This is a speech that was given on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the congregation on March 19, 1944. It covers the early history of the synagogue (similar to the version from the 40th anniversary) and lists numerous members (now including Bernhardt) who made noteworthy contributions along the way. The ending acknowledges the situation in Europe.
There are three copies — two in loose pages, and one copied into a ledger book — plus a copy of just the introduction, also on a loose page.. The edits between them are significant; to include the versions side-by-side as I’ve done elsewhere would make it impossible to read the speech, so I’ve only included the copy from the ledger book, which is much more polished (though the neater of the two loose-page copies has Bernhardt’s name underlined every time it appears, as though to overcorrect the previous version). In a few places I [left in] or noted turns of phrase I liked from the earlier version.
Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Inception of Congregation Rodef Sholom
Mr. Toast Master; Honored Guests; Charter Members; Ladies + Gentlemen.
The task of writing the history of the Cong. has been assigned to me. To relate every interesting incident that has transpired during the past half century, would require more time to read than the 15 or 20 minutes allotted to me by our most capable toast master, and besides this it would be too much of a strain on your patience. 1
Our history does not begin with H H Cong. Several thousands of years ago, before we thought of forming this Cong. Our Patriarch Abraham received the injunction “Get thee out of thy country and from thy father’s house, into the land I will show thee.”
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt become a blessing”
“And I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 12)
So you see Abraham was the pioneer who laid the foundation, Isaac and Jacob furnished the membership, Moses gave us the 10 commandments, the constitution, and the Prophets and sages gave us our by laws.
So Honored chartered members, you are not the originators of this Cong. [Only the planters of the seed of Abraham in New Soil] But only the organizers of a small branch of an organization that functioned for thousands of years, and the Christians and Mohammedans are the offsprings of the patriarchs. (of the same origin)
Before 1890 Homestead was a void as far as Jewish population was concerned. We had in Hstd 2 or 3 Jewish families.
The famous strike of 1892 put Hstd on the map, and in the history of the United States. The strike attracted all classes of people they arrived by the thousands, some came and established homes, some departed after a few weeks sojourn.
It was only natural that the Jewish people were also attracted, and by 1893 we had about twelve Jewish families permanently residing in Hstd.
When the High Holidays approached, the thoughts of these pioneers was (sic) directed to their religion, and to celebrate the holidays in the good old fashion, by conducting sacred services on R.H. and YK. Through the courtesy of the 2nd ward Volunteer Fire Co. they were permitted to hold services in the Club room of their Engine House on Dixon St.
The (sic) engaged Rev. Samuel Federman of McKeesport as their Cantor, who conducted their services according to the traditional custom of Orthodox Judaism. 2
After the Holidays they considered their work well done, and after the work is completed, it is well to take a rest. They rested until March 1894.
In this month Mr Sam Markowitz had yahrzeit and wanted to recite Kadish in memory of this father. He had difficulty in getting a Minyan, –to do this– Isidor S. Grossman another member of the community remarked, that it was a disgrace, that a Jewish community the size of the one in Hstd should have no organized Cong [IS Grossman remarked that it would be nothing but right to organize a Cong]. His remarks took root, and on March 18 – 1894 the Hstd Rodef Shalom was organized. 3
IS Grossman acted as temporary Chairman. The following officers were elected. R Segelman Pres. B Hepps Vice Pres. IS Grossman Sec’y Sam Markovitz Treas. SK Markovitz and Max Klein Trustee’s.
There were 18 charter members, who pledged fidelity to the New Cong. 1 Sam Markovitz, 2 Henry Moskovitz 3 IS Grossman 4 B Hepps 5 Max Markovitz. 6 R Segelman 7 Max Klein 8 Jos Fried 9 SK Markovitz 10 Samuel Hepps 11 Max Markovitz 6 Ave, 12 Adolph Herskovitz 13 Jos Ladusky, 14 M Gross, 15 Morris Fogel, 16 Morris Frankel, 17 Joseph Schwartz 18 H Pollack
Application for charter was made. The following were the applicants who signed the charter, Sam Markovitz, IS Grossman, Jos Lasdusky, SK Markovitz, B. Hepps.
Mr Jos Grossman father of IS. in NY. was requested to buy a Sefer Torah, he sent it on to the New Cong. The Cong reimbursed him for the money he had laid out, with many thanks.
March 25th 1894 the dedication of the Sefer Torah took place at Sam Markovitz’s Home on Heisel St. Mrs Sam Markovitz prepared Dinner [at her own expense], and invited all to participate. This marks the first Jewish celebration held in Hstd. [They obtained a charter and started to be active.]
Pres R Segelman held the office for only a short while, for he passed away just a few weeks later.
