Meet Ken Lane – Creator of Okie Hebrew

Because most of the people who read posts to this website or listen to the podcasts are in far-away places and have never met me, I made this very short video as a tiny glimpse into my day-to-day world. Though we’re still a community, sometimes we have trouble putting faces/personalities with names and articles we see online. It’s also just another excuse for me to brag on Tulsa, Oklahoma. Enjoy!

The Karaite Jewish Community of Tulsa, Oklahoma

This is part blog post, part event invitation.

The Idea

For the longest time, I have dreamt of a Karaite Jewish community forming in my hometown of Tulsa, OK. Most of the time, I live as a Karaite Jew alone in this buckle of the Bible belt without any synagogue to speak of besides my own living room or occasionally going into nature to pray and study amongst creation. This seemed like especially far-fetched dream of mine due traditional Karaite Judaism in the United States being limited to but one officially recognized Karaite Jewish synagogue in Daly City, California and handful of micro-communities flung throughout the continental United States. Even with that, the sparks of Karaite Jewish thought are being fanned by the passionate and the curious alike. It’s only recently that I’ve felt in my tishkes that the potential for a Karaite Jewish community of Tulsa, OK could be a reality – no matter how small it may be.

Why Tulsa, OK

Many tell me that I should move to city with a larger Jewish community. They suggest Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and even New York City. I don’t feel like that’s necessary or where I’m being led. At one point in time, none of these cities contained even a single Jew, yet that’s how all of these communities began. I feel like Judaism, especially Karaite Judaism, has the potential to flourish in a place even as seemingly remote and non-Jewish as Tulsa, OK. Despite the odds, Tulsa has proven to the world that it is capable of supporting a Jewish community and does so. Because of that and in combination with the slightly less typical spiritual vibe of Tulsa – a place where people are searching for a spiritual home – I believe that Karaism can have growth in Tulsa.

Not a Faith of Opposition

This is not an act in opposition to the existing Rabbinic Jewish community of Tulsa, OK. We would like to work in concert with the Rabbinic Jewish community of Tulsa to help those who are curious about any strain of Judaism be able to learn more about it and interact with those involved within it. Karaite Judaism is rather just another option, another style, of Judaism that may appeal to those who may feel like Rabbinic Judaism doesn’t jive with them. If Karaite Judaism doesn’t jive with you, I’d even recommend another Jewish community in town where you feel more at home.

For the Karaite-Curious

If you feel drawn towards the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and His Torah, I’d suggest that you give Karaite Judaism at least a look. The few of us that share this mindset in Tulsa are very warm and welcoming. We don’t bite! Ask as many questions as you want and we will try and supply with the very best answers we can.

The Invite: 

This coming Erev Shabbat (Friday night, just before the Sabbath commences) July 11, 2014, myself and notable Karaite Jewish personality/soon-to-be full-time Tulsan Isaac Kight will be conducting traditional Karaite Jewish Evening Prayers for Erev Shabbat. This will be the first of hopefully many gatherings of the traditional Karaite Jewish community of Tulsa, OK. The exact time and location have not been determined yet, but we’ll figure it out.

We’re you’re Jewish…
…non-Jewish…
…Karaite…
…Karaite-curious…
…Rabbinic…
…or anything else, hit us up!

Feel free to hit me up on Facebook or email me at kenjaylane@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to get back with you very promptly. If you attempt to add me as a friend on Facebook, please first send me a message outlining your intentions (“Hey Ken, I saw your blog post about the Karaite Jewish Community of Tulsa…” etc.) so I know why you’re attempting to friend me!

