Around the World in Houston: Discover Israel

Annual Menorah Lighting at City Hall | Photo courtesy of Chabad Outreach

With a labyrinth of cultures represented in every nook and cranny of town, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. To celebrate this world-class melting pot, we’ll be exploring a new region of the globe through a Houston lens each week, from annual festivals and museums to restaurants and cultural experiences. Join the journey with our Around the World in Houston series.

From eateries and bakeries slinging everything from shawarma to sufganiyot (Israeli jelly doughnuts), plus film and art festivals, community centers and dance classes, there are a bevy of ways to explore Israeli and Jewish culture in Houston.

Please note that this list, like all of of our Around the World in Houston features, focuses on items directly tied to the country’s national identity. Lists may also highlight other regional elements including foods, arts, athletics, and other local and cultural items that would be common to find within the country’s borders, but may not be part of the national identity.

Items are listed in alphabetical order and not ranked. For the purpose of this list, we also included items that reflect Jewish culture in Houston, but may not be specifically Israeli.

Annual Festivals & Cultural Events

  • Houston Jewish Film Festival – This annual film festival presents a thought-provoking lineup of some of the best Jewish and Israeli films from across the world. The next festival will be held March 3 to 18, 2018, featuring entertaining and high-quality documentaries, dramas, comedies, and musicals.
  • Jewish Book & Arts Festival – The 2017 Ann and Stephen Kaufman Jewish Book & Arts Festival takes place through November 12, inspiring the community to learn and experience Jewish literary, culture, and performing arts. Held annually, the festival also includes films, theater, and concerts.
  • Menorah Lightings around Houston – Look out for the annual Menorah lightings around town each holiday season, from Houston City Hall and the Galleria to The Woodlands Market Street and Bellaire Town Square Park.

Museums & Cultural Organizations

  • Chabad Lubavitch Center – This culture center houses a variety of programs and institutions to cultivate the Jewish experience, offering everything from a daily minyan and a mikveh to complete day school and adult education classes.
  • Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center – Since 1936, the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center has been a place where families and individuals come together for friendship, affiliation, and socialization. The organization promotes the development and strengthening Jewish identity, fostering Jewish values, and enriching the Jewish community and the greater community. Its programs cover everything from early childhood to senior services; and the center even hosts an in-house café, Laykie’s Gourmet Cafe at the J.
  • Holocaust Museum Houston – Open since 1996, this museum strives to educate the public about the dangers of hatred while remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors’ legacy. The museum also serves as an education center with two classroom areas and a research library with more than 4,000 titles relating to the Holocaust, World War II, religion and anti-Semitism, and a video section with over 300 titles on related subjects, plus thousands of historic and original photographs, documents, letters, diaries, and other artifacts from the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Houston Hillel – This non-profit strives to enrich the lives of Jewish students and young professionals so that they may enrich the Houston Jewish community and the Jewish people and the world.
  • Jewish Federation of Greater Houston – The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston is a volunteer organization that strengthens the Jewish community, from Houston to Jerusalem. Check out the community calendar for events.

