The following speech is dated January 28, 1934. It is the earliest source from the archives for the history of the congregation prior to the building of the first synagogue building. (The Homestead newspaper confirms the basic chronology.)
The archive has three copies of this speech. There are two copies in loose pages, with one typed and the other handwritten. The handwritten version says that it is the copy; it follows the typed version closely with a [few edits], the most significant of which is that the typed one omits all mentions of Bernhardt Hepps, where the handwritten version adds a couple back (compare to the 50th anniversary’s version of the history, which has the fullest listing of Bernhardt’s contributions).
The third version is in a ledger book and follows the typewritten version closely (including omitting Bernhardt) with a few [minor edits]. It is the cleanest copy of the three, so I have to assume that in the end Bernhardt was not mentioned.
The task of writing a history of this Congregation has been assigned to me.
To write a complete history would require more time [to read] and more of your patience [to listen] than that allotted to me by our capable toastmaster. It is impossible to relate all that has transpired in the past four decades [1/2 Century] in ten or fifteen minutes. Besides, our history does not begin with Homestead.
At least five thousand years before we thought of forming this Congregation, the old patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob started to
write and make [make and write] our history. Our ancestors are the ones who started this organization and we only trying to follow in the path they have trodden, and which has developed into a mighty highway. Our forefathers laid the foundation for this structure (when they compiled and adopted the old testament), and all nations — Jews, Christians and Mohammedans are their offspring and are trying to dwell in the structure they have erected.
When a builder builds a ship to ply on the waters of the ocean, the work is not done when the ship is completed. It requires a sane and safe captain, officers, and an efficient crew to man the ship, if they wish to navigate and avoid disaster.
So, also, our Congregation was not completed when it was organized and the charter was granted. The work then only started.
On the eighteenth of March, 1894, a few Homestead Jewish pioneers congregated at the home of Mr. Sam Markovitz with the purpose in mind of forming this Congregation. In the foremost ranks among others were R. Segelman and I. S. Grossman [^B Hepps and others]. All told there were eighteen men present, who formed the nucleus of this Congregation.
The charter was granted shortly thereafter. The first president was the late R. Segelman, [^VICE BH] the first secretary, the late I. S. Grossman and S. Markovitz was treasurer.
Mr. Joseph Grossman of New York purchased the first scroll of the law, which was dedicated on the twenty-eighth of March, 1894. That day was the first time in the Jewish history of Homestead that the Jewish people held a celebration among themselves. The expenses were defrayed by S. Markovitz.
A few weeks later the Congregation lost their first president, through his death and Max Markovitz succeeded him as president.
Nothing of consequence transpired in the several following administrations. All tried to do the best they knew how. On March 28, 1896 they had sufficient funds to purchase a plot of ground at Homeville to be used as a cemetery. The price was $470 cash.
In the years following everything passed on smoothly. The officers changed from time to time. Some were successful in increasing the funds of the treasury; some plodded along the best way they could until the year 1901.
In that year, Mr. Joseph Lasdusky was elected president and on March tenth, the Congregation bought a lot on Ammon St. for $1500 cash, with the intention of erecting a Synagogue thereon. On July twenty-first a contract was signed with Lowry & Wolfe for the building of a synagogue at a cost of approximately $5,000. The corner-stone was laid on August 18, 1901 and the dedication took place on March 30, 1902. The membership had increased to forty.
For a 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 Mr. Henry Moskovitz strenuously objected, first on account of the location, and second on account of the smallness of the lot to build for a growing community. His wise counsel prevailed and he was instrumental in the sale of the old fire damaged building and in the purchase of this lot on Tenth Avenue. In the year 1913 Mr. Joseph Lasdusky was again elected president and under his leadership the erection of the synagogue was started and completed. The corner-stone was laid on September 28, 1913 and the dedication took place September 6, 1914.
Time does not permit me to enumerate all the different men who held office. Therefore, just as a traveler counts the milestones he passes to see how far he has gone, even so I am going to point out the outstanding men who have contributed to the growth and success of this Congregation.
First of all, Joseph Lasdusky, who presided over the destinies of the Congregation when both Synagogues were built, in 1902 and 1913. He sacrificed his business and his health for the weal of the public.
Mr. H[enry] Moskovitz, who insisted on the purchase of the present [10th Ave] location of the synagogue.
Sam Mervis was for several years president and treasurer and made himself all around useful.
Mr. Aaron Weiss, who was instrumental in promoting the welfare of the Hebrew school, and showed the way a Congregation should be conducted.
The late B. Friedlander needs to be mentioned for his zeal, earnestness of purpose, his devotion to his duties, his willingness to be useful, his gentleness. No labor was too much for him. He was more successful than [∨ some of his distractors (sic)] those who tried to belittle him.
As to the toastmaster, who is our past president — I hate to praise him, but how can I avoid it. I am forced to give credit where credit is due. — When a ship is plying the water of the ocean for four decades, it is impossible to avoid the accumulation of barnacles on its keel. So, likewise, the same conditions will prevail in sailing the ship of a Congregation. First of all, Dr. Moss scraped off the barnacles that accumulated on the keel of this Congregation. Second, he assembled all moneys belonging to the Congregation, which were scattered in a bakers’ dozen different places into one treasury. He increased the revenue of the Congregation. Under his leadership, a Hebrew [School] and Sunday school superior to most and second to none were established, and the cemetery was improved and beautified. Last, but not least, he has paid off $3,000 on the mortgage of the Synagogue.
The incumbent of the Presidency to-day is Mr. M. D. Weis. I will not try to say much about him. His work speaks for itself. He has been in the forefront as an active worker for thirty-five years and is still in harness. He needs to recommendations. I repeat, his work speakers for itself.
Til now, none were mentioned except those who were former Presidents.
I would be remiss as a historian if I would fail to mention some of the rank + file, the one I am speaking about never was a Pres. – he is not a Cicero or Demosthenes he does not shine with nice speeches or Oratory. Not words, but deeds is his motto, show him work and he will do it, he was Secy for several years. Treas for many more, on hundreds of various Committees. A worker not a talker, our friend Mark Fishel.
The historian held office as secretary for seventeen years and will repeat what he said in 1902 at the dedication of the first Synagogue in Homestead. 1
“This Congregation is on the threshold of a new era. It is beginning to grow. May it grow and prosper without
any cessation, an shed light and luster, knowledge and truth, now, and in generations to come [future generations]. May the members of this Congregation learn from the past the knowledge that only one word [אחדות] ‘Unity’ can build up, sustain and make a successful Congregation. The word ‘Unity’ must always be in front of our eyes. The religious and humane purposes of the Congregation must be devotedly, and with a strong will, in ‘Unity’, promulgated and propagated, and our motto,
מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד 2
‘Behold, how good and pleasant when brethren sit together in Unity’, must always be held in mind and obeyed. Only then can the Congregation have the right to be know as ‘Rodef Sholom, Follow Peace.'”
(May peace prevail with our Congregation. May peace prevail with our City officials. May peace prevail with our beloved Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of our Country. May peace reign in this world and may Homestead be a camp of Godliness, now and forever. )
[May peace prevail with our Cong. and may Hstd be a מחנה אלהים – a Camp of Godliness – מעתה ועד עולם now and forever. — I. Grossman]
I believe this speech survives only in Yiddish. Translation forthcoming! ↩