scholarships to children attending day school so that the financial strain caused from flooding and remodeling wouldn’t effect or interrupt their children’s education. Jewish Family Service also received a generous grant to provide free therapeutic services to flood victims, and we ended up signing our son up for play therapy through them after obvious signs that this traumatic transition was taking a toll on him.

Every Friday night for the first few weeks, someone brought a challah {braided bread used to observe the Sabbath} to us. Friends and neighbors, mostly connected through our children’s school, brought food over, helped clean and pack things in boxes, and provided emotional support that I will never forget.

It’s been almost one year since the hurricane, and my kids are attending summer day camp at a discount at Beth Yeshurun Day School, because the Jewish Federation recognizes that although we may be back in our homes, the financial strain on flood victims is far from over.

My family is forever grateful to our community for its constant and unending support as we push to get things back to the way they used to be before the flood. When we decided to live here, we could have never known the kind of love and support we would ultimately have when things got hard. It only reinforces our decision to remain firmly planted in the heart of this beautiful, supportive, faith-full, and might I say, sacred place we call home.


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