Summary Information
Title: B’nai Israel Congregation Photographs,
Collection Number: MSP#470
Creator: B’nai Israel Congregation
Collection Dates: c. 1920-1996
Extent: 5 boxes
Abstract:
B’nai Israel Congregation in Pittsburgh’s East End was chartered in 1911. After outgrowing various rented facilities in the early 1920’s, the congregation built a sanctuary at 327 Negley Avenue. Growth of the congregation continued until it peaked in the 1950’s and then began to decline in the 1970’s, as the Jewish population moved into and then from the area. In the 1990s, the congregation merged with Beth Jacob of New Kensington to found Adat Shalom Congregation in Fox Chapel. B’nai Israel formally closed on June 30, 1995. The B’nai Israel Congregation Photographs contain both photographic prints and negatives. They include images of the building, clergy, education, anniversaries, events, and congregation members and organizations. Of note are a series of confirmation class photographs ranging from 1933 to 1979, and a photograph of an early sukkah.

Language:

The material in this collection is in English.

Repository:

Rauh Jewish Archives
Senator John Heinz History Center
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
412-454-6364
library@hswp.org
http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/libraryArchives.aspx

Sponsor:

Funding for this project was made available by the Simon Hafner Charitable Foundation.
Date Published:

June 2008
Author:

October, 29 2007; collection arranged and inventory written by Ashley Sebastian; revised May 2008 by S. Melnick; revised April 2010 by Theresa E. Rea, with gerenous support from the PNC Charitable Trusts- J. Samuel and Rose Y. Cox Foundation and the Giant Eagle Foundation.
Encoder:

Encoded by Matt Strauss on June 12, 2008 from an existing finding aid.
Revisions made by Theresa E. Rea on April 16, 2010.

Historical Sketch

When Jews moved into the neighborhoods of Stanton Heights, Highland Park, and East Liberty in the East End area of Pittsburgh, groups began holding religious services in homes. In 1911, one such group was chartered as B’nai Israel Congregation.

As membership increased, the congregation moved into various rented facilities. In 1920, the congregation moved into a mansion on Highland Avenue, which held the offices, library, classrooms and meeting rooms. Sabbath services were held in a building on Collins Avenue, and larger events, such as High Holiday services and weddings, were held in the Pershing Theatre or in the Rittenhouse Ballroom on Highland Avenue. Throughout this early period, members of the congregation raised funds to acquire a permanent building.

In 1920, the congregation purchased land with two existing structures at 327 North Negley Avenue. Ground was broken for the construction of the sanctuary, in 1922. The building was designed by Henry Hornbostel, Alexander Sharove, and Philip Friedman in a Byzantine style. Prior to construction, the congregation used the two existing buildings on this land as gathering places and offices. A building, called “the barn,” was used as a social hall; and a building behind the main sanctuary, referred to as “the mansion,” housed a chapel, offices and classrooms. Although the construction was not yet complete, the sanctuary was first used for High Holiday services in 1924.

Initially, members followed Orthodox customs. Rabbi Benjamin Lichter was hired as the congregation’s rabbi in 1920. Under his leadership, the congregation affiliated with the Conservative movement, and, in 1922, joined the United Synagogue of America. Preferring to follow Orthodox traditions, some members withdrew from B’nai Israel and established Adath Jeshurun Congregation in the same neighborhood.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the congregation was affected by the scarcity of resources caused by the Great Depression and World War II. After the war ended, the neighborhoods in the East End area of Pittsburgh experienced a population boom. The resulting increase in membership enabled the congregation to construct an attached building, which was dedicated in 1953. The new center housed classrooms, a chapel, offices and a new social hall.

The congregation’s growth in membership peaked in the early 1950s. By the 1970s, growth in membership had all but ceased. After the installation of stained glass windows designed by Jean Jacques Duval, in 1964, the congregation did not undertake any large construction or improvement projects.

In the 1990s, the opportunity arose to merge with another congregation, Beth Jacob of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, and to found Adat Shalom Congregation in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania. On the weekend of June 30, 1995, the B’nai Israel congregation held a formal closing ceremony at the synagogue.

Five rabbis had served the congregation: Rabbi Benjamin Lichter, Rabbi Seymour Cohen, Rabbi Mordecai Chertoff, Rabbi Jack Shechter, and Rabbi Richard Marcovitz. Rabbi Lichter was hired as head rabbi in 1920, and, in 1956, he was elected to the position of Rabbi Emeritus, which he held until his sudden death in 1963. In 1956, Rabbi Cohen was installed as head rabbi, a position he held until 1961. Rabbi Chertoff replaced Rabbi Cohen and remained with the congregation until 1966. Rabbi Shechter was installed in 1967 and remained with the congregation until 1976. Rabbi Marcovitz was hired by the congregation in 1976 and remained until 1996.