With the death of Pres Segelman the Cong. realized that it is of great importance that a Cong. must have a place where to bury the death (sic), therefore they worked with all their might to accumulate enough money to buy a plot of ground, their efforts were crowned with success, and on Mch 28-1896 a plot of ground was purchased for 470.00 [Cash] in Homeville, IS Grossman and B Hepps consummated the deal and signed the contract, and obtained the deed.
March 10, 1901 The Cong. bought a lot on Ammon St – for $1,500.00 cash, with the intention of building thereon a Synagogue. [Mr. Jos Ladusky was elected Pres. Ap 14th and B Hepps Vice Pres. IS Grossman Secy M Frankel Treas H Haupt + Ad Hepps, Trustee]
Mr B Hepps and Sam Markowitz [Morantz] were appointed a Com. of 2 to sign a contract with Lowry and Wolf, for the erection of a Synagogue. The price of building exclusive of lot was $3,500.00. The cornerstone was laid Aug 18th 1901 Mrs Bertha Hepps had the honor to lay the corner stone, for this honor she donated 50.00 to the Cong.
By this time the membership grew to forty regular dues paying members. [The ladies were none paying members.]
The new synagogue was in due time completed. The dedication took place March 30-1902. Rabbis Ashinsky and Michal Fried delivered the dedicatory addresses. AC Stein Esq was master of Ceremonies.
In 1902 The Ladies Auxiliary was organized 4
In 1906 Mrs
I Esther E Grossman organized the first Sunday School, and has the honor of being the first S.S. teacher of Hstd.
The Community kept on growing and in 1907 Hstd boasted of a Jewish population of 65 families.
The persecution in Europe kept on, and brought to us Jews from all parts of the world, they brought with them different customs, habits of thought, phases of religious beliefs, acquired and inherited prejudices, each group sought to dominate the others, controversies arose, and finally some decided to organize their own Cong. They obtained a charter calling themselves Cong. Bnai Jacob. They kept it up for about 2 years, and finally they realized that a house divided [against itself] can not stand. 5 So they surrendered the charter and rejoined the Rodef Sholom Congregation. 6
The next few years everybody was happy, until the year 1911.
One cold winter night the Synagogue caught [on] fire and was partly destroyed.
Some wanted to rebuild, but the late Henry Moskovitz strenuously objected, first on acct of the smallness of the lot, and secondly on acct of the location. His wise counsel prevailed, and he was instrumental in the sale of the old fire damaged building, and in the purchase of the [present] 10th Ave location.
In 1913 Mr Jos Lasdusky was again elected Pres, and under his guidance the erection of this Synagogue was started and completed. The cornerstone was laid on Sep 28-1913. The dedication took place Sep 6th 1914
Dr J Leonard Levy, Judge Joshia Cohen, and Rabbi Sivitz officiating
Mr B Glueck was Master of Ceremonies.
Time does not permit to enumerate all the different men who held office, therefore just as a traveler counts the milestones he has passed to see how far he has gone, even so I am going to point out the outstanding men who have contributed to the growth, prestige, and success of the Cong.
1st Mr Jos Lasdusky who presides over the destiny of the Cong. when both Synag. were built in 1902 and 1913.
2 Mr H[enry] Moskovitz who insisted on [the sale of the Ammon St Bldg and] the purchase of the present location
3 B Hepps who was chairman of the building Com. and at various times Pres. Vice Pres Secy’s and Tres. of the Cong.
4 Sam Mervis, was several years Pres. Treas. and was all his life active to further the welfare of the Cong. [+ Community]
5 Aaron Weis, was instrumental during his terms of office as Pres. in promoting the growth of the Hebrew School, and showing how to run it.
6 The late B Friedlander needs to be mentioned for his zeal, earnestness of purpose, his devotion to his duties as Pres, his willingness to be useful, his gentleness, no labor was too hard for him. He was more successful than some of his distractors (sic) [those who tried to belittle him].
7 Pres M H Moss, Increased the revenue of the Cong. He improved the religious school, beautified the cemetery and paid off 3000.000 on the Mtge.
8 Pres Mr M D Weis, His work speaks for itself, He has been and still is in the forefront as an active worker for over 45 years, [He needs no recommendation His work speaks for itself] May God grant him several more years of happiness and usefulness. 7
9 Mr Max Lazar, Had the interior of the Synagogue decorated in 1935 and paid off 3000.00 in 1937 on the mortage
10 E A Keizler Esq. 1938 Remodeled [and Renovated] the vestry room of the building [and the Heating System].
11 1940 Ben Mermelstein succeeded in paying off another 2500.00 on Mtge. in 1941
12 In 1942-1943 Max Lazar seved again as pres and thru his efforts the final payment of 2500.00 was paid off on the Mtge. Now we can claim this synagogue belongs to the Hstd Hebrew Cong. Rodef Sholom without any incumbrances (sic) thereon, for the first time in the history of the Congregation.
