History of the Jews in Pittsburgh

Jewish history of Pittsburgh, the second largest city in the state of Pennsylvania, USA and the chief city of Western Pennsylvania. According to the 2002 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, "Jewish households represent 3.8% of the total number of households living in Allegheny County." [http://www.ujfpittsburgh.org/getfile.asp?id=3869]


There are no reliable records of the beginnings of the Jewish community; but it has been ascertained that between 1838 and 1844 a small number of Jews, mostly from Baden, Bavaria, and Württemberg, settled in and around Pittsburgh. These were joined by others in 1847 and by still others in 1852, who included in their numbers the founders of Jewish communal life. The first Jewish service was held in the autumn of 1844, while the first attempt at organization was made in 1847, when a mere handful of men combined with the hope of forming a congregation. They worshiped in a room on Penn street near Walnut (now 13th) street, having engaged the Rev. Mannheimer as cantor. They formed also a Bes Almon Society, and purchased a cemetery at Troy Hill. The congregational body finally became known as "Ez Hajjim." It lacked homogeneity on account of the varying religious views of its members; and divisions and reunions took place from time to time until about 1853, when a united congregation was formed under the name "Rodeph Shalom." In 1864 a further division occurred, the seceders chartering a congregation under the name "Ez Hajjim" in 1865, and purchasing a cemetery at Sharpsburg.

At the turn of the century, two or three synagogues were established in or on the fringe of the area which is now called the Lower Hill District. One old building near Elm Street (called "The Old Jewish Church" by some people) was demolished and replaced. A group called Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob Congregation meets in the new synagogue. At least one old building has survived on nearby Miller Street in the area which had at one time been called the colloquialism "Jews Hill." Christians worship there now.

Congregation-Rodef Shalom

Congregation Rodeph Shalom first worshiped in a hall over the Vigilant engine-house on Third avenue, then in the Irish hall on Sixth street, and in 1861 built on Hancock (now Eighth) street the first synagogue in western Pennsylvania. In 1879 it purchased the West View Cemetery. In 1884 the synagogue was enlarged, but it was subsequently torn down, and the present building, under erection during 1900 and 1901, was dedicated on Sept. 6 and 7 of the latter year. Among the early readers and teachers of Rodeph Shalom were Sulzbacher and Marcuson. In 1854 William Armhold took charge of the congregation, remaining till 1865, when he went to Philadelphia. During his administration the congregation erected the temple on Eighth street; and, in conjunction with Josiah Cohen, he conducted a school which was maintained from 1860 to 1868. From 1865 to 1870 L. Naumburg was teacher and reader; and in his day the Reform movement was considerably advanced. The first rabbi of the congregation was Lippman Mayer, who came from Selma, Alabama, in the spring of 1870. He successfully guided the congregation along advanced Reform lines until his retirement as rabbi emeritus in 1901. By that time he had seen his congregation grow from a membership of 65 to 150. He was succeeded (April 1, 1901) by J. Leonard Levy, who was called from Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, Philadelphia. Rodeph Shalom grew quickly. In 1906, the number of members and seat-holders exceeded 400; and it is worthy of record that on the day after the dedication of the new temple (Sept. 8, 1901) the congregation contributed a sum of money which not only liquidated a debt of nearly $100,000, but left a surplus of over $30,000. Currently still active, the temple now spells its name "Rodef Shalom".

Rodeph Shalom, presided over by Abraham Lippman, since at least 1901 issued, for the use of its members and others: "A Book of Prayer" for the Sunday services; "A Text-Book of Religion and Ethics for Jewish Children"; "A Home Service for the Passover"; "A Home Service for Ḥanukkah"; "The Children's Service"; "Sabbath Readings" for each Sabbath of the year; and three volumes of Sunday lectures. The congregation distributes these Sunday lectures weekly in pamphlet form to all who attend the services, and also furnishes gratuitously a special edition to non-Jewish residents of Allegheny county.

