Who We Are
Our Mission is serving the Jewish community by engaging, connecting, supporting and celebrating Jewish life, values and culture in El Paso – Las Cruces, Israel and beyond.
I was born and raised in Berlin Germany, immigrating to the US in 1965. I retired as Associate Professor & Director of ESL Programs at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan and became Professor Emerita in 2011. Among several volunteer positions, I have served on the board of Temple Beth El, as Chair of Adult Education, Chair of Religious Practices Transition, as well as Vice President and President. I have been a board member for two years, served as co-chair for Yom Ha’atzmaut 2019, and as Vice President.
Occupation: Retired Professor
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Child(ren): Angela and Claudene
Why have you chosen to serve on our board?
I believe in the mission and wish to support its programs on behalf of the El Paso and Las Cruces communities and abroad.
Debra P. Kanof
President Elect – JCRC Chair- Campaign Chair
Jewish El Paso chose me.
Birthplace: New York, N.Y.
Dog: Harper Lee
Secretary – Campership Award Task Force – Granting Committee
Continuing my commitment to see the Jewish community continue to thrive for my family as well as the rest of the community.
Birthplace: El Paso, Texas
Child(ren): Jenna, Haim, Lauren, Adam, Ernest, Cheryl
I serve on our board so that I can have a positive impact on the outcomes of local Jewish philanthropy, something I have been passionate about since my Birthright Israel trip.
Occupation: Wealth Advisor
Born: Fort Worth, TX
Child(ren): David and Alex
Janet Kent Wechter
Immediate Past President – Camp Kadima Task Force Co-Chair
I serve on our board because I believe in its mission to serve vulnerable populations and engage the local Jewish community. We are part of one of 146 independent Federations and 300 smaller communities and our collective power protects and enhances Jewish life around the globe and our connection to Israel.
Occupation: Interior Design
Birthplace: Shreveport, Louisiana
Child(ren): Ryan and Jenny
Executive Committee Member
I grew up in Durham, North Carolina and Mobile, Alabama. I graduated from University of Texas in Austin. I worked managing temporary help agencies and have been a co-camp director of Camp Shamayim in El Paso. I also was on staff with Jewish Federation as a part-time Campaign Coordinator. I love traveling and being with family! I want to serve on our board for the good and continuity of our Jewish Community. I appreciate all the wonderful programming and resources we have provided especially during the pandemic.
Occupation: Professional Volunteer
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia
Child(ren): Adam, Wendi, Jordan and Allison
Wendy L. Lanski
Executive Committee Member
What we do is central to Jewish life in Greater El Paso and around the country. It connects us all to each other and is at the heart of taking care of every Jew; no matter where in the world.
Occupation: Professional Volunteer / Community Leader
Hometown: St Louis, Missouri
Child(ren): Libi and Liam
Tatiana Judith Avila
Board Member – JCRC Committee – Granting Committee
I am actively involved in several local/national boards, nonprofits, and organizations. I enjoy contributing to my community in any way possible.
When approached about this opportunity, I was delighted. I would love to help grow this amazing organization, as well as elevate our community to help create a better future for our families, friends, and neighbors.
Occupation: Communication and Marketing Coordinator, St. David’s and Las Palmas Del Sol Healthcare
Born: El Centro, California
Spouse/Partner: Engaged to Peter
Family: My lovely niece who I raised, Venice Michelle – and two dogs
To contribute and assist efforts being made to support the Jewish Community.
Occupation: Construction Project Engineer
Child(ren): Inaya and Dwayne
Dr. Cesar Carrasco
Board Member – Shofar Across Borders Chair – Finance Committee
I would like to contribute to bringing the El Paso Jewish community together and I believe the our organization is in a unique position to accomplish this goal.
Profession: Professor, Civil Engineering
Born: Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua
Child(ren): Rebecca and Joel
Board Member – Nominating Committee Chair – Rise Against Hunger Co-Chair
I was raised in El Paso ,Texas as a daughter of German immigrants who instilled in me a strong Jewish value rich with customs and traditions.
It is my turn to give back and pay forward these values and help my Jewish community prosper and thrive.
