The proliferation of Jewish groups in Homestead led to a few efforts to establish umbrella organizations to coordinate activities, eliminate redundancies, and pool fundraising. And as the shul became like a community center, there was a more mundane need to schedule who would use what space at what time and share costs. These groups reflect that not all Jews in Homestead belonged to the synagogue, and not all synagogue members saw the synagogue as their primary Jewish affiliation.
- United Hebrew Organizations (1912-1914)
- Attempts to build a community center (1922-1924)
- Jewish Community Joint Committee (1922?)
- Homestead District Aid Committee (1938-1944)
- Homestead Jewish Activities Organization (1943?)
The only mentions of this group come from the period in which the second synagogue building was planned and erected. In his speech at the cornerstone-laying, Grossman explained, “We have organized the United Hebrew Charities which is maintained by all the Jewish organizations of the town, and does away with the repetition of the work.” I also suspect that in the aftermath of the fire and in anticipation of the massive fundraising required for the new building, increased mutual aid mattered as well.
The earliest mention relates to the ball they threw on 1/23/1912 to raise money for the new synagogue. One article claims there were a dozen organizations involved (!), though a subsequent one, which lists the officers of the U.H.O. and the representatives from the other groups, only names four. A third article says there were six organizations involved. 1
However many there were, they seem to have failed at what seems to have their second attempt at an event during the summer of 1912: “Owing to the impossibility of securing the lawns, the lawn fete and entertainment which was to be given by the United Hebrew Organization of Homestead August 7th, and 8th, has been recalled. All tickets for the same will be redeemed if returned to the one from whom they were secured.”2
Their next event was a fun one — “Something New Every Minute,” a series of plays by the Homestead Dramatic Circle under the auspices of United Hebrew Organizations of Homestead on 3/25/1913.
Then on 6/19/1913, “The United Hebrew association of Homestead held a meeting last night in their club rooms to help on the erection of the new synagogue on Tenth avenue.” I suspect they met far more often that the record lets on if they had their own club rooms!
The last event with which they were connected was a Purim ball on 3/12/1914, also to benefit the building. Perhaps after the building was completed the pressure the urgency was gone…?
In the early decades the congregation had strict rules about how the building could be used, even the social space in the building: no card parties or dancing allowing. 3 This comprised the two most popular forms of entertainment at the time. While this was not atypical for the time in an Orthodox congregation, in the context of the synagogue-center movement of the 1920s, which sought to combine the religious functions of the synagogue with the social functions of the Jewish community center, the strictures began to chafe. Moreover, the growing amount of Jewish social life in the community — at least ten organizations — all of which needed to pay for other locations for activities — suggested savings and efficiencies were there a dedicated space. And finally, the example of Pittsburgh, immediately adjacent, gave a model for what a thriving center could do for a community.
Of course, the synagogue’s meeting minutes relate nothing of the attempts to establish a separate center of Jewish life in Homestead, though The Criterion has some revealing mentions that suggest that the new hotshot rabbi, Rabbi Winkler, was the driving force behind the movement.
- 4/21/1922: “On Sunday evening, April Sixteenth, Rabbi Winkler, with the co-operation of all the ten Jewish organizations in Homestead, called a ‘get-together’ meeting which was very well attended…Rabbi Winkler emphasized the necessity of a Jewish Community House in his address, ‘Constructive Jewish Work in Homestead.'”4
- 5/26/1922: “At a meeting of the Homestead Y.W.H.A., last week, it was decided that a Lawn Fete should be held…A community house for Jewish activities is needed in Homestead and the ‘Y’ girls are trying to raise funds so that they may do their share.”
- 6/16/1922: “Homestead, Pa .:— The Homestead Y. W. H. A. has everything in readiness for the benefit lawn fete on Tuesday, June Twentieth…The lawn next to the Synagogue on Tenth Avenue will be gayly decorated for this event. The Y. W. H. A. takes this means of inviting all who desire, to participate in the festivities of Tuesday evening and help the ‘Y’ bring into reality the dream of a much needed community house.”
Winkler left in September 1922, and then the mentions drop off until:
- 3/27/1924: “On Thursday evening, February 28th, the Hebrew Congregation Organizations held a meeting in the Y. M. H. A. rooms in the Homestead Savings Bank building, at which time arrangements were made for the Purim Masquerade and Community Ball to be held in Turner Hall, Thursday evening, March 20th…The ball is to be held under the auspices of the Y. M. H. A., assisted by the Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society, the Hebrew Congregation and the Y. W. H. A. The proceeds of the masquerade will be set aside for a community center.”
But that is the last mention of any attempts to create a community center. (For context, Braddock, which had a comparably-sized community, but at least a couple shuls, laid the cornerstone for their community center 5/27/1928. And the cornerstone of the new Y. M. & W. H. A. building in Pittsburgh was laid 11/9/1924. So, there was encouraging activity around them… or, rather, examples they wished to emulate.)