Shalom,

Ken

Small Town Synagogue: Oklahoma's Jewish Beginnings

I’ll admit that part of the shtick of my blog is that I talk about Hebrew concepts and living by the Torah in a predominantly non-Jewish place, but there once was a time when Oklahoma had several thriving Jewish communities. Any T-Town resident can see the evidence of Tulsa’s once-burgeoning Jewish beginnings in the names of buildings and foundations all over the city; from OU-Tulsa’s Schusterman Center at 41st  and Yale to the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art off 71st Street. Though there remains a Reform Jewish temple, a Conservative synagogue, and an Orthodox shul in Tulsa along with various Jewish congregations around the Oklahoma City area, most would be surprised to hear about some of Oklahoma’s first Jewish communities. 

While many Jewish populations are attracted to larger cities (like New York City; which is rumored to have more Jews per square foot than Jerusalem), Oklahoma didn’t have too many larger cities until a little later on in the game. If you were to ask the average person where the first Jewish congregation started, most would tell you Tulsa or Oklahoma City, but the answer surprised me once I found out. 

Organized when Oklahoma wasn’t even yet a state (still Indian territory), the small Jewish community of Ardmore, Oklahoma organized the first Jewish congregation called Temple Emeth (Hebrew for “truth”); though it would be a while before they’d have a building of their own. The records are somewhat unclear about their original buildings, but the synagogue closed its doors for good in 2004. Because of the immense cost of tearing the building down due to its asbestos construction, it still stands in Ardmore as a memorial to small-town Oklahoma Hebrew folks. I’ve heard that the building is for sale if anyone is interested in restarting a Jewish community in Ardmore, OK (current population of about 24,000).

Temple Emeth Jewish Synagogue Ardmore Oklahoma
Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net

Temple Emeth Jewish Synagogue Ardmore Oklahoma
Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net
Temple Emeth Jewish Synagogue Ardmore Oklahoma
Photo credit: http://www.oklahomahistory.net


While Oklahoma’s current Jewish population is only about .1%, there was a time when many thousand Israelites proudly called Oklahoma home. Though only around a thousand Jews lived in Oklahoma around the time it became a state in 1907, that number exploded to about 7,500 in the 1920s. 

Believe it or not, many small towns in Oklahoma at one time had Jewish populations. Enid was home to Congregation Emanuel. Chickasha’s Jewish population met at B’nai Abraham. Services were conducted in Hebrew in the small town of Hartshorne at B’nai Israel; which had been in existence since 1916. Though these congregations have long since dissolved due to a number of factors, little specks of Jewish activity still exists throughout rural Oklahoma. Most have no idea of their existence, but Temple Bethahaba in Muskogee, Temple Emanuel in Ponca City, and the Seminole Hebrew Center in Seminole, OK are still home to small-town Torah study. 

What is the reason for the decline in Israelite life amongst the Chosen People or lack of community? Could it be intermarriage, bombardment by Christianity, a lack of a Jewish infrastructure of kosher eateries and neighborhoods? The answer is anyone’s guess, but even with Oklahoma being the belt buckle of the Bible belt with places like Oral Roberts University and RHEMA Bible College, the remaining population of Okies of the Hebrew variety have remained dedicated to the Torah and their roots. 

They say it’s easy to be Torah-observant in places like Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, or Jerusalem. Oklahoma just makes you work for it. 

Shalom. 

P.S. 
Though Temple Emeth was Oklahoma’s first Jewish community, it was not Oklahoma’s first synagogue. That honor belonged to the building of Temple Israel in Tulsa, OK. The building was nestled in a neighborhood about a mile from my home in Midtown Tulsa. Built in 1914, Temple Israel’s congregants from the surrounding neighborhood met there for services before they moved to another location a few neighborhoods over in 1955. 

Temple Israel Reform Jewish Synagogue Tulsa Oklahoma

Sadly, just days after it was announced that the old then-abandoned synagogue was to be restored, it was consumed by a fire. Though the cause of the fire was unknown, many blamed faulty wiring which caused an electrical fire. Not being far from my home, I remembered seeing one of Tulsa’s most beloved historical landmarks burn to the ground with my own eyes. 

Temple Israel Reform Jewish Synagogue Tulsa Oklahoma on fire