The Jews of Canonsburg by Arnold  W. Cushner

In a July 25, 1919, issue of the Pittsburgh Jewish Criterion (JC) is an anonymous article entitled, “The Canonsburg Jewish Community.” The first sentence asserts that, “Thirty years ago [c. 1890] Morris Bernstein came to Canonsburg and his is the distinction of being the first Jewish settler of that thriving and progressive community.”1

The actual date of Bernstein’s arrival is uncertain. He and his family first appear in records as an entry in the 1900 Federal Census (FC 1900). Morris and his wife, Julia, lived in what was then the Borough of South Canonsburg, a separate municipality. He was a clothier. The Stocking Directory of Washington County 1901-1902 (Stocking 01) lists his business as being on Central Avenue. By 1902 he was firmly enough established to erect a substantial building named after himself. The Bernstein Building, located at 51 West Pike Street, was three stories high and was the first in town to have a passenger elevator. The business, Bernstein’s Department Store, sold men’s women’s, and children’s clothes.2

Another early merchant in FC 1900 is Joseph Auerbach. If the information found in his obituary in the Canonsburg Daily Notes (Notes) September 14, 1942, is accurate, he perhaps even predated Morris Bernstein. It reports, “He came to Canonsburg 49 years ago and founded the men’s store which bore his name since long before the turn of the century.” The business was at 58 West Pike Street where he and his wife, Fannie, also resided.3

Also in the FC 1900 is the Louis Markowitz family. He and his wife, Jesse (or Esse), lived on Ridge Avenue. Louis was a junk dealer. He is subsequently listed in the R.L. Polk & Co’s Washington Directory, 1905-06 (Polk 1905) as living at 31 East College.

A fourth family that appears in the FC 1900 is Jacob Morris, his wife Julia, and his brother-in-law, Louis Cahan (Cohen). They lived on West Pike Street. Jacob was a dry goods merchant. In Polk 1905, they are living at 138 Central Avenue, and the business was at 61-65 West Pike. Subsequently, Louis Cahan’s father and mother, Jacob and Mary, came to Canonsburg as well.

By 1905-06 Canonsburg Jews began to gather for worship. Polk 1905 lists a B’nai Israel Congregation4 in the McNary Building, corner of West Pike Street and Jefferson Avenue. The rabbi is Rev Hyman Lebow. Lebeau (Lebow in Polk 1905) and his wife, Sarah, lived at 113 Murdoch Street 5

Also in Polk 1905 is Sam Finkel . Sam, his wife Mary, and his brother, Joseph, lived in what must have been a rooming house at 16 Iron Street. Both Sam and Joseph are listed as peddlers.

Among others who made up this influx of Jews between 1901 and 1906 were Markus Blaustein and wife, Bertha. Blaustein was a grocer with Blaustein and Miller (Henry Miller). The store and residence were at 180 East Pike Street.

Abraham Kletzk and his wife, Tillie, lived at 29 West Pike Street, and his cigar manufacturing business was at 44 West Pike Street.

Three Levin brothers arrived—Jacob D., Morris, and Joseph. J.D lived at the corner of East Pike and Ashland Avenue, and Morris lived with his wife, Sarah, at 209 East Pike Street. The two brothers appear to have had dry good stores in two locations, one at 40 West Pike Street and the other at 209 East Pike Street. The stores went under the name of J.D. Levin & Bro. The third Levin, Joseph, and his wife, Etta, lived at 142 Murdoch Street. He had a clothing store at 41 Jefferson Avenue.

Samuel Morris was a clerk at J.D. Levin’s store and boarded there as well. He was Jacob Morris’s brother.

Two of the three Skirble brothers who came to Canonsburg arrived. David A. (D.A.) Skirble lived at 31 West Pike Street. His business, D.A. Skirble & Co, was at the same location. Listed in business with him was a Barney Rosenthal, unidentified. D.A.’s brother, Charles E. Skirble, was a clerk in the business and lived at the same address.6

Samuel Rosenberg, a clerk at Blaustein and Miller and who boarded at the store’s address is first found in Polk 1905; by the next edition, R. L. Polk & Co’s Washington Directory, 1909-10 (Polk 1909), he was married to Minnie, was listed as a huckster, and was living at 17 Iron Street.

