Fort Bend County, Texas is a place of great historical and cultural significance, with many renowned figures having lived there over the years. Jane Long and Mirabeau B. Lamar are two of the most famous names associated with the county, both of whom played a role in the Texas Revolution. In 1982, a group of Jewish families from Fort Bend County established Congregation Beth El, with the mission of providing an alternative to driving to Houston for worship.
The congregation seeks to build a community where Reform Judaism is practiced and elevates lives with understanding, warmth, friendship, and meaning. Fort Bend County was created from parts of Austin, Harris, and Brazoria counties in 1838. Forty-one of the initial land grants were located along the Brazos River in an area known as Fort Settlement. During this time, many of the residents had fled due to the Texas Revolution. The Texas Zionist Association was formed in 1905 to coordinate Zionist efforts throughout the state, and in 1914, the state's first Hadassah section was founded in Wharton. The first Jewish congregation in Texas was B'nai Israel in Galveston, founded in 1868. This was followed by other congregations in Victoria (1877), Jefferson (1877), San Antonio (1877), Dallas (1877), Austin (1877), Waco (1877), Brenham (1878), Tyler (1878), Marshall (1878), Fort Worth (1879), and El Paso (1900). As the economy of Texas strengthened in fields such as electronics, computer science, and aerospace, the Jewish population grew rapidly, particularly in high-tech centers such as Austin. At the turn of the 20th century, Fort Bend County was one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States.
In December 2001, construction began on Sugar Land Municipal Plaza to honor Stephen F. Sterne who had converted to Catholicism as required by Mexican law but had been raised in a Jewish home in Germany before immigrating to the United States. Wiley Martin defended the Brazos River crossing until his troops strayed out of the way and Santa Anna transported part of his army to the other side. In recent years, Jewish communities in small towns throughout Texas have been declining as people move to metropolitan areas and their suburban and exurban outgrowths. However, congregations remain active in smaller cities such as Abilene, Amarillo, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Longview and Lubbov Click, Odessa and Tyler. The Jewish community in Fort Bend County has a long history that is deeply intertwined with its culture and heritage.
The congregation at Congregation Beth El seeks to preserve this history while also providing a place for Reform Judaism to be practiced. The county has also seen many notable figures pass through its borders over the years who have left their mark on its history.