Greensburg Religious

The Greensburg Jewish community has its origin the 19th century, when the B'nai Israel members formed and built an Orthodox synagogue, in 1890. Greensburg, for the longest time, only had a Orthodox congregation and was one of the few towns in Pennsylvania that had practically no Reform Jewish activities—with organized Jewish life in Greensburg in the hands of the Orthodox. In 1917, there was an effort to establish a Religions School for the children of the Reform families of Greensburg and Jeannette, but after a brief effort, the project was abandoned and those Reform Jewish families of Greensburg traveled to Pittsburgh or to other nearby town with a Reformed congregation.

~ Orthodox Community History ~

(Click the images below to view a larger image.)

In 1879, Wolf DANIELS came from Europe to this country and made his home in Greensburg. He was the first Jew to settle there and he became treasurer of the Jewish Relief Committee, so this is a pretty good index of his interest in the Jewish affairs of Greensburg throughout the years that he resided there. It seems that the older generation of the time—with respect to the younger generation—felt a deeper community responsibility. They probably felt the lash of persecution, having come from those lands where intolerance was in fashion, so this common suffering created a common bond among them that found expression in closer and more sympathetic community relationship—through the medium of fraternal and aid societies and the like.

By 1890, ten Jewish families lived in Greensburg. The B'nai Israel congregation was chartered on 4 January 1890 and the charter members were: J. FELDSTEIN, W. DANIEL, A. BROIDA, Isaac SHOFNOSKY, M. ALLSWONG, I. RUBINOWITZ, B. MELNIE and I. DANIEL. The first President of the congregation was J. FELDSTEIN, followed by Israel BERSOFSKY who served the congregation from 1904 until his passing, 14 October 1918.

Here is a lesson, an example to be considered by every community that has a small number of Jews; eight men form a congregation because they wanted to have religious life in their midst. That is the spirit that has made the Jews such a power through the ages.

It was not until 1907, as a result of the of energetic efforts on the part of the Greensburg Jewish community leaders, the first B'nai Israel synagogue was dedicated and Israel BEREZOFSKY was the first president of the congregation. It was a strong force and a real inspiration in the spiritual life of the Greensburg Jewish community. The B'nai Israel Cemetery was also established along with a Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society).

In early 1909, I. KAHANOWITZ (pictured) came to Greensburg. For many years, the name KAHANOWITZ and Greensburg Jewry have been almost interchangeable terms—when we think of one, we think of the other. (Photo: The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 51 No. 13 - 23 May 1919)

That is due to the fact that Mr. KAHANOWITZ so impressed his personality upon the community and has rendered such splendid service for his people and his community in a religious, philanthropic, social and literary way.

At the time of the KISHINEFF massacres, he was the leader in raising funds and in 1907, he was elected one of the delegates to the International Zionist Congress in the Hague.

He was one of the active Jews working to abrogate the Russian treaty as an evidence that this country would not tolerate discrimination against American citizens, who happened to be Jews, and are refused to enter Russia, even with an American passport.

In about 1914, Congregation B'nai Israel erected a modern building (pictured) for their synagogue, capable of eating 500 persons.

The number of members were only 30 at this time.

The B'nai Israel synagogue was sold and today, it is being remodeled for another use.

The Zionist organization in Greensburg was represented by the B'nai Zion, established with a membership of only 18, but in 1919, they numbered over 75. The officers were: I. KAHANOWITZ (president), Simon DAVIS (secretary) and Jacob SCHAPIRO (treasurer).

This branch was very active and was represented at all state and national and even international Zionist gatherings and conventions. It has supported all movements in behalf of Palestine and the Restoration Fund received its proper quota from Greensburg. The raising of the $14,000. dollars for Jewish War Relief call was an outstanding achievement by this small body of Jews of Greensburg. This amount was very unusual comparing this amount raised in other, much larger communities.

We can see the value of organized effort under I. KAHANOWITZ, with the able assistance of Simon DAVIS (secretary) and Wolf DAVID; but special credit is given to Samuel MILNER, who was of great assistance in enabling the committee to raise that amount of money during the last fund drive.

The Jews of Greensburg did not limit their WWI war efforts to raise money for their own brethren, but in every possible way they did their duty in helping all, regardless of religion or creed, donating for their country. Whether was in the selling Liberty Bonds or investing in them, or in the Red Cross and War Savings Stamps campaign, they responded, but best of all, they responded sending 28 of their boys in the service of their country.

By 1919, there was no B'nai B'rith mens organization in the city of Greensburg, but the Beth Sholom was represented by a lodge that was organized in 1910 with Harry FRIEDLANDER, its president. This was a very active Lodge and numbered 70 members. The work, of course, was of a purely fraternal character. The community was constantly progressing and through the inspiration of Mr. KAHANOWITZ and others, it was one of the most ambitious of the smaller Jewish groups and made its influence felt not merely locally, but also nationally.