Israeli Food & Drink

Restaurants & Bars

  • Fadi’s Mediterranean Grill – Although not Israeli itself, the popular Lebanese grillhouse rocks five Houston locations, offering cuisine beloved across the Middle East, including Israel. You’ll find everything from shawarma, falafel, and hummus to baba ghanoush, tabouli salad, and za’atar bread.
  • Genesis Steakhouse & Wine Bar – Houston’s first and only glatt kosher steakhouse is an elegant affair. In addition to its regular menu of ribeyes, chops, fish, and Israeli dishes like falafel, tabouli, and matbucha, the eatery also offers special menus for Passover, Shabbat and more.
  • Katz’s Deli – With locations in Montrose and the Woodlands, this 24-hour delicatessen is your best bet for a late night fix of matzo ball soup and cheese blintzes.
  • Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant – Kishka, kugel, knish, lox, matzo ball soup, and gelfite fish; this New York-style delicatessen with locations in both the Galleria and West U dishes out all of your Ashkenazi favorites. You can even learn “how to speak deli” (i.e. Yiddish) by skimming the back of the massive menu (which is just about as massive as the dishes themselves).
  • My Pita Israeli Cuisine – This Glatt Kosher café serves up a number of traditional Israeli favorites—think falafel, shawarma, pargiot, and shakshuka—alongside overstuffed sandwiches, salads, soups, and desserts. The eatery also offers catering, breads, and custom cakes.
  • New York Bagel – You can find things like matzo brie, latkes, gelfite fish, creamed herring, matzo ball soup, lox, and hot kosher-style pastrami and salami at this Hillcroft bagel shop.
  • Saba’s Grill & Wok – Over in Meyerland, Saba’s Grill & Wok combines Chinese fusion with Israeli cuisine. Nosh on beef dumplings, babaganoush and hummus, kabobs, falafel, and schnitzel with laffa bread, and sweet and sour chicken, garlic noodles, and fried rice.
  • Sabas Restaurant – This family-owned kosher restaurant has been feeding locals a variety of dishes since 2001. Guests can enjoy Israeli breakfast plates loaded with eggs, feta, cucumbers, and tomatoes or hardboiled eggs, hummus, and jachnun, an Israeli pastry. The menu also features Israeli salads and bagel toasts, shakshuka, malawach and falafel plates, schnitzel fish, sushi, pizza and more.
  • Shawarma Stop – Get a taste of the Middle East at this Arabic shawarma spot. It’s also not specifically Israeli, but is representative of popular Middle Eastern foods you’d find in-country and within the region. Start with hummus, tabbouli, and falafel before moving on to build-your-own shawarma bowls and pitas.

Grocery Stores & Bakeries

  • Belden’s  This family-owned grocer has been serving the Meyerland, Westbury, and Bellaire communities for over 50 years, boasting fresh meat, seafood, and produce, a deli and bakery, and a variety of kosher foods.
  • Jerusalem Halal Meats – Hit this Palestinian (not Israeli) market to pick up imported Middle Eastern grocery items, baked breads, fresh produce and meats, hot items like shawarma, and a tapestry of Middle Eastern sweets.
  • Kosherama – Make it a one stop shop; this Fondren Southwest grocery is kosher only.
  • Phoenicia Specialty Foods – Grab freshly baked pita, which is sent through the store via a giant conveyer belt at both the Galleria and Downtown locations of this international food store. Explore the markets further and you’ll find freshly prepared foods including baba ghanoush, hummus and tabouli, a butcher shop, seafood counter and deli section, fresh produce, dried fruits and nut, a blend of imported goods, ancient grains, oils, vinegars, and spices like za’atar and sumac; and a bakery section. Lebanese-owned, Phoenicia is a solid option for foods and flavors of the Middle East.
  • Three Brothers Bakery – In 1949, brothers Sigmund, Sol, and Max opened the first Three Brothers Bakery on Holman Street. Today, the popular bakery has three locations, each of which offer everything from chocolate babka, rugelach, and hamantaschen to a variety of challah and holiday sufganiyot.

Language Classes, Education Centers, Groups & Meet-Ups

  • The Challah Club – Every Third Thursday of the month, the Bellaire Jewish Center invites guests to learn how to make challah in a social setting. Sign up for $7.
  • European School of Languages – Learn Arabic at the European School of Languages, where the classes are designed for all adults and education professionals who either want to start learning Arabic for the first time or want to maintain/improve their level of comprehension and pronunciation.
  • Hebrew Language Classes – Learn Hebrew at the Chai Learning Center of West Houston or Congregation Beth Israel, which offers two Hebrew programs for adults—Adult B’nei Mitzvah and Adult Hebrew.
  • Israeli Folk Dance Classes – These dance classes are open to anyone who wants a taste of Israeli culture and a laid back environment. The open dance sessions offer instruction and review of classics along with today’s most popular Israeli folk dances, including couples and line dances. Drop-ins are welcome for $4/member and $6/public, with class packs available.
  • Young Jewish Professionals Houston – This group offers a chance to connect with other young Jewish professionals in a welcoming, relaxed, and spirited setting. Look out for events like First Fridays Shabbat Dinner & Cocktails, networking socials, and classes.

Other Notables

  • Jewish Herald-Voice – This Jewish community newspaper has been serving the Greater Houston area and the Texas Gulf Coast since 1908.
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Brooke Viggiano is a food and lifestyle writer residing in Houston. When she's not contributing to publications like 365 Things to Do in Houston, Thrillist Houston and the Houston Press, she's on the hunt for the coolest happenings in the city. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BrookeViggiano .