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A long time ago, – in 1979 to be exact – when West Houston wasn’t even Houston, when this area was just a neighborhood on the edge of the prairie, nine families joined together to form a Reform congregation, Temple Sinai.
It was pretty rough in those parts way back then. Westheimer Road was a single lane blacktop west of Wilcrest; West Belt (not the access road for the Tollway) meandered with gentle curves through the tall vegetation along Buffalo Bayou until it stopped abruptly at Westheimer; and traffic hardly backed up on the Katy Freeway. It was a time when there was very little west of Highway 6 other than the J.C.C. campsite, Nottingham Country and San Antonio. While a “Jewish-style” deli actually operated across from Tully Stadium, there was certainly an absence of an official Reform Jewish presence out here in the “wilderness.”
That all changed in the summer of 1979 with the establishment of Temple Sinai. Our founding Rabbi, Abraham Shaw, having retired from Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, was living in Austin Texas, and was able to commute several times a month to grace our bimah by leading services and officiating at numerous b’nai mitzvot. Until 1983, the congregation met in a building on Country Place Drive in the Memorial area of Houston, in rental space that allowed for both services and a functioning religious school.
In 1983, the decision was made to purchase the building where we were tenants, and Temple Sinai became the owner of its first property at 783 Country Place. Rabbi Shaw served in a part-time capacity until 1984 when Rabbi Howard Rabinowitz of Houston succeeded Rabbi Shaw as our rabbi, albeit still in a part-time capacity.
Under the spiritual guidance of Rabbi Rabinowitz, the educational leadership of several religious school directors and the capable administrative talents of many dedicated volunteer board members and officers, Temple Sinai grew in membership. Just as Houston grew around us, with multi-lane highways replacing streets and large housing complexes replacing grassy fields, the Temple membership expanded and it became apparent that our little synagogue on Country Place was too small to meet our current and certainly future needs.
In the mid 90’s the leadership of the congregation began a process to determine where our future home should be located. Addressing the membership’s desires and aspirations for a new building as revealed by a congregational survey, the board formulated a mission statement to guide the congregation on its path to a new home. Consultants from the UAHC were contacted to assist in the process of planning to hire an architect to design a new facility. Then in 1999, just as the building program was in its infancy, Rabbi Rabinowitz retired and the Temple hired its first full time clergy, Rabbi Todd Thalblum.
With a new Rabbi and a newly formed architectural search committee, the path to a new facility was underway. Once an architect was chosen, the preliminary planning began. However the need for a financial plan was immediate. Professional fundraising consultants were hired to assist the Capital Campaign committee in raising the funds necessary to buy land and build a new synagogue building. Although the design was underway, the site of the new building was yet to be determined, as no affordable land was found in a desired location. That changed early in 2000, when the 3.8 acres we currently own, was purchased. And the building plans were modified to match the location.
The land was dedicated in February 2001. The congregation approved the building program in April 2002 and shortly thereafter, a groundbreaking was held with honored guests from the Houston Jewish Community in attendance. Rabbi Larry Jackofsky, regional director of the Southwest Council of the UAHC attended and spoke of his long association with Temple Sinai from its inception in 1979. Along with Rabbi Thalblum, Temple officers, many congregants and guests, the first shovels of dirt were turned in a process that led to our current building. Actual construction began in August 2002 with a move-in date late in the spring of 2003. With construction completed in late June, 2003, July 4, was chosen as the day to officially move.
On July 4, over 150 member families and friends left our old location to march our four Torahs to their new home on Brimhurst Drive. With television crews present to film the event, the congregational Hakifot, sometimes two blocks long, spread along the route of the march. While the threat of rain was constant, we arrived at the new building, unveiled the cornerstone, affixed a mezzuzah to the doorpost, and entered our new sanctuary for its first official service. As the service commenced, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the Ark where the Torahs were placed upon arrival in their new home.
The new building is now the home for the Temple’s membership, numbering almost 220 families; a membership that draws predominantly from all over west Houston and Katy, including families from both the SW and NW, but also from the Memorial Villages, Meyerland and even inside the loop. In addition to Shabbat worship on Friday evenings, Temple Sinai holds Saturday morning services whenever there is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and in addition, at least one Shabbat morning service monthly. For the past two years, we have held Thursday morning Torah services, and also, have celebrated each day in the month of Elul preceding the high holidays, with a shofar service to announce the coming of the new year.
The synagogue has a full time religious school director, Rina Mesarwi, who supervises the Sunday School and Hebrew School programs with over 150 students registered. The religious school participates in the Gesher Program which brings together, students from many of the suburban congregations in Houston. With such a large student body, we have recently celebrated over 20 B’nai Mitzvot ceremonies yearly. We have an active Adult Ed program and an extremely active Sisterhood program, including special programs for the Senior Sisters in the congregation. Brotherhood has recently become an active component of Temple Life. But when it comes to activity, TeSTY, the Temple Sinai youth group has demonstrated its vitality and community services in numerous ways.
Following the departure of Rabbi Thalblum after nine years with the
In thirty years Temple Sinai has grown from an idea to a reality; from nothing to the spiritual home of over 200 families in West Houston; a center for a Jewish presence in the community where none previously existed. Our goal is to continue to grow in number and in our programming thereby maintaining us as a center of a meaningful Jewish experience in our community.