In the January 18, 1909, issue of the Canonsburg Daily Notes (Notes) a meeting of the “Canonsburg Hebrew Association” is reported where building a synagogue was discussed. In favor of the project was B. Newmark described as the “new rabbi. . .having come about one month ago.” Also reported was the association’s purchase of a new Bible “at a cost of $100.” To pay for this purchase and to fund other incidental expenses contributions were sought, and those contributing are listed in the story. This list gives additional insight into the Jewish population in Canonsburg at the time. Included are Joseph Levin, M. (Morris) Levin, B. (Benny) Klee, L. (Louis) Sukolsky, Sam Burg, L (Louis) Simon, Samuel Goldberg, Mr. (Ignatz) Greenfield, H (Harry) Levin[e], N. Zucker, Peter Davis, Sam Rosenberg, Abe Kletz, N. (Nathan) Deemer, S Levi (Levy), D Mintz Mentioned in the article are officers of the organization: Joseph Levine (Levin), president; Maurice (Morris) Levine (Levin), vice president; B. Newmark, secretary; and B. (Benny) Klee, treasurer.

A follow up story in the February 8, 1909, Notes reports on a meeting of the “Canonsburg Hebrew organization, in the McNary Building. The meetings purpose was an auction fundraiser for the erection of a synagogue during the present year.” Mentioned in the article are officers of the organization: Joseph Levine (Levin), president; Maurice (Morris) Levine (Levin), vice president; B. (Benny) Klee, treasurer; Samuel Rosenberg and Harry Levine, trustees.

Many new names: Benny Klee and his wife, Dora, had the grocery store earlier operated by Markus Blaustein at 180 East Pike Street. They also lived there. Louis Sukolsky, and his brother, Samuel, were in the produce business and lived together at 217 West Pike Street. Between the ownerships of Blaustein and Benny Klee, Sam Burg was the occupant of the grocery store at 180 East Pike Street in partnership with Joseph Brand, and Hyman Apter. Samuel Burg, and his wife Bessie, lived at 105 Richland Avenue as did Apter; Brand was at 173 East Pike Street. Louis Simon was a baker and lived at 324 South Central Avenue, the Cushnie Hotel. Samuel Goldberg and his wife, Essie, lived at 205 2nd Street, South Canonsburg; he was the treasurer of the Famous Mercantile Company, a company formed after Morris Bernstein sold his department store. Another resident of the Cushnie Hotel was Ignatz Greenfield. He was a shoemaker at 15 East Pike Street Harry Levine and his wife, Ida, lived at 109 Richland Avenue, and he was a doubler in the steel rolling mill.7

Nathan Zucker and his wife, Anna, lived at 105 Richland Avenue. He was a peddler. The man with the All-American name, Peter Davis, lived with his wife, Elizabeth, at 155 East Pike Street, and he owned a tailor shop. Nathan Deemer was a clerk at Joseph Levin’s store and lived as a boarder with the Levins at 142 Murdoch Street. Simon Levi (Levy), a butcher, lived with his wife, Rachel, at 109 Spring Street. D. Mintz’s identity remains unknown.

Polk 1909 adds some more names to the growing Jewish community. Hyman and Rachel Klahr are listed. Hyman had a furniture store at 182 East Pike Street, and the couple resided there. Hyman’s brother, Joseph Klahr, had a restaurant at 188 East Pike Street and lived at that location. David Abraham came to town and listed his occupation as a pickler. He and his wife, Mary, lived at Adams Avenue near 2nd Street. Sam Benowitz was a clerk at Sam Burg ‘s grocery store and probably lived with the Burgs. Still another grocer came, Louis Bernstein. His store and residence were at 114 Richland Avenue. A peddler of dry goods, Adolph Kornfield, lived with his wife Dora at 113 Murdoch Street. Harry Lebowitz and his wife, Lena, lived at 203 r East Pike Street; he is a clerk at Benny Klee’s grocery store. Ben Levin worked in the tin mill. He and his wife, Julia, lived 310 East Pike Street. Albert Levy was another officer of the Famous Mercantile Co., the secretary. He and his wife, Marsella, lived at 38 West College. Another clerk for J. D. Levin was Rose Simon who is also boarded with the Levins.

