Canonsburg Religious

~ Tree of Life Religious Life ~

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When the community numbered only 12 families, a congregation was formed. As the tendency of some was toward Orthodox Jewry and others, to Reform Jewry, a compromise was reached to adopt Conservative Jewry as the form of worship. At that time the services were held in a small hall on the third floor of the McNary Building, at the corner of West Pike Street and Jefferson Avenue. The rabbi was Rabbi Hyman LEBEAU (LEBOW).

In the 18 January 1909 issue of the Canonsburg Daily Notes, a meeting of the "Canonsburg Hebrew Association" is reported where the building of a synagogue was discussed. In favor of the project was the new spiritual leader, Rabbi B. NEWMARK, who arrived in Canonsburg c. June 1908. Also reported was the association's purchase of a new Bible "at a cost of $100." To pay for this purchase and to fund other incidental expenses, contributions were sought, and those contributing are listed in the story. This list gives additional insight into the Jewish population in Canonsburg at the time. Included are Joseph LEVIN, M. (Morris) LEVIN, B. (Benny) KLEE, L. (Louis) SUKOLSKY, Sam BURG, L. (Louis) SIMON, Samuel GOLDBERG, Mr. (Ignatz) GREENFIELD, H (Harry) LEVIN[E], N. ZUCKER, Peter DAVIS, Sam ROSENBERG, Abe KLETZ, N. (Nathan) DEEMER, S. LEVI (LEVY) and D. MINTZ. Mentioned in the article are officers of the organization: Joseph LEVINE (LEVIN) President; Maurice (Morris) LEVINE (LEVIN) Vice-president, B. NEWMARK secretary and B. (Benny) KLEE Treasurer.

A follow up story, in the 8 February 1909 issue of the Canonsburg Daily Notes, reports a meeting of the "Canonsburg Hebrew organization," in the McNary Building. The meetings purpose was an auction fundraiser for the erection of a synagogue during the present year." Mentioned in the article are officers of the organization: Joseph LEVINE (LEVIN), President, Maurice (Morris) LEVINE (LEVIN) Vice-president, B. (Benny) KLEE Treasurer, Samuel ROSENBERG and Harry LEVINE Trustees. Whatever enthusiasm was generated at the 1909 meetings for building a synagogue, it was not until February of 1914, that a lot was purchased on Ashland Avenue.

A month later, the Canonsburg Daily Notes reports a Bar Mitzvah, that of Emanuel MORRIS, son of Jacob and Julia, then living at 147 West College Street. This event was held at the Odd Fellows Hall, located in the Gowern Building, on the SW corner of Pike Street and Jefferson Avenue.

On 22 October 1914, ground was broken for the synagogue. The secretary's notes report, "It will be of brick, and modern in every particular and will cost in the neighborhood of $7,000." The officers were Samuel BURG (President), B. (Benny) KLEE (Vice-president), Samuel FINKEL (Secretary) and Jacob MORRIS (Treasurer).

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Tree of Life Synagogue
Dedicated: 21 June 1915
Photo: Tree of Life Synagogue News clipping
by Julian-Preisler, Pitsburgh Press 24 June 1927
Enhanced by Marshall Katz


The Tree of Life congregation eventually erected a synagogue at cost of some $12,000. On 21 June 1915, the first day of summer, the synagogue was dedicated and named the "Tree of Life."

Officers at the time of the dedication were Joseph LEVINE (LEVIN) [President], Maurice (Morris) LEVINE (LEVIN) [Vice-president], B. NEWMARK [Secretary] and B. (Benny) KLEE [Treasurer].

Also present at the dedication were the following trustees—Max BERNSTEIN, Joseph LEVIN, Morris LEVIN and Hyman KLAHR.

The rabbi for the dedication was Rabbi Hyman LEBEAU.

By 1910, even though the congregation was so small, services were conducted by Rabbi GINSBURG, who succeeded Rabbi Hyman LEBEAU (LEBOW), and he remained with the Canonsburg Jewish community until 1915. Rabbi SIMON, formally of East Liverpool, Ohio, succeeded Rabbi GINSBURG.