Three cantors served the congregation: Julius Bloom, Mordecai Heiser, and Mordecai Haalman. Hazan Bloom was hired by the congregation in 1924 and served until his death in 1942. Cantor Heiser was hired in 1942 and served until his death in 1989. Cantor Mordecai Haalman served from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Sisterhood

On August 19, 1912, the Ladies Auxiliary of B’nai Israel of East Liberty held their first meeting. Among the organization’s first tasks were to make purchases that contributed to the beauty of the rented space. The Ladies Auxiliary formed and ran Sunday and Hebrew school programs, both of which served the East End Jewish community. In 1920, the name was changed from the Ladies Auxiliary to the B’nai Israel Sisterhood, and the group became affiliated with the Women’s League of Conservative Judaism.

The women of the Sisterhood were instrumental in raising funds for the congregation’s original building fund. After the synagogue building was erected at the Negley Street address, the Holy Ark was donated by the Sisterhood and was dedicated in its honor.

The women of the Sisterhood were involved in community organizations and activities. The B’nai Israel Sisterhood advocated for the development of kosher catering services in the city. The Sisterhood ran an adult education program and managed a gift shop, the proceeds of which were used to fund youth activities and scholarships.

The Sisterhood was a member of the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America, which later became the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. Members of the Sisterhood served as officers and committee members for this organization.

Education and Youth

The Sisterhood began a Sunday school on September 22, 1920, with 53 students attending the first class. As the congregation grew along with the various East End neighborhoods’ Jewish community, more classes were added and the curriculum was expanded. A Hebrew school was formed, and a nursery school began to provide Jewish education for younger children. The education programs were open to the community at large and were not limited to the children of affiliated parents. In the 1980s, the title “The Jewish Learning Center” began to be used as an umbrella term for the educational programs.

In the late 1960s, with the encouragement of Rabbi Jack Schechter, the congregation began a United Synagogue Youth program. United Synagogue Youth is an organization affiliated with the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue of America. The youth of B’nai Israel organized events both within their synagogue, and in collaboration with other Pittsburgh chapters. They also participated in regional and national events such as conferences, leadership trainings, and camp.

The Men’s Club

With male and female members, the Latovah Society formed in 1916 as a social and charitable organization. In 1929, male members of the Latovah society founded a Men’s Club. The Men’s Club was a member of the National Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

The Men’s Club organized educational and social events. Throughout the club’s existence, adult and youth education was a priority. Members organized a Sunday minyan club, which consisted of a weekly breakfast, a religious service and a discussion of Jewish affairs for boys of bar mitzvah age. The Men’s Club also established a Scouting program in 1925 by organizing a Cub Pack and a Boy Scout Troop. As part of the adult education program, the men organized such events as a monthly discussion luncheon and weekly breakfast meetings.

Members of the Men’s Club were active in raising funds for each of the building projects and for furnishing the congregation’s community center.

Cemetery

The cemetery was founded in 1921 in Penn Township. It was administered through its own volunteer led board. The chapel was built on the property through a contribution made by J.A. Williams in his parents’ memory.

Young People’s Division

The Young People’s division was begun in the early 1950s for members aged 21 to 33 years. It was developed to serve the younger families moving into the East End neighborhoods and to encourage and support Jewish practice. This division offered a reduced membership fee and organized social events. All of the officer positions were held by couples.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The B'nai Israel Congregation Photographs are housed in four archival boxes, arranged by categories: building, clergy, education, events, and members. Negatives are housed in a separate box. Within each category are alphabetically arranged folders, the contents of which are organized in chronological order to the extent possible since many photos are not dated. The collection consists of both amateur and professional photographs. These include images of the groundbreaking for the new building which was completed in1951, exterior and interior of the buildings, as well as a set of professional photographs taken by Hans Jonas prior to the congregation’s closing in 1996. The collection also contains individual head shots of the congregation’s clergy, as well as photographs of their involvement within the congregation. These photographs may be found with education and event photographs, including negatives of Rabbi Lichter’s 70th birthday party.

Hebrew School and Sunday School assembly, class, and staff pictures are organized chronologically in folders, as are a series of Confirmation class pictures, from 1933 to 1979.

Additionally, the collection contains photos of congregational events and holidays, including a picture of an early sukkah and photos of the congregation's 75th anniversary celebration. The collection also includes images of congregational organizations, as well as other miscellaneous photographs.

