Congregation meeting in Magnolia, Texas
The vision began in 2021, as most start-ups do, to establish a havurah of like-minded Jews in The Woodlands area who assemble for Shabbat and holiday prayer services, and to share communal experiences, such as life-cycle events and Jewish learning.
In January 2022, 15 founding families inaugurated Shaarey Tzedek Synagogue, the only Conservative Jewish house of worship in Montgomery County.
Rabbi Deborah Schloss is Shaarey Tzedek’s full-time rabbi. Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1996, Rabbi Schloss has lived in Houston since 1998 and has served as a pulpit rabbi for 24 years.
The congregation houses a 100-year-old Torah, originally from Port Arthur, Texas. The synagogue is a member of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The shul currently holds Erev Shabbat services and holds the “best onegs in town,” according to synagogue president Miriam Leitko.
“We read the Torah portion in advance and pick one of the themes in order to produce a culinary experience for our onegs,” said Leitko. “For example, we held an olive oil oneg, where everything was cooked or infused with olive oil. We held an acacia tree oneg and an oneg in which every food was red because one of the themes of the parashah was about blood.”
Erev Shabbat services currently are being held in the Oklahoma Community Center at 27222 Hufsmith Conroe Rd., in Magnolia, Texas. Full Shabbat services are slated to begin on May 21.
“This area is really starting to explode,” said board secretary Sheryl Riffle. “Jewishly, we have people coming here from all over the world, many who grew up as we did in a Conservative or traditional Jewish home. Most of us were raised in that kind of environment, and we want to pass it on to the next generation.”
The Woodlands’ population grew from 102,911 in 2014 to 113,819 in 2019, an increase of more than 10%. It doesn’t hurt that The Woodlands ranked first on the niche.com 2021 list of the best cities to live in the U.S.
“There was a vacuum in this community. For many years, we’ve felt we needed more tradition,” said synagogue vice president Danny Schmulson. Raised in Colombia “on the Orthodox side of the Conservative movement,” Schmulson felt the timing was right to establish a Conservative synagogue to serve Montgomery County.
Leitko concurred. “We now have many families living here who were not born in the United States. Conservative (Masorti) Judaism is an umbrella throughout the world. It sustains the traditions of Judaism and it is inclusive of Jews in other parts of the world. I was raised in Mexico City. Coming from the Conservative movement is our commonality.
“We wanted to make sure the traditions that are our legacy were not lost. From keeping the holidays to Torah study, all the religious pieces are maintained and are not watered down.”
Shaarey Tzedek will celebrate Passover by holding a kosher Second Seder on April 16 at the Courtyard by Marriott Houston North/Shenandoah, at 19255 David Memorial Dr. in Shenandoah, Texas. Doors will open at 5 p.m.; Seder begins at 5:30 and dinner at 6:30.
Rabbi Schloss will lead the Haggadah reading. Houston cantorial student Neal Taibel will lead a Passover singalong. Reservations may be made at shaareytzedek.com.
Rabbi Schloss officially began serving at Shaarey Tzedek on Jan. 14. As a rabbi ordained in the Conservative movement, coming to serve a Conservative congregation for the first time since 2001, she told the JHV, “I feel like I’ve come home.”
“I’ve been really impressed by the level of commitment, excitement and enthusiasm of the members,” said Rabbi Schloss. “They have ignited my excitement. It makes me want to step higher to serve them.
“We found each other at a time both parties were looking. I feel G-d’s hand in this.”
Founding member Sol Sachs, who, along with Danny Schmulson, brought the Torah scroll from Beaumont to its new home, regularly used to make the 40-minute drive to Houston to attend services. He expressed his joy at the progress Shaarey Tzedek has made.
He told the JHV: “Tell your friends that there is a Conservative synagogue in Montgomery County now. We have a wonderful rabbi. Our services are beautiful.
We already have someone who has been teaching Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids for many years.
“We’re just getting started but we know where we’re going.”