Occupation : Retired Business School Owner (International Business College)
Birthplace: Jerusalem Israel
Child(ren): Jason and Liz
Marc Ellman, M.D.
Board Member – Campership Award Task Force Chair – Granting Committee
I have seen some of the wonderful things that has been done for the community and I am honored to be a part of that. Furthermore, my father sadly recently passed away from COVID-19 and so this has become even more special to me as he was very happy when I told him I’m part of the Board. Judaism was very important to my father and one of the most important things to him in his retired life was his participation with a Jewish police officer organization, the Shomrim Society. My father was retired from the NYPD where he spent his career on the streets of the Bronx.
Occupation: Ophthalmologist – specializing in cataract surgery
Birthplace: Peekskill, New York
Board Member – Jewish Film Festival Co-Chair – AOK Committee Co-Chair
I chose to serve on the board because I saw first-hand, while co- chairing the Jewish Film Festival, the amazing reach and impact it has on the Jewish community of Greater El Paso.
Occupation : Community Volunteer
Birthplace: El Paso, TX
Child(ren): Drew, Jamie and Lane
Board Member – Chanukah @ San Jacinto Co-Chair – Rise Against Hunger Co-Chair
I am looking forward to serving as we safely transition into in-person programming. I can’t wait to promote programs like Rise against Hunger, Chanukah at San Jacinto Plaza, ElPasoConnect, and PJ library back to our community. Together we can continue to create a strong Jewish community in Greater El Paso.
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
Children: Derrick and Evelynn
Board Member – Finance Committee – Campaign Committee
I have previously served on the board and I found the work interesting and beneficial to the Jewish Community. I enjoyed working with the other volunteers and leadership.
Many organizations worry about their individual needs. Our board encouraged and help fund several of these worthwhile groups. The leadership showed direction and helped them focus on what they each did best.
Occupation: Small Business Owner
Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico
Child(ren): Jonathan and Aleeza
Board Member – Granting Committee Chair – L’Chaim To Life Co-Chair
As a Jew, I can work with other individuals who share the same passion and commitment to serving our Jewish community- being local and abroad.
I bring dedication and commitment to our board. As I am well aware that being a board member requires a high level of enthusiasm and obligation to responsibilities that extends beyond attending board meetings regularly. I am also an individual who has always honored being straightforward and impartial. My career work as an advocate for individuals who live a disability and a college educator for over 27 years has taught me to be mindful of how individuals should be treated: with honor and respect.
Occupation: Speech Professor at El Paso Community College
Birthplace: El Paso, Texas
Family: Molly Brown (Chocolate Lab)
Board Member – Bylaws Task Force Co-Chair – Granting Committee
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and retired as Executive Director Emerita of the National Patient Safety Foundation. Prior to that, I was a senior healthcare administrator, professor at several universities, and a clinical social worker. After retiring, I got my MFA in creative writing and now help people create spiritual legacies. Volunteer positions include serving on the board of Temple Beth-El, chairing TBE’s Transition, as well as a year as Vice President. I also served on the board of Bet Ha’am, my temple in Maine. I am committed to our community and hope to use my skills to strengthen and move it forward. For all these reasons, I have chosen to serve on our board, as I can share my wealth of knowledge and my life-time experience.
Occupation: Writer, Clinical Social Worker, Professor (ret.), Administrator (ret.)
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, PA
Child(ren) Name(s): Jennifer Pringle, Amanda Malo, Megan Carlin, Andrew Hesselbart
Shane Wagman Romero
Board Member – ElPasoConnect Chair
I want to help create a community where myself and others can cultivate and connect with their Jewish identity. Exploring our heritage together leads us to deeper meaning in our own lives, and allows us to continue the work of tikkum olam.
Occupation : Attorney
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Born in London, England, Robert graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in Business Administration and subsequently moved to the United States. Raised modern Orthodox, he spent nearly 20 years working in progressive Judaism at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, CA, where he began as an educator, then created and ran many successful programs, and left having attained the position of Associate Executive Director during his last 6 years.
