- Samuel J. Federman (May 1894-1896?)
- M. Levendorf (1896?-1901)
- Barr. Bierman (1898?-1900?)
- Jacob G. Mendelsohn (August 1901-July 1903)
- Sam Friedman (August 1903-August 1904)
- Alexander J. Newman (September 1904-June 1906)
- Samuel Widom (August 1906-October 1924)
- Louis Jacobs (1907-1908?)
- Abraham Kahn (1916-1917?)
- Joseph Grossman (1917-1918?)
- Mayer Winkler (May 1921-September 1922)
- Benjamin N. Goldberg (January 1925-September 1927)
- Joseph P. Racusin (January 1928-July 1931)
- Alter. M. Pinkas (September 1931-April 1944)
- Nathan Fox (May-October 1944)
- Joshua Weiss (November 1944-August 1953)
- Jack Segal (~April 1954-August 1956)
- Hyman Shapiro (~November 1956-August 1958)
- Murray Greenfield (~November 1958-July 1959)
- Marvin Pritzker (September 1959-August 1967)
- Morris Heisler (August 1968-June 1969)
- Israel Finer (October? 1969-June 1970)
- Morton Moskowitz (August 1970-July 1974)
- Herschel Deutsch (August 1974-June? 1977)
When reassembling the list of rabbis, I initially had two documents to work from. First was the original list of rabbis the synagogue’s historian produced in the mid-1930s. Second was an annotation of this first document produced by Florence Hiedovitz after the synagogue records were donated to the Rauh Jewish Archives. The cover letter accompanying it, dated August 15, 1994, explains, “The brief tenure of some of the beginning and ending Rabbis is due to the fact that in the beginning, they were itinerant Rabbis from Europe, and the Congregation could not afford a full-time Rabbi, and in the latter, they were hired on a part-time and/or shared basis for the same reason.”
My research has uncovered that neither list is quite right. The rest of this post is the full list of rabbis as I’ve been able to reconstruct it using the synagogue’s meeting minutes (1920-1978 with a gap 1951-1963) and payment records, as well as the town’s newspaper and city directories and Pittsburgh’s Jewish newspapers.
Samuel J. Federman (May 1894-1896?)
The Homestead News reported on the May 1894 hiring and June arrival of Rev. S.J. Featherman, a Hungarian lately from Indianapolis. The articles specifically mention that he and his family moved to Homestead. He is also listed in the 1894 and 1896 Homestead directories as the synagogue’s rabbi, though he isn’t listed amongst the town’s residents. (Prior to his hiring, Rabbi Siff from Pittsburgh instructed them. Interestingly, the rabbi who conducted their first Rosh Hashana services in 1893 was “Rev. Samuel Federman of McKeesport” — same man?!)
Herman Levendorf was born in Vilna in 1870. He married there in 1891 and immigrated the following year to Cleveland, where he served as a rabbi for two years. Then he served in McKeesport before serving two years in Homestead. (Source.)
His year in the historian’s list is 1895, but he probably did not arrive that early, since the city directory says Federman was the rabbi until at least mid-1896. He is mentioned a few times in newspapers from 1900 and 1901. On 7/24/00 the paper reported he had a son, on 10/22/00 it reported his wife was thrown from a street car, and on 2/21/1901 it recapped a wedding he performed. The 1900 census reported he lived on Eleventh Ave. (as in, nowhere near the Jewish neighborhood) with his wife and four children (two months before the aforementioned son was born), but the city directory lists him as a butcher on Heisel, which matches to the location the newspaper assigns him.
Interestingly, for the years he was living in the town, the town’s directory did not list him as the synagogue’s rabbi, only as a butcher. Instead, it listed a man who does not appear in the list at all!
After Homestead he served in Greensburg, Monessen, and New Kensington, before leaving the area to be rabbi in Hot Springs, AL by 1935.
Barr. Bierman (1898?-1900?)
This man is not in the list, though much documentation attests to his presence. The 1898 and 1900 Homestead city directories named him as the rabbi, though only in 1898 did it list him as a resident of the town, living on Sixth Ave., and he does not appear in the 1900 census. He is mentioned twice in the Homestead newspaper, on 10/19/1898 for having performed a wedding for the youngest of the synagogue’s charter members, and later as the synagogue’s rabbi in a May 1900 supplement trumpeting Homestead’s progress in its first twenty years.