Philanthropic associations

Pittsburgh is notable in American Jewish history on account of the conference (see Jew. Encyc. iv. 215, s.v. Conferences, Rabbinical) held there in 1885, and is also well known as a generous supporter of all national Jewish movements, notably the Hebrew Union College and the Denver Hospital. Among the more prominent local philanthropic and charitable institutions may be mentioned the following:
*J. M. Gusky Orphanage and Home, with the Bertha Rauh Cohen Annex. The Home was founded in 1890 by Esther Gusky, in memory of her husband, Jacob Mark Gusky. The Annex was the gift in 1889 of Aaron Cohen in memory of his wife, Bertha Rauh Cohen, the only daughter of Rosalia Rauh and the late Solomon Rauh. The Home has 62 inmates, an annual income of about $10,000, and an endowment fund of $67,000.
*The United Hebrew Relief Association, a union of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and the Hebrew Ladies' Aid Society. It dispenses $10,000 yearly, and has a sinking-fund of $29,000.
*The Columbian Council School, a social settlement. It conducts a large number of classes, public lectures, a library, public baths, a gymnasium, etc. The bath-house was the gift of Alexander Peacock. The disbursements are about $6,000 annually.
*The Ladies' Hospital Aid secures and pays for hospital attention for the sick poor. It has an annual income of about $8,000, and is at present endeavoring to erect a Jewish hospital.
*The Young Ladies' Sewing Society, which dispenses clothing to the poor; income about $2,000 annually.

The Concordia Club fosters Jewish social life in Pittsburgh. The Council of Jewish Women is represented by the Columbian Council. The Y.M.H.A. has been reorganized, and gives promise of great activity. The Independent Order of B'nai B'rith has five lodges; and the Independent Order of the Free Sons of Israel, the Sons of Benjamin, Sons of Israel, and Sons of Abraham have two each. There are two weekly papers, one in English. "The Jewish Criterion," of which Rabbi Levy and Charles H. Joseph are the editors, and one in Judæo-German, the "Volksfreund."

Prominent Jews

The Jews of Pittsburgh are prominent in the professions and in commerce. Donors to non-sectarian charities include J. D. Bernd and Isaac Kaufmann, the latter of whom in 1895 gave the Emma Kaufmann Free Clinic to the medical department of the Western University. Among those who have held positions in public life are Emanuel Wertheimer, select councilman and member of the state house of representatives; Morris Einstein, select councilman (15 years); Josiah Cohen, judge of the Orphans' Court; E. E. Mayer, city physician; L. S. Levin, assistant city attorney. Isaac W. Frank is president of the National Founders' Association, and A. Leo Weil is a member of the executive committee of the Voters' Civic League.

Since 1882 there has been a steady increase in the number of Jews in Pittsburgh, the new settlers coming mostly from eastern Europe. Russian, Romanian, and Hungarian Jews came in large numbers, and began to display an appreciable interest in public affairs. They had six synagogues in 1906 (whose rabbis include Aaron M. Ashinsky and M. S. Sivitz), many ḥebras, and a number of small religious societies. The Pittsburgh Jewry strongly sympathized with the Zionistic movement, having a large number of Zionistic societies. The number of Jewish inhabitants in 1906 is estimated at between 15,000 and 25,000, in a total population of about 322,000.

quirrel Hill

Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood is considered to be the city's primary Jewish hub. Squirrel Hill has had a large Jewish population since the 1920s, when Jews began to move to the neighborhood in large numbers from Oakland and the Hill District. According to a 2002 study by the United Jewish Federation, 33% of the Jewish population of greater Pittsburgh live in Squirrel Hill, and another 14% in the surrounding area. The report states that "The stability of Squirrel Hill, a geographic hub of the Jewish community located within the city limits, is unique in North America." Squirrel Hill contains three Jewish day schools, catering to the Lubavich, Orthodox, and Conservative movements. There are over twenty synagogues. The Jewish community also offers four restaurants, a Jewish Community Center and an annual festival. It is estimated that one-fifth of the population of Squirrel Hill is Jewish.

ee also

* Jewish American
* Jewish history in the United States (pre-20th century)
* Jewish history in Pennsylvania
* Jewish history in Colonial America
* List of Jewish AmericansPittsburgh is one of three cities in the world (outside of Israel) where the majority of the City's Jewish population still live in the city limits. (the other two cities are Melbourne, Australia and New York City.)Fact|date=February 2007


*History of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 1899
*articles in the Jewish Criterion, 1901
*American Israelite, 1893


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