Recruited to New York as the Executive Director of Temple Israel of the City of New York, NY, Robert spent 10 years helping to reinvigorate and restructure this hidden gem, building infrastructure, creating programs, raising funds and helping to launch its capital campaign. Robert served on the Board and Executive Committee of NATA (National Association for Temple Administration) and founded and led MetroASE (Metropolitan Association of Synagogue Executives), a non-denominational professional development group in New York City. As a result of his leadership, he was invited to serve on the Jewish Federation of New York City’s Synergy Council.
An ardent supporter of Israel, Robert co-chaired StandWithUs’ (SWU) Northeast Region’s Board from 2009-2018 and was its co-honoree at its first annual gala dinner. He currently serves on the Board of Nirim USA. Robert brings a wealth of experience to his role and enjoys networking, meeting people, creating community and is passionate about Jewish peoplehood and Israel.
Sue is a native Texan, born in El Paso after her parents and two older sisters moved from Beaumont Texas. Her younger brother was born several years after she was born. She attended Dudley School, Mesita School and graduated from El Paso High School. She then attended
Texas Western College and majored in Education. However, she married at a young age and never finished her degree. She is the proud mother of Annie Davenport (Bob), Lauri Dolgoff (Louis) and Ron Bendalin (Elizabeth) and grandmother to Erica (Chris) Lee, Brooke Holland, Allyson Holland, Madeleine Bendalin, Cameron Bendalin and Jacob Bendalin and great grandmother to Bonnie Lee. Prior to joining the staff of the Jewish Federation in 1997, she worked at the Popular Dry Goods, first as the Bridal Registry Consultant and then as a buyer for the China, Silver, Crystal, Gifts, Stationery departments.
Desmond Galvan is an engineer specialized in audio who has partnered with CEOs, executives and elected officials to grow their personal and professional brands.
In addition to his experience in audio, Desmond is a trained paralegal.
Desmond holds a Bachelors of Science in Audio Engineering from the Art Institute of Austin.
Mindy Escobar-Leanse is an actor, puppeteer, voice actor and, now, a passionate Judaics facilitator at the local Jewish schools. She was raised in an event planner’s home and is thrilled to be helping bring the PJ Library events to our community this year.
Before joining Jewish El Paso, Rebecca served as the Program Coordinator for the REALIZE Board Training Program, a BoardSource based governance program in partnership with the Paso del Norte Health Foundation and the United Way of El Paso County. She was involved with developing the curriculum training materials, delivering training sessions, and the program’s fall summit events.
Rebecca’s initial career in the nonprofit sector began in 2016 at the El Paso Chamber (Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce). She served as the Government Relations Coordinator and later as the Executive Assistant to the President and CEO.
As a native of El Paso, Rebecca attended Canutillo High School and El Paso Community College. She later graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts from New Mexico State University with a major in Journalism and Mass Communication and a double minor in Marketing and Advertising.
Rebecca is an avid supporter of Israel and is excited to be serving the El Paso Jewish community through Jewish El Paso.
Jewish Community Relations Council
Connect with the JCRC of Greater El Paso
About the JCRC
“Justice, Justice you shall pursue,” we read on Parashat Shoftim. The demand of Justice goes beyond the idea of a Justice system. It implies fairness, equal opportunity, judging people for who they are and for their own actions. The idea of Justice is present throughout our sources, and it is an integral part of all branches of Judaism regardless of whatever other differences might exist between them.
Our JCRC works to:
- promote mutual understanding among groups in the community, and further, through education and otherwise, general public acceptance and practice of the principles promoting human dignity, individual rights and fraternal relationships across religious, racial and ethnic lines and groups;
- educate and advocate Jewish interests in the community;
- develop an intelligent and effective public opinion within and outside the Jewish community on Jewish community relations problems, concerns and commitments;
- function as a coordinating and advisory body for the development and implementation of coordinated programs and policies for, and participation by, local Jewish organizations in the field of community relations in Greater El Paso.