Jacob G. Mendelsohn (August 1901-July 1903)
The earliest mention of him is at the 8/19/1901 cornerstone laying; shortly thereafter the Homestead paper announced his hiring. His previous congregation was in Punxsutawney. (I couldn’t find him in the 1900 census for that town. A 1/28/1902 Pittsburgh Gazette article gives his full name as Jacob G. Mendelsohn; if so, before Punxsutawney, he was in Titusville.) He is also listed in the 1902 Homestead city directory as the rabbi of the synagogue and living on Dickson St.
From 1902 on, we can assign more precise dates to rabbis based on when they were paid.
Payment records for his $25/mo salary start with the beginning of the 1902 volume, though there is an entry “Rev G. Mendelsohn move exp.” on 11/23/1902, over a year after he had started. They paid him through the end of July 1903. There are also entries like “Rev. G. Mendelsohn cleaning Syn,” which suggests to me that he was responsible for this part of the synagogue’s operation and reimbursed for the expenses he incurred (presumably in hiring men to do this work).
On 8/20/1903, the Homestead newspaper reported that Rev. Mendelsohn was moving on to Nashville (Congregation Adath Israel, wrote the 1904 American Jewish Yearbook). Later he was rabbi in Easton, PA and Patterson, NJ.
Next the list has “M. Baer 1903,” but no salary was paid to any other rabbis besides Mendelsohn, then Friedman during this period. This must be a mistake; perhaps the earlier Bierman, who was otherwise omitted from this list, is whom the historian had in mind?
In the same article in which it reported Mendelsohn’s departure, the local newspaper introduced the new rabbi, Rabbi Friedman, “who comes here from Buda-Pest, Austria.” The synagogue’s records confirm he was first paid his $30/month for August 1903.
He only lasted a year, but it seems like his departure was amicable; in July 1904 as various candidates were auditioning, some stayed with Friedman (he was reimbursed for costs). (There was a Rev. Friedman from Braddock who spoke at Winkler’s installation. Not sure if the same guy or not. The only place I’ve seen his first name was the marriage license for my great-grandfather’s brother and sister-in-law, Alex & Celia Hepps.)
Alexander J. Newman (September 1904-June 1906)
Rev. Alexander J. Newman became rabbi in September 1904. He also got $30/mo. They paid his moving expenses on 9/25/1904 (from Titusville, PA?1 ) and first paid his salary on 10/9/1904 for the month of September. They knew by May 1906 he would not be continuing, as that was when they first paid for an advertisement to find a replacement. He was last paid for the month of June (though I would have thought he had one more month left on his contract). He is also listed in the 1906-7 Homestead city directory as the rabbi.
Though Widom started August 1906, the Homestead newspaper reported that Newman led the High Holiday services in 1906 (although there is nothing in their financial records to support this). In April 1907 the Homestead newspaper mentioned that he was superintendent of the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Pittsburgh.
Samuel Widom (August 1906-October 1924)
We know he started in August 1906 from the payment records. He received $33/mo to start ($37 during the high holiday months), then $42/mo beginning September 1909, $50 Oct or Nov 1911, $75 March 1914, then $50 July 1914. He often received presents around high holidays. He was first listed in the 1908-9 Homestead city directory (not the 1906-7).
There was a Rabbi Louis Jacobs listed in the 1908-9 city directory as co-rabbi of the synagogue with Widom! Is this related to the break-away Congregation B’nai Jacob? He first shows up in the payment records as a teacher who started 6/21/1907. At this time Widom was getting $33/mo where Jacobs was getting $30 every two weeks in his initial months, though it appears to have dropped to $30/mo by the end of the year. They start referring to him as “Rev” in mid-September. He got $25 for a speech in October 1907. The last listing for his entries is through 12/1/1907. Then he re-appears in April 1908, getting a delinquent $30 covering the last two weeks of Sep. 1907, then $40 for the first two weeks of April 1908… and then that’s it, the last time HHCRS pays him. And yet he is listed as a co-rabbi. Hmmm.