In 1943, its constitution was amended to a Conservative type of ritual.

The Greensburg Orthodox Jewish community dwindled in size due to deaths and the younger ones moving away. In 1967, Jeannette's Chevra Sholom congregation was absorbed into Greensburg's B'nai Israel congregation, then in 1981, the B'nai Israel and Temple Emanu-El congregations merged into what is now, the Reformed Congregation Emanu-El Israel.

~ B'nai Israel Rabbis ~

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Rabbi Israel ORENSTEIN
Photo: Courtesy of Howard ORENSTEIN, USA

Sources (portions):
Greensburg Temple Emanu-el 50th Anniversary Book, courtesy of Rabbi Sara Rae PERMAN
The Jewish Criterion - 23 May 1919
The Jewish Criterion - 20 September 1957

~ Reformed Community History ~

Soon after Temple Emanu-El was established in 1945 as a Reform Jewish congregation, a move was made to acquire a site upon which a house of worship would be built. The location chosen was the former James BENNETT residence, which was the heart of the civic activities in the city.

Benjamin RATNER, who purchased the property as a private enterprise, turned it over to the temple at the purchase price since it was so desirable as a building site. Phillip FRIEDMAN, a Pittsburgh architect, was engaged to draw plans for a modern Jewish Temple, After bids for labor and material, the contract for the construction of the building was awarded to Ted POERIO of Greensburg. Construction began in January, 1949.

The cornerstone laying was held 10 May 1949, an eventful and impressive milestone, with many friends and dignitaries in attendance. The founding trustees and co-founders are honored with a plaques (pictured) in the sanctuary.

The program included an invocation by Temple Rabbi David SCHWARTZ, opening remarks by Temple president, Dr. William V. CONN, greetings by Mayor Henry S. COSHEY and laying of the cornerstone by Charles GOLDBERG, Benjamin M. RATNER, Charles PROSS and Alexander H. COHEN. It was a meaningful day for Jewry in Greensburg.

The dedication of the building was held 19 October 1951, Rabbi Joseph LEVINE gave the dedication prayer, adoration and Kaddish.

A dedication banquet was held on 22 October 1951.

Those who built the beautiful Jewish Temple, fully-equipped for their use and enjoyment, were true pioneers whose duty was sacrifice and working together in a spirit of achievement.

The temple building (pictured) is built of Ohio stone and continues to contain ample space for the needs of the community.

Jeannette's Chevra Sholom congregation was absorbed into the B'nai Israel congregation in 1967, then the B'nai Israel and Temple Emanu-El merged into what is now, Congregation Emanu-El Israel, in 1981.

The memorial plaques from Jeannette's Chevra Sholom and Greensburg's B'nai Israel congregations are now in the Temple Emanu-El Israel sanctuary (pictured below).

Congregation Emanu-El Israel serves the Jewish community of Greensburg and surrounding Westmoreland County areas by offering a full program of religious, educational and social activities incorporating a traditional form of Reform Judaism.

Temple Emanu-El Israel is the only house of Judaism in Central Westmoreland County which has a full-lime Rabbi and offers a complete Jewish education for adults and our children.

Over the years, significant changes have occurred inside of the building, including a complete renovation of the sanctuary, social hall and other parts of the building.

~Temple Emanu-El Israel Leaders ~

Sources (portions):
Greensburg Temple Emanu-el 50th Anniversary Book, courtesy of Rabbi Sara Rae PERMAN

~ Temple Emanu-el Israel ~

[ Mouse over to magnify or click image to enlarge it. ]

Temple view I

Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA


(Click the images below to view a larger image.)

Temple view II

Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA

Temple view IV

Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA

Temple view III

Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA

~ B'nai Israel Memorial Tablets ~

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B'nai Israel Memorial Tablet I
Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA

B'nai Israel Memorial Tablet II
Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA


~ Chevra Sholom Memorial Tablet ~

[ Mouse over to magnify or click image to enlarge it. ]

Chevra Sholom Memorial Tablet I
Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA


~ Emanu-El Israel Memorial Tablets ~

[ Mouse over to magnify or click image to enlarge it. ]

Emanu-El Israel Memorial Tablet I
Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA

Emanu-El Israel Memorial Tablet II
Photo: Courtesy of Marshall KATZ, USA


~ Greensburg Religious School ~

If you have a photo of a Greensburg religious school or confirmation class
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Compiled and created by: Marshall J. KATZ
with assistance from
Rabbi Sara Rae PERMAN, USA
Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center
The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 51 No. 13 - 23 May 1919
Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
The Jewish Criterion - Vol. 130 N. 24 - 20 September 1957
Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries

and the following
JewishGen members/descendants and contributors of Greensburg Jewish families:


Updated: 06 July 2012

Copyright ©2012 Marshall J. KATZ All rights reserved.

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