The JCRC is a committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso and a member of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Contact Government Officials
To contact your Elected Government Officials Nationally, Regionally, El Paso and Las Cruces visit:
Jewish History In El Paso-Las Cruces
Connecting with Local Jewish History
The history of Jews in El Paso is a colorful one, rich in traditions, culture and contributions. Jews came here from all parts of the world and other parts of the United States in search of business opportunities and religious tolerance, or they simply chose not to continue farther west or north in their quest for a new life.
To understand the history of Jews in Texas, one also has to know the history of Jews in Mexico. The Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) caused the influx of thousands of Jews into Mexico from Spain with many of these Jews traveling to Mexico with the conquistadores.
In 1545, Jews in Mexico City numbered approximately 1,400. The Holy Office of the Inquisition began targeting Jews in the 1580s. Punishment for practicing the Jewish faith included imprisonment, forced penance and even burning at the stake.
In the 1700s, many of these conversos (Jews who professed to be Catholic converts but practiced Judaism in secret), crossed the border into Texas looking for a life of religious freedom and settled in many of the border regions, including El Paso.
Entry for Jews from other parts of America and other parts of the world started in Galveston, Texas. The land agents representing the Republic of Texas advertised in the United States and overseas about the promise of fabulous opportunities in Texas. In 1848, steamship companies based in Germany were selling passage to the port of Galveston, Texas.
Most of the Jews who came to Texas in the early 1800s were merchants or peddlers, But, Jews filled every facet of the population as teachers, politicians, lawyers, landowners and doctors.
One of the pioneer merchants to come to El Paso was Solomon Schutz (1846 -?) who arrived with his uncles Samuel and Joseph in 1854 and opened Schutz Brother’s Store. Solomon, a native of Westphalia, Germany, also founded El Paso’s first international rail line in 1887, the Old Mule Line, which crossed the Rio Grande to Mexico. He was also elected mayor of El Paso in 1880.
Ernst Kohlberg, (1857-1910) also an immigrant from Westphalia, Germany, came to El Paso in 1875. Ernst was an entrepreneur whose International Cigar Factory (founded, 1886) was the first such business in the southwest. His civic contributions include being a city council member and founder of El Paso’s Electric Light Company. He was also a deputy U.S. consul in Juarez, Mexico. His life was cut short by a bullet from the gun of a drunken tenant in 1910. Tom Lea modeled his character Ludwig Sterner from the novel, “Wonderful Country” after Ernst Kohlberg.
Ernst’s wife, Olga Bernstein Kohlberg (1864-1935) was a civic leader in her own right. She established the state’s first free public kindergarten in 1892 and founded The El Paso Public Library in 1895. She also contributed to the establishment of El Paso’s first public hospital. Both Olga and her husband were active members of Temple Mount Sinai, as they were two of its founding members in 1898.
Many with the entrepreneurial spirit came to Juarez, Mexico, to take advantage of the tariff-free trade zone there. One such person was Adolf Schwartz (1866-1941), originally from Stropko, Hungary, who established himself there as a successful merchant. He moved across the border to El Paso because of its flourishing Jewish community and opened The Fair store. He became ill in 1902 and closed The Fair, but became a silent partner in his nephew, Maurice’s, Popular Dry Goods Company. Maurice and Adolf did not share the same political beliefs and supported opposite sides of the Mexican Revolution. It is said that, on the same day, Pancho Villa’s soldiers and the government Maderistas both shopped at their store, unbeknownst to the other, each having been given credit by a different brother. The Popular was an excellent employer, employing many Hispanics and was also the first store in El Paso to employ black clerks. It closed in 1995, having grown over the decades to include several locations.
A special story of hard work and family dedication made all the more remarkable because of the strict U.S. immigration policies of the times, is that of Joseph Hillel Goodman (1868-1958). He arrived in New York in 1893 from Lithuania and began work in one of the city’s notorious sweatshops and also found work as a peddler. He made his way south, eventually settling in El Paso in 1902. Through hard work, he established a very successful mercantile business and, by 1925, was able to sponsor the emigration of 47 family members to Texas.
The turn of the century also saw many changes in the Jewish community as a whole. Jews began to come together as their communities grew. They needed communal things like cemeteries and places of worship to accommodate their growing populations.