On March 15, 1931 the synagogue led a community meeting to decide “for the purpose of acting on the disposition of the Homestead Jewish Community Fund. Forty-three members present” including Ladies Aid Officers and YMHA & YWHA representatives attended. “After discussion by nearly all those present of the various plans proposed for the disposition of this fund a motion made by Sam Siegel, seconded by M. Fischel that the fund be turned over to the Congregation to be used for improvements to the Synagogue when and in such manner as the Congregation shall see fit and that the trustees of said fund be instructed to turn this money over to the Congregation without delay was passed without a dissenting vote.”5 By this point the U.S. was 17 months into the Great Depression. If they had continued to harbor hopes of a community center all this time, it was clear that it wouldn’t happen and the money was needed elsewhere. Where? In the May 3, 1931 board meeting, “Dr. Moss reports that the Community House Found has been turned over to the Cong. all trustees having signed check for same. On Motion it was decided to add a sufficient amount from the Cong. Treas. to bring this fund up to $1500.00 and to apply this total on the mortgage.”6 (Note that this matter was put to rest months before Rabbi Pinkas arrived.)
There was never a community center in Homestead. In the 1930s the synagogue became more of a social center, and even more in the 1940s when the prohibitions against dances were lifted. One of the unique characteristics of the Homestead community was that people saw that shul as the hub for Jewish life in Homestead. So it wasn’t entirely a loss.
Was this “Joint Committee” a long-standing organization? Or just a one-time effort to throw a dance? I begin to suspect the latter… as this certainly wasn’t the first time a “joint committee” of “all of the Jewish Organizations combined for the purpose of” throwing a community-wide event.7
Homestead, Pa., Jewish Community Joint Committee:—The Homestead Jewish Community Joint Committee takes great pleasure in announcing the coming” of the community’s annual dance and card party which will be held on Wednesday, March 25. The committee has chosen the beautiful Elks Temple on Ninth Avenue, Homestead, as the scene of this affair, and is bending every effort to make it one to be long remembered. The dances held in previous years have always been well attended by our friends from the entire Pittsburgh district and this year will prove no exception.
The committee expects to be able to announce the name of a well-known orchestra engaged far this dance, within a week or two. For those who do not care to dance cards have been provided and beautiful prizes will be distributed. The committee chairmen are as follows: General chairman, Samuel W. Hepps; vice chairman, Mrs. V. Stone; secretary, Miss Pauline Schwartz; program, Mrs. M. Rubin; cards, Miss Sadie Glick and Mrs. A. L. Hepps; tickets. Miss Elsie Hepps; entertainment and music, Paul Carpe; refreshments, Mrs. L. Hadburg; reception, Mrs. A. Glasser and Mrs. Sam Siegel.
— The Jewish Criterion, 2/20/1931
A follow-up article a week later noted that, “The committee has engaged the services of Henry Robinson and his Pittsburghers to play the dance music for this affair. Recent additions to the large joint committee in charge of the dance include Florence Solomon, Anna Margolis, J. Leombersky (sic, Lembersky), Mark Fischel, and Miss Jeannette Fischel.”
Starting in 1930 the synagogue’s social committee began to significantly ramp up its work, so perhaps a separate committee seemed less urgent?
This group deserves a closer examination in light of all the community’s charitable efforts and the history of the regional UJA campaigns, both of which I intend to investigate in more detail at some point!
In the 12/4/1938 congregation board meeting minutes, after going through the latest letters of solicitation the shul had received (American Friends of Hebrew University, JDC, United Palestine Appeal): “The president announced that a committee had been appointed to represent the Congregation in a community board to handle all such requests for money. Dr. J.W. Moss, chairman of the committee reported that a meeting of the committees representing the Congregation, Sisterhood, B’nai Brith Auxiliary and business men of the community met and organized itself into a Board known as the Homestead District Aid Committee and that officers were elected and that an executive committee has been appointed and that the organization has commenced to function….The sum of $25 was contributed to the newly formed organization now known as they Homestead District Aid Committee.”
In the ensuing years, the Homestead District Aid Committee raised money for a number of causes. Small amounts went to local needs; the group is recorded on a number of occasions from 1939-1942 donating money to the shul to cover its local charity work. The bulk of the money, though, went to national groups — for ex, in 1942 the Homestead District Aid Committee raised for UJA, HIAS, ORT Federation, State Coordinating Committee, and the National Jewish Welfare Board.
At the same time, the regional UJA campaigns were growing in scope. The first local campaign for the UJA took place in 1933, raising money for the JDC and the American Palestine Campaign. Homestead participated in the regional UJA campaign for the first time in 1934 and every year thereafter. In the 11/3/1941 board meeting when the a “semi-annual report of Homestead District Aid Committee for the UJA and related activities” was submitted, this reflects how the UJA drive was initially subsumed in larger fundraising efforts for a time. But during 1944 the “Homestead District Aid Committee” turned into the “UJA Homestead District Aid Committee,” and thereafter just the UJA. It seems that even under its new appellation the group still raised money for a range of local and national causes, but it appears to have been its own effort rather than a roll-up of representatives of the various other groups in town. In 1955 the UJA discontinued charity funds to the Homestead district, but continued participating in the regional drives.