Another rabbi who doesn’t show up in the list is Rev. Dr. A. Kahn. He doesn’t appear in the shul‘s financial records, either. And yet, the Homestead paper refers to him more often than any other rabbi ’til now. He “auditioned” on July 8, 1916, and on August 4 “arrived here to accept a position as cantor…He comes well recommended and will teach the Jewish children and instruct the adults in general topics.” He was a rabbi and had some sort of secular degree from a Berlin university (typesetting error leaves the matter vague). He published long sermons in Homestead’s paper about the High Holidays and Pesach. He gave Hebrew and English sermons at services, spoke at B’nai B’rith day in November, and directed a Chanukah festival in December. “Since his advent in this community, [he] has established a well earned reputation as a brilliant, forcible and entertaining speaker,” the paper praised him. All of this is to say that Widom never enjoyed such attention. I wonder whether Winkler (below) was actually Homestead’s second attempt at finding a better educated and/or more modern rabbi to assist and/or replace Widom? And also, all of these news articles seem fairly definitive, but why does he not appear in the shul‘s financial records?!
The last definitive mention of him I found is from April 1917. (In June an A. Kahn opened a clothing store,
but surely that is a coincidence?! Update December 2020: Indeed, they are the same man! And although Jacobs was the first ex-Homestead-rabbi to have gone into the clothing business, Rev. Dr. A. Kahn seems to have had secular and religious professions in parallel for the much of his career in Homestead and in Philadelphia before that.)
And yet another rabbi from this period, also not in the list, was Rabbi Joseph Grossman. He shows up in newspaper articles in 1917-1918 — often, but not always, in connection with youth activities. After he left Homestead, he never had a rabbinic post again, and a member of his family never even had heard that he had been a rabbi, so hmm.
I haven’t yet cross-referenced the synagogue’s financial records for Kahn or Grossman to get a more specific sense of when either was there. A couple factors seem to be at play with the hiring of both of these men (and Winkler, below) to augment Widom. The first is that there was a general urgency at that time to find English-speaking rabbis to keep Jews engaged. In Homestead, by this period a substantial portion of the younger members were American-born with difficult cultural expectations from their parents and grandparents. The second is that numbers-wise, the late teens and twenties may have been the peak period for the number of children in the community. At any rate, after 1922, the synagogue never had multiple rabbis at once.
Rabbi Winkler (May 1921- September 1922)
An accomplished rabbi from Hungary, it seems the congregation made it possible for him to immigrate and learn English on the job. He left early in his second year for a more prominent position in LA. His entire term overlapped with Rev. Widom’s, which caused problems.
Next the list mentions “Chafkin 1924.” It’s strange to find him included; he only officiated on RH, YK, and possibly Sukkot in 1924 since the man hired to succeed Widom, a Rev. Decter, quit before the holidays arrived. (Source: 9/21/1924 meeting minutes, p. 91)
Left out of this list entirely was Rev. Benjamin N. Goldberg, who served from January 1925-September 1927. He caused them no end of trouble both during his time there and after his departure, so it’s no wonder they edited him out of their history!
Rev. Joseph P. Racusin (January 1928-July 1931)
He was hired at the end of 1927 after Goldberg left (not in 1925, as the list says). His contract was renewed at the end of 1930. Though his contract ran through the end of 1931, he was last paid on 8/2/1931, and a new rabbi was hired 8/17/1931. There is no mention in the minutes even of his departure.
Alter M. Pinkas (September 1931-April 1944)
Rabbi Pinkas was born in Poland in 1906. At some point he made aliyah. He left Israel and arrived in NYC 1929, already by then a rabbi. Previously from Kittanning, he arrived at Homestead 9/6/1931 in time for Selichot services. The following year he married a Pittsburgh girl, Ruth. In 1942 he applied to become a chaplain in the army, though it appears he was not accepted. He was terminated in 1944 when he asked for a period of absence. He spent the rest of his career as assistant rabbi at Taylor Road Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1960.
Joshua Weiss (November 1944-August 1953)
Rabbi Weiss had been passed over for Rabbi Fox earlier in the year. “It seems that it was not destined for me to become your spiritual leader,” he wrote to the shul in May. “Kol mah d’avid rachamana l’tav avid.” (“All that the Merciful One does, He does for good.”)2 But after Rabbi Fox had to resign, Rabbi Weiss got his chance after all.
“Rabbi Weiss is well known around Pittsburgh,” wrote the Jewish Criterion on 1/12/1945. “Before going to Lancaster he was rabbi at the Ohav Zedek Congregation in East Pittsburgh for eight years and prior to that of the Bethel Congregation in Beechview where he helped organize and build the first synagogue in the South Hills area.
