History of the Jewish Community

Documents of the Mifflin County Historical Society indicate the existence of Jews in Lewistown as early as 1862. A map of Lewistown in 1870 shows that Nathan Frank had a store at Brown and Market Streets, listed in a business directory of the time as Franks — Dry Goods, Carpets, Clothing, Furnishings, Goods, Etc."  Spruce Street was at that time listed as Nusbaum Street and in April, 1880 M. Nusbaum — Clothing & Gents Furnishings was advertised. By 1907 however Nusbaum & Co. was no longer listed in the directory.

"In 1906, when Hyman J. Cohen, who was later to become one of the incorporators of the Ohev Sholom Synagogue, moved to Lewistown from Mexico, Pennsylvania, there were six or eight Jewish families already permanently settled in Lewistown. Organized religious services were first undertaken in 1908 in the house of Albert Krentzman, 116 S. Main Street." The Congregation utilized many different sites both for daily prayer services and for the High Holy Days. In 1909 the first Sefer Torah was procured.

Ohev Sholom, 2010

Ohev Sholom Synagogue, 2010

"The present Ohev Sholom Congregation had its formal beginnings on October 28, 1912, when the Court of Common Pleas of Mifflin County granted a charter to "Ohev Sholom (Love of Peace)" with its purpose being stated as "The support of public worship." By 1918 the congregation had grown large enough that its members held meetings to discuss the acquisition of property suitable to the erection of a synagogue. And on September 30, 1918 such a property was purchased at 18-20 East Third Street. The present synagogue was built on No. 20 East Third and the cornerstone was dedicated on March 6, 1919. Jacob Hurwitz was the first President of the Synagogue and the first spiritual leader was Rabbi H. Levin of Baltimore. The building was completed on March 14, 1920.

In May, 1937, Rabbi Manning H. Bleich, of Yonkers, New York, assumed the pulpit of the Congregation and served in that role until 1958. During the twenty-one years that Rabbi,  his wife Beatrice and their sons, J. David and Aaron, remained in Lewistown the congregation continued to grow and to thrive. On November 22, 1939 the Synagogue purchased three and a quarter acres of land in Ferguson Valley for use as a cemetery.  In May of 1948, the body of Sgt. Stanley F. Vogel, who was killed in action on August 3, 1944, was brought from Europe to be re-interred in the Ohev Sholom Cemetery.  A decision was made to dedicate the plot as a memorial to Sgt. Vogel and Lt. Louis N. Krentzman, who also gave his life in World War II, but whose body was not recovered. In 1944 the first issue of Ha-Shaliach (The Messenger) was published by the community. In that issue it was noted that 35 members of the community were serving in the Armed Forces.

In September 1951 construction began on a new Community Center and religious school building which was completed in November 1952. The addition served as a community hall, gymnasium, kitchen, classrooms, meeting rooms and a study for the Rabbi. The inspirational leadership and selfless devotion of Rabbi Bleich were major factors in the realization of this project. In appreciation the members of the community arranged for the Rabbi and Mrs. Bleich to visit Israel in the summer of 1953.

The complete history as written by Norm Levin and Robert Siegel may be found in the Golden Anniversary Book, along with many photos of members of the community. 

            Copyright © 2014 Iris B. Sitkin