Three more names appear in the FC 1910. Max Cushner, a baker, and his wife, Anna, lived at 407 South Central Avenue. Morris Mankowitz and his wife, Annie, settled at 201 r East Pike Street, behind the J. D. Levin residence. He was a dry goods merchant. And the third Skirble brother came to town. George Skirble and his wife, Ada (Ida), lived at 339 West College Street, and he joined his brother, D.A., in the clothing business.

By 1910 approximately 40 Jewish families had settled in Canonsburg. Whatever enthusiasm was generated at the 1909 meetings for building a synagogue, however, was not converted into action. Not until five years later, February 1914, is a lot purchased on Ashland Avenue. The community is still meeting on the third floor of the McNary Building.8

A month later a Bar Mitzvah, that of Emanuel Morris, son of Jacob and Julia Morris, then living at 147 West College Street is reported in the Notes.9 This event was at the Odd Fellows Hall located in the Gowern Building on the SW corner of Pike Street and Jefferson Avenue.

On October 22, 1914, ground was broken for the synagogue. The Notes reports, “It will be of brick, and modern in every particular, and will cost in the neighborhood of $7,000.”10 The officers are president, Samuel Burg; vice president, B. (Benny) Klee; secretary, Samuel Finkel; treasurer, Jacob Morris.

On June 21, 1915, the first day of summer, the synagogue was dedicated. New names among the participants in the ceremony included William Brand, probably a brother of Joseph. In FC 1920, William and his wife Lena lived at 153 East Pike Street, and he was a fruit merchant. Another name was Charles Spitzer, a member of the building committee and the congregation’s recording secretary. He was Marcus Blaustein’s son-in-law and is found in the FC 1910 as a boarder with the Blaustein’s at 114 North Central Avenue. He is listed as a manufacturer of soft drinks. Sometimes around 1914-15 he married Rebecca Blaustein. 11 A third name was Max Bernstein, who with his wife, Annie, lived at 153 West College Street. He had a shoe store.12 Also participating was Mrs. Weiner, Lena Weiner, a widow in the FC 1920 with three grown children living with her, David, John, and Tillie. They lived at 172 Smith Street.

Officers at the time of the dedication were the same as those at the ground breaking with the addition of trustees Max Bernstein, Joseph Levin, Morris Levin, and Hyman Klahr. The local rabbi, whose role in the dedication in not reported in the Notes story, is Hyman Lebeau.

The FC 1920 reveals many more arrivals. As was the case with previous arrivals, many of the newcomers were merchants and grocers. Samuel Balbersky came to town and by the 1920 was a widower with 7 children.13 He lived at 127 East Pike Street and had a furniture store. Nathan Berman [Bergman] and his wife, Alice, were living at 18 North Central Avenue; he was clothing salesman. Jacob Feld had a shoe store and lived at 189 East Pike Street. He was married to Kate. Max Graditor, another shoe store merchant, lived with his wife, Jennie, at 21 Iron Street. Isadore and Eva Katz lived at 24 South Central Avenue. Isadore was a furniture salesman.14 At the same address was a boarder, Harry Finkelstein, a grocery store clerk. Also arriving sometime before FC 1920 was Abe Katz, who had a clothing store; he and his wife, Hannah, lived at 100 Smith Street. His brother, Jacob Katz also had come to town. He operated a 5 & 10 store, and he and his wife, Fannie, lived at 177 ˝ East Pike Street15 And there was a tailor, Charles Weiss, who lived at 155 East Pike.