“He was born in Czechoslovakia and was educated at the Satmar Rabbincal Seminary, under the leadership of Rabbi D.L. Greenwald, and the University of Pittsburgh.” Prior to Homestead he had spent seven and a half years at Congregation Degel Israel of Lancaster.
After leaving Homestead, he stayed in the Pittsburgh area, moving onto B’nai Emunoh and retaining his connection to the Homestead community. He even proposed to merge his new congregation with theirs in 1967! Read more about him from the Rauh Jewish Archives.
Jack Segal (~April 1954-August 1956)
A newly-ordained, twenty-five year old rabbi when he arrived in Homestead, he was very popular in the community and many Homesteaders are still in touch with him even today!
Prior to his rabbinic studied, Rabbi Segal had majored in Physics and minored in Mathematics at NYU and did three years of graduate work in Physics at Columbia. He continued his physics studies at Pitt while he was in Homestead. His next pulpit was at Tree of Life in McKeesport, where in September 1957 he got engaged to a local girl! After the November wedding they moved to Portland.
More about the rabbi from his current synagogue here. He also wrote a couple books.
Rabbi Hyman Shapiro (~November 1956-August 1958)
A native of New Haven, he graduated from Yeshiva College and was ordained into the rabbinate by its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1956. Like Rabbi Segal, he had done other graduate work, in his case in economics and accounting at the City College of New York, and while at Homestead earned his Masters in Education from Pitt. He resigned in August 1958 to become rabbi at the Briarwood Jewish Center in Briarwood, Long Island.
Rabbi Murray Greenfield (~November 1958-~July 1959)
A native of Newark, he graduated from of Yeshiva University and its Theological Seminary. Prior to starting at Homestead he completed two years as chaplain with the United States Strategic Air Command.
Rabbi Marvin Pritzker (September 1959-August 1967)
Also a college and rabbinical school graduate of YU, he had previously been the rabbi at Agudath Achim Congregation in Aliquippa for ten years. A bit older than the previous rabbis, he was the father of three. During the time he served Homestead, he also taught Talmud at Hillel Academy in Pittsburgh. He left to move to Ottawa, leaving congregational work for school administration.
Rabbi Morris Heisler (August 1968-June 1969)
Originally from Southhampton, England, Rabbi Heisler came to Brooklyn, N.Y. at the age of five with his parents. He was ordained in 1967 from the Marbeatz Torah in Brooklyn and stayed on for an extra year of study. He got married December 1968. He left Homestead for chaplain duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. (Incidentally, the congregation came close to contracting with another man during the year gap between Pritzker and Heisler, who instead became a military chaplain upon graduating rabbinical school.)
Rabbi Morton Moskowitz (August 1970-July 1974)
A native New Yorker, he received his s’micha from Telshe Yeshiva. He also had a degree in psychology from Brooklyn College and did graduate work at Lehigh. The rabbi and his wife came to Homestead from Reading with their eight year-old son, Stephen. As they had previously, they both taught in Pittsburgh at Hillel Academy. Before leaving the area, he recommended Deutch to the congregation as his successor.
Rabbi Hershel Deutsch grew up in Squirrel Hill, where his parents lived at the time he was Homestead’s rabbi. He attended Hillel Academy (through which, I suspect, Rabbi Moskowitz got to know him) and received his rabbinical ordination at Yeshiva Ner Israel in Baltimore with a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Loyola College in Baltimore. The rabbi returned to Pittsburgh with his wife had two young children to be closer to his parents.
Eric Lidji, historian of the Western PA Jewish experience, wrote me, “In going through the Titusville minutes, I found a case where Rabbi Ashinsky was called to mediate a conflict between a congregant and a rabbi. The rabbi, I believe, was Rev. Newman. Rabbi Ashinsky cleared the rabbi of the charges. But perhaps it didn’t matter. This bet din happened in August 1904. You have Newman starting in Homestead in September 1904. So perhaps he left Titusville under duress?” And later, “I went back and checked the minutes. Rev. Newman left Titusville in August 1904. It’s probably the same person, although I can’t say definitively yet.” ↩
MSS #107, Box 5, Folder 1 ↩