Texas Jewboys Unite

As a Jew from Texas, I love any stories that combine the two communities in which I was raised. While many people from the major Jewish centers in America are shocked to learn that there are Jews in Texas, our people have a long and proud history there, and today there is a thriving Jewish community in the Lone Star State.

So I was eager to learn more about a restaurant in Austin called JewBoy Burgers. The establishment was opened by a member of the tribe from El Paso who wanted to mix the cultures which, like me, nurtured him from birth. He also added a third taste, that of the Texas-Mexico border, to his menu. Alas, the food is decidedly unkosher. As the owner says, speaking about the contentious name, “I don’t want to offend anybody, I don’t want to make any political statements … I’m here to make cheeseburgers.” I wouldn’t say I’m offended, but I don’t think I will be eating there on my next visit to Austin.

Speaking of the name, it may be a reference to that other great Jewish Texan, Kinky Friedman, a singer, politician, and 100% Lone Star character who sang with a band he called The Texas Jewboys, which itself may have been a reference to the great Texas Swing musician Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. I always took the name to be a coopting of a slur about Jews that Friedman may have heard growing up.

While I never experienced antisemitism as a kid in San Antonio, there certainly was a sense that Jewish culture, focused on intellectual pursuits, might sometimes conflict with macho Texas culture embodied in the myth of the Alamo. One detail from that important historical event even reinforces the stereotype.

Anyone who has ever seen an Alamo movie knows that William Travis, the commander of the Alamo, used his sword to draw a line in the sand, telling his soldiers that only those willing to die defending the garrison should cross it. This legend comes to us from one of the only survivors of the Alamo, a man named Louis Moses Rose. According to a story only told decades after the events, Rose showed up at a ranch telling the owners that he had escaped the Alamo and was the only man to refuse to cross the line.

While a Louis Rose who had been a French soldier in the Napoleonic Wars and moved to Texas certainly existed, there is no corroborating evidence for his Alamo story. There is also no proof that he was Jewish, although a number of Alsatian Jews moved to central Texas in the early and mid-19th century. Rose’s nickname was not even the result of his Jewishness but rather his long beard and the fact that he was significantly older than the other defenders.

The story of the wandering Jew, a coward who refused to fight, fits right into the stereotype so we should be skeptical of the tale, as are the authors of the wonderfully revisionist book Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth. When it comes to the truth about Texas history, often the legend is more popular than the truth.

The Alamo itself is soon to undergo a major transformation as the City of San Antonio and the State of Texas create a plan to tell the story of what happened on the site in March of 1836. Will the new museum present Rose as a Jewboy, a coward, or just a smart man who knew how to get out of a hopeless situation when he could.


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