The new grocers included Samuel Horowitz and his wife, Rosie, who lived at 9 South Central Avenue. Samuel Fargostein and his wife, Dora, lived at 344 Ridge Avenue. John Klein and wife, Tillie, lived at 155 Smith Street. Sam Karwan, was a worker in a grocery store. He and his wife, Sophia, lived at 172 Smith Street. The Popover brothers, Morris and Samuel, came to town. Morris, also a worker at a grocery store,16 was a boarder at the Karwans. His brother, Samuel, lived at 17 South Central Avenue and was a partner with David Abraham in a meat and grocery business. Sam Margolis was a lodger at the Abraham’s residence and was a clerk in the store. Jacob Slone (Slonimsky in the 1920 Census), a wholesale produce merchant, and his wife, Mollie, lived at the Sam Benowitz residence at 8 Iron Street. Joseph Braunstein and his wife, Sadie, lived at 177 East Pike Street, and he worked as a grocery clerk. Meyer Lebowitz was not a grocer, but a baker. He and his wife, Pepie, lived at 115 South Jefferson Avenue..

Between 1920 and 1930, Canonsburg continued to attract new Jews. Samuel Harris had a working men’s store. He and his wife, Nell, lived at 34 Archer Street. Isser and Annie Horowitz lived at 124 Van Eman Street. He was a wholesale merchant. Sam Marcus (E.L.) and wife, Rose, came to town some time prior to May of 1926.17 Sam was a wholesale tobacco and candy merchant. The dentist, Lou Kantor, arrived in Canonsburg sometime before December 1927.18

And still more grocers come. Tom and Rose Penner, lived at 103 Bluff Street. Morris Petchenik and his wife, Bella, lived at 235 Orchard Avenue. Meyer and Rose Potashman lived at 400 West Pike Street. He was a butcher. Abe Friedfeld and his wife, Kate, lived at 110 Murdoch Street. He was a huckster with truck. Sometime during the mid-1920s, Theodore Moscov and his son, Alex, and daughter-in-law, Edith, arrived.19 They lived at 344 Ridge Avenue, where the Fargosteins previously lived and operated the grocery store that was the Fargostein’s. Also new, was Rose Waldman, a widow with 4 children. They lived at 118 Van Eman Street, and she was a fruit and vegetable merchant. And Morris Leiner and his wife, Martha came. He was a butcher at Popover’s Meats and lived at 321 South Central Avenue.

But there were other businessmen as well. Max Pickholtz was a jeweler. He and his wife, Sadie, lived at 30 West Pike. Sam Toder had an auto junk yard. He and his wife, Sadie, lived at East Pike Street and Ashland Avenue.20 Albert Taback was manager of a dry cleaning shop. He and his wife, Freda, lived at 6 Pike Street. Sam Pearlman in FC 1930 is listed simply as a merchant. He and his wife, Ida, lived at 336 Giffin Avenue. Ted Chertoff was the manager of a shoe store and boarded with the Sam Morris family. Leo Devon was a musician for the movies. He and his wife, Lillian, lived at 140 North Central Avenue. Nat Greenberg had a men’s store. He and his wife, Anna, lived at 146. East College Street. Samuel Markovitz and his wife, Esther, lived at 24 South Central Avenue. He was a fruit dealer. Victor Levine, who had a ladies store, came. He and his wife, Matilda, who was Jacob and Abe Katz’s sister, lived at 37 Vine Street.

Sometime during the 30s several newcomers joined those already here. Edward Harris, brother of Sam Harris arrived. He and Madeline, his wife, lived at 306 West Pike Street. Phil Cohen, a brother of Jack (Jake) Cohen who married Rebecca Balbersky, arrived to work as a salesman for his brother's furniture store. He and his wife, Gus, lived on Spruce Street. Gerson Chertoff, I presume a brother of Ted, came to town. What he did or where he lived in presently unknown. Milton Pinsker and his wife, Sarah, arrived. He had a clothing store. Al Sheffler, proprietor of a women’s shop, also came to town during this time.. And Irwin (Mize) Bales and his wife, Gert, lived on Bluff Street. He operated a restaurant at Donaldson’s Crossroads. Morris Feldhorn, an operator of a dry cleaning business, and his wife, Dora, arrived and lived at 182 Smith Street. Adolph Schonfeld, a salesmen, lived at 124 Van Eman Street, the residence of Isser Horowitz. He married Isser’s daughter, Clara. Albert (Abe) Fickman and his wife, Minnie, took up residence at 329 North Jefferson Avenue. He had an auto supply store. And another dentist, arrived. David K. Finkel, and his wife, Margaret. They lived at 310 West Pike Street. Isaac and Sarah Caplan come to town and lived at 175 Smith Street. He had a feed store.