13 Isidor Glick holds the office of Pres. Now, he is one of the younger member, he has in the past twenty years served in a minor capacity on various committees, he considered himself as one of the rank and file, and gradually developed to become one of the front rank members, he was elected and served as Vice Pres. in 1943 with credit to himself. The Cong has rewarded him for his efforts by elevating him to the Presidency. He has to his credit the organizing of IOBB. Lodge, and serving as its Pres. since its inception, and is functioning to the entire satisfaction of its members and the community at large. Lets hope we will do as well as Pres. of the Cong.
14 This man was never Pres. He is not a Cicero or a Demosthenes, he does not shine with nice speeches or oratory. Not words but work [deeds] is his motto, show him work and he will do it. He was Secy at various times, also Treas. for several years on hundreds different committees, a worker not a talker, our friend Mr Mark Fishel–
15 Lastly In 1943 we have acquired a new member, he is affiliated with the Cong a little over a year, but in this short time he has proven himself a Dynamic Force [not only a man, but a dynamo]. He was chairman of the banquet held Feb 1943, he is chairman to arrange this celebration. He has contributed and raised a considerable amount to help pay off the mortgage, and due to his efforts we are celebrating today’s fiftieth anniversary.
Scientists are looking for a long time for perpetual motion. Let them come to Hstd, and get acquainted with Joseph Frank 8 and their search will be over.
The Author (or compiler) of this short (extract) of the (history of the) Cong is thankfully acknowledging the honor bestowed upon him. He has been repeatedly honored by being elected – and reelected, and has been permitted to serve as Sec’y of the Cong. for over thirty years [Yours truly, I Grossman]
[Editorial Clipped from Pgh Post Gazette]
In conclusion permit me to say
In this war torn world it is necessary to make plans for a better post war world.
But it is not likely that the world of tomorrow can be any better than the people who inhabit it.
This is what the Synagogues and the churches have been saying since they first began to preach the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.
If the church has fallen short in its mission, because people are not better than they are, it has nonetheless raised the standard of our civilization by holding aloft its ideals to which men can aspire.
Let us all strive to make this a better world tomorrow, regardless of creed and manner of service [faith].
Let all those who know that this world is but a reflection of ourselves, Let the leaders of all churches and faiths who have power to move the minds the hearts and souls of men Cooperate, assist each other in the work to make this a better City, a better state, and a better world to live in. 9
May Peace prevail with our Congregation
May Peace prevail with our City officials
May Peace prevail with our beloved Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Pres of our great Country [the greatest country in the world]
May peace reign in this world. Let us pray that our soldier boys will soon succeed to crush Shinkelgruber 10 [Hitler] and his satilites (sic — satellites?), and come home in very near future sound and healthy, and live in peace, in the Land of the Free and the home of the brave. And may Hstd be a camp of Godliness now and forever. Amen
Quite similar to the intro. to the 40th anniversary speech. ↩
Is this the same Rev. Samuel Federman who became their first rabbi?! ↩
It is a disgrace because where there are more than 10 men of Bar Mitzvah age, the community is obligated to purchase or build a synagogue, and if it can’t afford to do so, they must rent a space for services — and conversely, they should not rent if they can buy or build (source). Newspaper articles confirm that they rented public halls in Homestead until they had enough numbers to afford to build. ↩
While this year appears in all versions, I don’t think it is right. They claim they were organized in 1905. ↩
A reference to Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1858 speech, itself referencing something Jesus said in three of the four gospels! ↩
Most of this paragraph is from a plagiarized section of the 1913 cornerstone-laying speech. ↩
All of these people so far (well, minus Bernhardt) were mentioned in the 40th anniversary speech with similar, sometimes identical, praise. ↩
Talk about perpetual motion: Joe Frank was also the boss of the Homestead racket! His indictment a decade later caused quite a stir. I will write more about him in the future, promise. ↩
In the copy on the small scraps of the paper, the reverse of this page says in Hebrew, “This is the day the L-rd made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalms 118:24). ↩
The original version said Hitler; the final said Shinkelgruber. Apparently Hitler’s father was illegitimate, and his original last name was his mother’s, Schicklgruber. Before he came to power, some of his political opponents called him Schicklgruber as an insult. ↩
A friend in Pittsburgh sent me the article from the Chronicle about your project. I loved reading about your research on the Homestead Hebrews and especially the Hepps family. I grew up in Homestead. Lived there from 1939 – 1960. My Grandmother, Fannie Hepps Keizler was Uncle Barney’s sister. I remember your Great Grandparents well. I was trying to place your Dad and think he was the son of Herbie and Belle Hepps. Am I right? If not who were his parents? My Dad was E Abe Keizler. He was raised in Homestead and practiced law there. He was also President of the Congregation and head of the Cememtary at various times. Have lots of good memories about life in Homestead and the Homestead Hebrew Synagogue . If I can be of any help with your project let me know.