“Let us perform our duty, and review our past, write a History about the origin of our congregation, and may this serve us and future generations.”
—Excerpt from a 1901 speech at the cornerstone laying for the first Homestead Hebrew Congregation synagogue building
“Said Rabbah: Even though our ancestors have left us a scroll of the Torah, it is our duty to write one for ourselves.”
—Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 21b
Thank you for visiting! HomesteadHebrews.com is a place for members of Homestead’s Jewish community and their descendants to learn more about where our families came from, as well as for the general public to learn more about this proud Jewish American story. Launched in September 2014 to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the dedication of the town’s synagogue, this site aims to preserve online a century of history in Homestead, Pennsylvania.
I am Tammy Hepps, a great-granddaughter of Bernhardt Hepps, who helped found the Homestead Hebrew Congregation and twice chaired its building committee. Growing up in far-away New Jersey, I was captivated by my father’s stories about Bernhardt and his shul, and since discovering during my first trip to Pittsburgh in 2010 just how much of the community’s history was preserved in the Rauh Jewish Archives, I wanted these amazing records and the stories they captured to have an existence beyond the acid-free preservation boxes and climate-controlled storage of the Heinz History Center. Bernhardt built synagogues to create community; I built this website to reconnect all of us in the Homestead diaspora and share our important legacy.
What you’ll find here
You may want to begin by browsing the collections of records I’ve digitized — newspaper articles, speeches, photographs, programs, a video (!), and more — that capture our community’s history as it was unfolding. Taken together, these records trace important themes that cut across history, as well as highlight particularly interesting chapters that may surprise you! Or, you may prefer to begin with the collection of articles I’ve written to breathe life back into these records and use them to examine some of the more compelling aspects of this history.
I don’t want this site to be a one-sided conversation. I truly hope that you will comment on items of interest. I would also love for the site to grow to contain a multitude of perspectives and sources. The archival records I’m researching are just one piece of what remains from Homestead’s Jewish community, and the one likeliest to endure. If your family history intersects with this community, I would love to include your own pictures, records, memories, stories, and feedback to make the site much richer. (Maybe you have one of these missing records?!)
Even if you don’t feel comfortable sharing anything, please drop me a line to let me know what brought you here.
I am grateful to everyone who has ever worked at the Rauh Jewish Archives (formerly the Western Pennsylvania Jewish Archives of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania) and especially its long-time archivist, Susan Melnick, for their role in preserving the history of our community and especially their permission in permitting so much content from their archive to be posted on this site.
I also must express my appreciation for Carnegie Library of Homestead and the Pennsylvania Room in the Oakland branch of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library. Besides finding important records, I’ve met people in both places who have become integral to this project.
And most of all, thanks to the many people from the Homestead diaspora who have shared their time, pictures, stories, souvenirs, and expertise with me. I never foresaw how the active support of so many would make this project such a delight to pursue. Through their enthusiastic participation, Homestead has come alive for me in ways that would have otherwise eluded me.