Around this time, the city of El Paso was populated with approximately 16,000 citizens. The central point in the east-west rail line connecting St. Louis with San Francisco, El Paso had both sophistication and squalor. Mules pulled trolleys along tracks in the urban areas and the St. Regis Hotel (run by Ernst Kohlberg) hosted President Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz in 1909. Neither was it unusual for a gunfight to break out in the street.
In 1887 the Mount Sinai Association was created to care for a community cemetery and provide aid to the needy. Regular religious worship came to El Paso in 1898 when Alabama Rabbi Oscar J. Cohn moved here to recuperate from a health condition. In 1900, the El Paso Hebrew Sunday School began with classes at the county courthouse. The Mount Sinai Association constructed its first synagogue in 1900. In 1916, El Paso opened its new Temple Mount Sinai building, which boasted a gym with showers, a stage, a billiard room, a library, a moving picture booth, a large kitchen and a social hall, one of the first ‘modern’ temple buildings West of the Mississippi.
This time saw the arrival of one of El Paso’s most colorful Jewish characters, Rabbi Martin Zielonka (1877-1938). A native of Berlin, Germany, he came to El Paso in 1900 to fill the vacancy at Temple Mount Sinai left when Rabbi Oscar Cohn moved to a pulpit in Dallas. He quickly established a reputation as a no nonsense disciplinarian who was outraged by the vices of the times. He helped form a citizen’s league to regulate such things as saloon hours and gambling establishments. What he is most widely regarded for was his work to help organize Jews in Mexico whose travel to the U.S. was stopped by U.S. immigration laws.
The years after World War I saw a tremendous influx of Jews into Mexico. Rabbi Zielonka took to task the job of helping these Jews establish themselves with work and places to live. He worked hard for years to gain the assistance of the national offices of B’nai B’rith for his efforts in Mexico. Finally, the Dallas leadership council gave approval to his ideas and granted him the aid he needed in 1921. By the 1930s, Mexico City had a B’nai B’rith bureau to support its viable Jewish community with many of its members having been personally assisted by Rabbi Zielonka.
Jewish El Pasoans were even wildcatters. Haymon Krupp (1874-1949) came to El Paso in 1890 and established himself as a pawnbroker. Soon, he had learned the dry goods business and apparel manufacturing. He also incorporated and sold stock in his companies. In 1919, he and his partner formed the Texon Oil & Land Company. He bought 430,000 acres of University of Texas land in the Permian Basin because geological studies showed in might contain oil. After two and a half years of drilling, the Santa Rita #1 well struck oil. The millions of dollars generated in income established UT and Texas A&M as major institutions.
The 20s and 30s brought new challenges for Jews and other Americans alike. The resurgent popularity of the Ku Klux Klan coupled with the Great Depression made life more difficult for Jews in particular. These years also saw a tremendous growth of the Jewish community in El Paso.
In 1921, El Paso’s orthodox congregation, B’nai Zion hired their first rabbi, Charles Blumenthal. The congregation’s second Rabbi, Dr. Joseph Roth (1894-1986), served for thirty years from 1923-1953. Dr. Roth was an educated man who was ordained at New York Theological Seminary and who earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from New York University. During the depression, Rabbi Roth officiated without pay and sought employment with the El Paso College of Mines (now UTEP) as the chairman of the philosophy and psychology department.
The Jewish Relief Society, established with the help of Rabbi Roth, helped those affected by the depression with interest-free loans. The Jewish Community Council of El Paso (the present-day Jewish Federation of El Paso) was born of this group in 1937.
Women were also becoming much more active in politics and in social causes. The old-time Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Societies, based in charitable works, had evolved into more modern groups like the National Council of Jewish Women and Hadassah whose mission was to fulfill the educational and fund-raising needs of their congregations. They also reached out to the less fortunate in their communities. The first president of NCJW in El Paso was Mrs. Max Mayer who served from 1917-1918.
El Paso finally joined Hadassah in 1943 after the death of Rabbi Martin Zielonka, a staunch opponent of Zionism who actively crushed any efforts by El Paso women to join.