Under the guidance of Rabbi SIMON, the interest in the congregation has been greatly developed and strengthened. Particularly noteworthy had been Rabbi SIMON's efforts in training the children and he has established in an unusually well-organized and well conducted Sunday school. There were 55 children enrolled. Mr. Edward LEIBOVITZ was superintendent and Rabbi SIMON, the principal. The teachers were D. WEINER, A. LEVINE, Marion LEVINE, Eva LEVINE and Ida KLEE. Joseph BROWN was the musical director. There were six pupils in this year's confirmation class (pictured). Ms. Miriam SCHONFELD, of Pittsburgh, assisted in organizing the school and its promotion. The children observe the various holidays and in every detail of their work, they follow the plan of the larger religious schools in the cities. The Hebrew school had an attendance of 35 children. At this time (1919), the congregation was in excellent condition and the officers are Samuel BERG (President), Benjamin KLEE (Vice-president), Samuel FINKEL (Secretary) and Jacob MORRIS (Treasurer). (Pictured is a Confirmation class - The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 51 No. 22 - 25 July 1919)

Life at the Tree of Life synagogue remained active through the 1940s, but by the 1950s it became more a place for nostalgia than worship. In October of 1951, some of this is reflected in the gathering under the banner of "Welcome Tree of Life Synagogue Alumni." Those attending included some of the earliest arrivals, but also included far more of the children of these and many of these were from out of town.

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Gathering I
Photo: Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner / JewishGen Pgh JGS


First row (1 to r): Julius MORRIS, Jesse COHEN, Ida GREEN, Helen CUSHNER, Sadye (née KLEE) WEINSTEIN, Bessie ZUCKER, Florence (née KLAHR) ROTH, Elliott FINKEL, Florence (née FINKEL) CHERTOFF and Dave WEINER

Second row (1 to r): Harry LEVIN, Anchel BURG, M. KATZ, Harry KATZ, Pearl KARWIN, Lois SKIRBLE, Hymie KLEE, Sylvia KLEIN and Izzie TODER

Third row (1 to r): Anchel ZUCKER, Zelig KLAHR, Willie KATZ, Sam FRIEDFELD, Selma (née SKIRBLE) GAROFOLO, Dorothy (née BENOWITZ) FRIEDFELD, Mayer KARWIN and Manny MORRIS

Gathering II
Photo: Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner / JewishGen Pgh JGS


Seated (l to r): J. D. LEVIN (one of the earliest arrivals), Sam TODER, Morris WEISMAN, and Morris LEBOW (son of Rabbi Hyman LEBEAU)


High Holiday services continued at the Tree of Life Synagogue into the 50s and the last Bar Mitzvah there was that of Marvin LALLI, 31 January 1953, whose grandfather Sam BENOWITZ had come to Canonsburg in the late 1900s.

The synagogue (side view picture) was sold in the 1960s and was razed for redevelopment in 1980.

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Tree of Life Synagogue
Photo: Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner / JewishGen Pgh JGS
(Before destruction)


~ The Zionists ~

The Zionists are strongly organizing Canonsburg, having a membership of 75. While the organization at this time was just organizing, they showed unusual activity and interest in all national Zionist work. Speakers were brought to Canonsburg from New York to bring the message of Zionism. Mr. J. D. LEVINE was been chosen as a delegate to the big Chicago convention, which will be graced by the presence of Louis D. BRANDEIS and Dr. WEIZMAN, the great English Zionist. The officers of the Zionist Organization in Canonsburg were N. BERMAN (President), W. BRAND (Vice-president), H. GINSBURG (Secretary) and J. D. LEVINE (Treasurer). New officers were elected, but were not yet installed. They were J. KATZ (President) and H. GINSBURG (Vice-president). There's also been organized about a month ago a young people's Zionist league, which includes practically all of the younger element of the community and much activity is promised. The officers are Joseph ROSENBERG (President), E. KUSHNER (Vice-president), Eva LEVINE (Secretary) and Harry GINSBERG (Treasurer). The membership was 25.

Great interest is being taken in Zionist movement by the reason of the probability of a definite action of sometime been taken with reference to Palestine in the very near future. As a result, the Zionist organization in New York is putting forth every effort, in the smaller communities, to add branches and to increase the interest in the movement. And it must be said that these communities, as in the case of Canonsburg, are responding. Canonsburg promised, or rather placed itself, to raise $1,600. for the Palestine fund and at the time of this article, over $600. has been contributed. As a result of this intensified campaign, membership in the Zionist organization increased remarkably and has done much to strengthen the hands of the leaders.

