The Homestead Jewish community began to form in 1893 when there were more than ten men who wanted High Holiday services in town; it recognized the end was near in 1991 when fewer than ten men planned to attend High Holidays services there. 1 For years the community had been making a minyan only by driving in Russian immigrants, but the bigger issue was that the building needed a new furnace, new glass, a new paint job, and worst of all, a new roof. If they waited much longer to sell, the building would have fallen into such disrepair that it would have been unsalable. The building was put up for sale sometime in 1992 and purchased in January 1993 by a church, and thus the synagogue ceased to be.
Just before the building changed hands, photographs of its interior were taken by a professional photographer hired by the Rauh Jewish Archives. It’s a good thing, too. When I first visited the synagogue in 2010, long after it had been converted to a church, I could tell that most of it was as it had always been; however, it was clear that the front area, where the bima and aron used to be, had been significantly altered (pun mostly intended). But how? I was thrilled to discover these photographs in the archives to see how the most important part of the synagogue had once looked.
The remainder of this post are those photographs, with one exception from the personal album of Clarice and Bob Katz. 2 Please click on the first photograph to enter the slideshow. My explanations are below each picture; you may need to scroll down to read everything.
(All of these pictures are copyrighted to Lockwood Hoehl.)
Ironically, it was that same fall that Frances Fleshin, the Hepps family historian, distributed her book on my family’s history, which was what ignited my interest in my Homestead roots. ↩
There’s a story here, too: In the archives I saw these photographs as tiny boxes on a contact sheet, but when I looked more closely at the accompanying negatives, I saw that they covered only the close-up pictures taken of the yahrzeit plaques. High-resolution scans of the contact sheet turned out poorly, and I despaired. But then! Clarice and Bob Katz, two of the last members of the congregation, had earlier promised to lend me their synagogue photo album, and it turned out that they had prints of most of the professional photographs. Plus, their own pictures supplemented a few areas that the professional photographer did not catch. Despair turned to rejoicing! ↩