Of course, World War II and the arrival of Adolph Hitler was one of the darkest chapters in the history of Jews. Many Texas Jews turned their attention to bringing family members over from Germany. Here in El Paso, Jewish servicemen stationed at Ft. Bliss were welcomed to weekly Oneg Shabbats and High Holy Day services. The local hangout for Jewish servicemen was the old Temple Mount Sinai building on Oregon Street where parties of all kinds were organized.
During the time just following the war, Floyd Fierman (1916-1989) was the leader of the congregation at Temple Mount Sinai. Rabbi from 1949 to 1979, he documented the history of Jews in the Southwest in a number of books and articles. From 1979 until his death, he was resident scholar and rabbi emeritus at Temple Mount Sinai and a visiting lecturer in philosophy at UTEP.
Dr. Vincent Ravel (1914 -1969), a member of B’nai Zion Synagogue, was a true community servant whose dedication to helping and caring for the El Paso community will be felt forever. A director of radiology at two El Paso hospitals, Dr. Ravel contributed to the Cancer Society and served on many area boards such as the El Paso Museum of Art, Liberty Hall and the El Paso Coliseum. He also served on the board of the El Paso Symphony and was instrumental in bringing the Israeli Symphony, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, to El Paso to perform.
The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 reflected the feelings of most Texas Jews at the time and they responded with a generous torrent of donations. El Paso fund drives raised in excess of $400,000 for the new Jewish State. Another memorable drive was organized through the efforts of Rabbi Fierman and Rabbi Leo Heim in 1967; $700,000 was raised in one night for the State of Israel following its victory in the 1967 War.
In 1967, El Paso’s Jewish Community Center, featuring offices, meeting rooms, gymnasium, swimming pool and softball field opened its doors at 405 Wallenberg Drive. The opening of the JCC Preschool came not far after in 1970 and is still in operation. Today, el Paso is home to many Jewish organizations. Please visit our Community Resources to see where we connect in El Paso – Las Cruces.
Jewish El Pasoans have made varied contributions to their community like entertainer Jack Earle (born Jacob Ehrlich) who, at 8 feet, 7 inches tall, worked in silent films. There were brothers Andy and Syd Cohen who started playing baseball in El Paso in 1922 at the Rio Grande Park and later both played baseball in the Major Leagues.
In 2016 due to the geographical location of Las Cruces to Albuquerque, Temple Beth-El’s Rabbi Lawrence Karol and President Monika Kimball petitioned the Jewish Federation of New Mexico to be released from New Mexico Federation membership to the El Paso, Texas Federation. El Paso’s Federation Board voted unanimously to accept Las Cruces. The name was then changed to the Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso.
Since the days of the first Jewish settlers from Mexico, the evolution of Jewish life in El Paso continues. History is still being made by Jews in El Paso, while Jewish heritage continues to grow. As Rabbi Joseph Roth said many years ago, El Paso is ‘our oasis in the desert’. El Paso and Las Cruces are communities that have found refuge in the traditions laid down by so many of our ancestors and in the open hearts and minds of the present-day institutions that lead us.
The decision to rebrand to Jewish El Paso: Connecting El Paso to Las Cruces, is aimed at making us more representative and relevant of who we are today, as we face the challenges and opportunities of the future as a united Jewish community.
Sources and Articles
Sources for this article and great resources for those interested in Jewish El Paso-Las Cruces and Texas history are:
Winegarten, Ruthe and Schechter, Cathy. Deep in the Heart; The Lives & Legends of Texas Jews. Eakin Press. Austin, Texas, 1990.
Weiner, Hollace Ava. Jewish Starts in Texas; Rabbis and Their Work. Texas A & M Press. College Station, Texas, 1999.
Rose, Hymer Elias. ‘Joe’ H. Goodman; Patriarch and Pioneer. Privately Published, 1978.
Goodman, Mrs. I.B. (Fanny Sattinger). In The Beginning; The Jewish Community of El Paso Texas. Privately Published, 1970.
House Congressional Record, Published February 27, 1969.
www.epcc.edu. El Paso Community College website’s Boarderlands section.
www.tsha.utexas.edu. Texas State Historical Association website produced in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts and General Libraries of The University of Texas.