By early 1943 there were many Jewish organizations outside of the shul that all used the shul for events, now that card parties and dances in the vestry rooms (basement) were permitted. Costs had to be managed for renting the space, laundering the linens, and sharing the telephone. And there were many fundraising drives, too, with all that was going on in the world. There was an opportunity to do things more efficiently.
In the February 28, 1943 board meeting:
Rabbi Pinkas proposed to organize all active Jewish organization into a “Council of Community activities,” and to have all organizations co-ordinated so that there shall not be any conflicting dates in the use of the meeting room, no repetition of the work to be done in the community, and to have all activities arranged in a systematic manner, and this will bring about better order and better results socially, religiously and financially, for this purpose he requests the Presidents of the following organizations to be invited to a conference on Wed Eve 3/3/1943
- Pres. of Cong.
- Pres of Sisterhood
- Pres IOBB Lodge
- Pres IOBB Ladies’ Auxiliary
- Pres of AZA
- Pres Girls IOBB
- Pres Zionist Org
Pres of congregation invited other members with him.
Whatever happened outside the congregation is lost, but it’s clear Pinkas’ charge had been taken up in earnest, since in the next board meeting, there was a discussion about the “Council of Community Activities in which the various organizations will participate with the Homestead Hebrew Congregation to stage various activities. They have formed certain by-laws which will be studied by the Hom. Hebrew Congregation.” These “Preamble and By-laws for joint meeting of various organizations,” dated 4/24/1943 and sent by Max Wolfson, the chairman of the new group, to Max Lazar, president of the shul, lay out a clear plan for “the Congregation, Sisterhood, B’nai B’rith Women’s Auxiliary, B’nai B’rith Men’s, Zionist, Hadassah, B’nai B’rith Girls, A.Z.A., [and] Chavrah (sic) Kadisha” to work better together. 8
We, the undersigned representatives of the Homestead Jewish Organizations, in order to achieve the maximum of efficiency and progress for the befit of the Jewish people as a whole, and the Homestead Jewry in particular, do hereby agree to unite ourselves into the Homestead Jewish Council.
We, therefore, propose as a nucleus for a working agreement: be it resolved that all the organizations in this affiliation pledge themselves to assume the obligation as its first duties for planning and raising the necessary funds needed to maintain and operate the synagogue for the purpose of keeping Jewishness alive and as a home for general Jewish activities.
Duplication of Effort
The Council will aid in the curbing of duplications of efforts.
When an organization plans an affair, it will be the duty of all other organizations to assist, promote, and patronize the function.
Committee of adjustments
Any friction arising between any of the organizations must be presented before the Council for arbitration or adjustment, and their decision must be accepted as final.
The sections went on to cover fundraising, scheduling, education, world affairs, UJA and JNF drives, and more.
In the 5/9/1943 board meeting, a letter from Max Wolfson and above preamble and by-laws were read and discussed, producing no agreement. (If the board ever came to an agreement, it was not recorded.) And to be honest, if this group ever functioned, I can find no evidence of it — it’s not mentioned further in the synagogue or Sisterhood meetings, nor is it mentioned in the Pittsburgh Jewish newspapers at all. Hmmm….!
At any rate, the organizations went on throwing events, singly or in collaboration, and Jewish life in Homestead went on, though by the 50s it was in decline.
I cannot even name 12 organizations. The first four below are the ones that were listed everywhere. The rest are possibilities.
- Ladies’ Aid
- YWHA? (organized by 2/2/1912)
- Homestead Hebrew Club (a social club that is mentioned before and after this period, though not during)
- Chevra Kadisha? (considered a synagogue committee?)
- Homestead Religious School? (considered a synagogue committee?)
- Zionist? (unclear if there even was a Zionist group at this time
- Political? (no evidence there was one at this time)
7/26/1912 Criterion ↩
See, for example, the 10/9/1924 board meeting in which the Ladies’ Aid‘s request to have a card party was refused, and the following 11/4/1924 meeting in which music was permitted at a wedding in the shul, but not dancing (Meeting Minutes 1920-1930, pp. 91-94). ↩
OK. Trying to count these ten:
- Ladies’ Aid
- Girl scouts
- Boy Scouts
- Hadassah? (Unclear if they had a local group this earlier, or if all their activities were just part of the Ladies’ Aid and rolled up into the Pittsburgh chapter?)
- Chevra kadisha? Religious school? (Or, as before, were they just part of the shul?)
Meeting Minutes 1930-1940, pp. 9-10 ↩
Meeting Minutes 1930-1940, p. 16 ↩
The Jewish Criterion, 5/12/1922. In this case, a Mother’s Day event. ↩
Box 10, Folder 1 ↩