The first of the three 8 mm films contains footage of the B’nai Israel synagogue annex and the first New Year’s dance. The second film contains footage of the Sunday School rooms, children’s activities, an Israel bond drive, presentation of scrolls, and the Morris Frank Man of the Year award ceremony. The footage on the third reel is of the dinners for the Falkinson, Jackobson, and Braun Man of the Year awards.


Controlled Access Terms
Corporate Names
  • Women’s League for Conservative Judaism--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • Adat Shalom Congregation--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • B’nai Israel Congregation Sisterhood--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • B’nai Israel Congregation Sisterhood--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
Topics
  • Synagogues--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • Jews--Social Life and Customs--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • Conservative Judaism--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • Confirmation (Jewish rite)--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • Conservative Judaism--Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
  • Jewish Religious Education --Pennsylvania--Pittsburgh
Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

None.

Aquisition Information:

These materials were received in five accessions.

Acc# 2007.0164 - Gift of Congregation B’nai Israel

Acc# 2006.0035 - Gift of Adat Shalom/B’nai Israel

Acc# 2003.0086 - Gift of Ben Melnick

Acc# 2002.0088 - Gift of Irene & Harry Louik

Acc# 1998.0120 - Gift of Congregation B’nai Israel

Preferred Citation:

B’nai Israel Congregation Photographs, c. 1920-1996, MSP#470, Rauh Jewish Archives, Thomas and Katherine Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center

Processing Information:

October, 29 2007; collection arranged and inventory written by Ashley Sebastian; revised May 2008 by S. Melnick.; revised by Theresa E. Rea in April 2010.

Copyright:

Property rights reside with the Senator John Heinz History Center. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the Library and Archives of the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Separated Material:
One folder of oversize photographs has been separately arranged and described as MSR #470.


Contents List
Buildings

Box 1
Folder 1 1996 (photos by Hans Jonas)
Folder 2 1996 duplicates
Folder 3 Exteriors (old building)
Folder 4 Interiors (old and new buildings)
New building
Folder 5 Ground-breaking 1950
Folder 6 Site 1946
Clergy
Folder 7 Cohen, Seymour (Rabbi)
Folder 8 Haalman, Mordecai (Cantor)
Folder 9 Heiser, Mordecai G. (Cantor)
Folder 10 Lichter, Benjamin (Rabbi)
Education
Folder 11 Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes, 1946, 1949, 1963-1964
Folder 12 Choir, 1943, 1964
Folder 13 Confirmation classes, 1933-1947
Folder 14 Confirmation classes, 1948-1950

Box 2
Folder 1 Confirmation classes, 1951-1959
Folder 2 Confirmation classes, 1960-1979
Folder 3 Hebrew School, 1943-1969
Folder 4 Staff, 1968
Folder 5 Sunday School, c1930-1970
Folder 6 Youth programs, c1930-1970
Events
Folder 7 Anniversary -75th, 1979
Folder 8 Dinners and conventions, 1951-1990
Holidays
Folder 9 Sukkot , pre-1920
Folder 9 Seder , pre-1950

Box 3
Folder 1 PT boat launch, 1943-1945
Folder 2 Publicity photos of speakers, c1950-1970
Members
Groups
Folder 3 Bond Committee, 1965-1973
Folder 4 Scouts (Boy and Girl), 1952-1960
Folder 5 Sisterhood, 1941-1968
Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
Folder 6 c1950, c1982
Folder 7 Conventions, 1963-1992
Individuals
Folder 8 Grayzel, Solomon - Levine, A.J. - Perlow, Edward - Ruben, Robert - Scheinman, David - Scheinman, Israel - Scheinman, Lillie
Folder 9 Topical, n.d.
Trips
Folder 10 USY
Folder 9 Congregation, 1969
Negatives

Box 4
Folder 1 Building interiors
Education
Folder 2 Bat mitzvah, 1946
Folder 2 Choir, 1943
Folder 2 Confirmation, 1945-1946, 1960-1962
Rabbis
Folder 3 Cohen, Seymour
Folder 3 Lichter, Benjamin - Birthday party (70th), 1956
Folder 4 Sisterhood, 1961, 1962
Films

Box 5
Reel 1 Groundbreaking, cornerstone laying, and first New Year dance, 1959-1960
Reel 2 Sunday School rooms, children’s activities, scroll presentation, and Morris Frank Man of the Year award, undated
Reel 3 Falkinson, Jackobson, and Braun Man of the Year award ceremonies, undated