~ Jewish Organizations ~

B'nai Brith

The Jewish Community of Canonsburg perhaps reached its zenith in the 1930s, and this was captured in a picture of the B'nai Brith members (below) which shows 50 men. Among them are some of the very earliest settlers—Sam MORRIS, George SKIRBLE, J. D. LEVIN and Hyman KLAHR. Most, however, were the children of early settlers along with those who settled in Canonsburg later.

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B'nai Brith Lodge #1323
15 January 1939

Photo: Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner / JewishGen Pgh JGS


First row (1 to r): Morris WEISSMAN, Alex MOSCOV, Morris PETCHENIC, Sam MARKOWITZ, Sam TODER, E.L. MARCUS, Rabbi Benjamin KANTOR, Hyman KLAHR, Sam BENOWITZ, Hyman HOFFMAN, J.D. LEVIN, Abe KATZ and Sam KARWAN

Second row (1 to r): Harold FINKEL, Elliot FINKEL, Meyer POTASHMAN, Harry LEVIN, Milton PINSKER, Abe FICKMAN, Morris POPOVER, Izzy TODER, Adolph SCHONFELD, Victor LEVINE, George SKIRBLE, Sam CUSHNER, Al SHEFFLER, Ben LEVINE and Jack COHEN

Third row (1 to r): Carl FELDHORN, Morris LEBEAU, Adolph ZEMAN, Harry KATZ, Sam MORRIS, Phil COHEN, Dave LEBOWITZ, Ted CHERTOFF, Irwin BALES, Al TABACK, Gerson CHERTOFF, David FINKEL, Izzy LEVIN, Louis LEVIN and Max BERNSTEIN

Fourth row (1 to r): Sam FRIEDFELD, Anchel BURG, Leon HIRSH, Allen LEVIN, Lou KANTOR, Tom PENNER and Sam MARGOLIS

Young Man's Hebrew Association

One of the most promising organizations was the Young Man's Hebrew Association (Y.M.H.A), which was obliged to disband in 1917, because of WWI. In 1919, some of the leaders returned from military service and again become active. The Y.M.H.A. movement is gaining strength every year and all over the country, the Y.M.H.A.'s, which found it so difficult to make progress, were able to see enthusiastic support and cooperation of their communities. Every Jewish community realizes the value of these Y.M.H.A.'s and were willing to support them. The Jews of Canonsburg, wishing to promote an organization that is essential to the very welfare of their community, their faith and their people, reestablished a Y.M.H.A. for their community.

The Ladies' Aid Society

The Ladies' Aid Society numbered about 40 and performed splendidly, looking after the wants of the needy. Like all other patriotic groups, these women, during WWI, worked for the Red Cross, solicited funds for the war relief, help to collect money for Jewish war sufferers and entered heartily into all those activities which required the utmost from the nation in that in time of the great trial. The officers are Mrs. BERMAN (President), Mrs. FINKEL (Vice-president), Mrs. J. MORRIS (Treasurer) and Mrs. KLAIRE (Secretary).

In connection with the war activities, is not a amiss to note that the Jewish residents of Canonsburg, as a whole, took an active interest and perform their duty in the matter of promoting all of the various activities in connection with the Liberty Bond, the Red Cross, United War Work and in other campaigns.

~ Summary ~

This small but enterprising community kept in touch with Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh and in every way, contributed to the values in advancing the cause of Jews and Judaism. By their initiative in creating organizations and societies—that show their appreciation of the value of the spiritual side of their faith— the Jewish community of Canonsburg was commended for their progress developing the right kind of Jewish community.

Sources (portions): (D. Garboski / J. Preisler)
Canonsburg Boro
JewishGen Pgh JGS
Jews of Canonsburg - by A. W. Cushner
Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 51 No. 22 - 25 July 1919
Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
The Pittsburgh Press, 24 June 1927, Julian-Preisler
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Created and Compiled by:
Marshall J. KATZ, USA
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Updated: 13 September 2020

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Marshall J. Katz
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