And, of course, grocers came. One was David Cohen and his wife, Eva, who lived at 119 Smith Street. Another was Hyman and Anna Hoffman. The Hoffmans previously had a grocery store in Manifold, South Strabane Township. They moved from there to 607 South Central Avenue, where they bought the residence and grocery business operated by Louis Galtz, who had married Isser Horowitz’s daughter, Eva. Anna Yortes, a widow, moved to Canonsburg and lived at 216 South Central Avenue. In FC 1920, she and her husband, John, a fruit huckster, had lived in Stockdale.

The Jewish Community perhaps reached its zenith in the 1930s, and this was captured in a picture of the B’nai Brith taken January 15, 1939. The picture shows 50 men. Among them are some of the very earliest settlers—Sam Morris, George Skirble, J. D. Levin, and Hyman Klahr. Most, however were the children of those early settlers along with those who came subsequently.

First row (1 to r): Morris Weissman, Alex Moscov, Morris Petchenic, Sam Markowitz, Sam Toder,E.L. Marcus, Rabbi Benjamin Kantor, Hyman Klahr, Sam Benowitz, Hyman Hoffman, J.D. Levin,Abe Katz, Sam Karwan;
Second row: Harold Finkel, Elliot Finkel, Meyer Potashman, Harry Levin, Milton Pinsker, Abe Fickman, Morris Popover, Izzy Toder, Adolph Schonfeld, Victor Levine,George Skirble, Sam Cushner, Al Sheffler, Ben Levine, Jack Cohen;
Third row: Carl Feldhorn, Morris Lebeau, Adolph Zeman, Harry Katz, Sam Morris, Phil Cohen, Dave Lebowitz, Ted Chertoff, Irwin Bales, Al Taback, Gerson Chertoff, David. Finkel, Izzy Levin, Louis Levin, Max Bernstein;
Forth row: Sam Friedfeld, Anchel Burg, Leon Hirsh, Allen Levin, Lou Kantor, Tom Penner, and Sam Margolis

J. D. Levin one of the earliest arrivals is seated on the left. Others are Sam Toder, Morris Weisman, and Morris Lebow, son of Hyman Lebeau, an early Canonsburg rabbi. Standing: Hyman Hoffman, Maxine Hoffman, Al Katz, Marvin Lalli, Sidney Hoffman, Harry Katz, and Dave Kaplan.

First row 1 to r: Julius Morris, Jesse Cohen, Ida Green, Helen Cushner, Sadye KleeWeinstein, Bessie Zucker, Florence Klahr Roth, Elliott Finkel, Florence Finkel Chertoff, and Dave Weiner. Second row: Harry Levin, Anchel Burg, M Katz, Harry Katz, Pearl Karwin, Lois Skirble, Hymie Klee, Sylvia Klein, and Izzie Toder. Third row: Anchel Zucker, Zelig Klahr, Willie Katz, Sam Friedfeld, Selma Skirble Garofolo, Dorothy Benowitz Friedfeld, Mayer Karwin, and Manny Morris.


Side view of Tree of Life just before demolition in 1980

Jennie Benowitz Lalli on steps of her home 11 Iron Street in 1996.

The synagogue was sold in the 1960s and was razed for redevelopment in the 1980. The Jewish population continued to dwindle until there was only one member—Jennie Lalli, Sam Benowitz’s oldest daughter and Marvin Lalli’s mother. Jennie died January 24, 1997. From beginning to end the Jewish community lasted in Canonsburg for almost 100 years. The synagogue dedicated in 1915 was demolished in the 1980. It lasted 65 years, just about the Biblical three score and ten.

Notes

1In his article, “Reminiscences of the Jewish Community of Canonsburg,” in the November 1991 issue of the Jefferson College Times, (JCT) William M. Katz wrote: “It was the second year of the twentieth century, 1901, when young Sam Finkel and his lovely bride, Mary, rode with their horse and buggy into Canonsburg. There they pulled up reins to become the first Jews to settle in our town.” While Mr. Katz’s prose has its charm, he offers no factual basis for his assertions. As I indicate in the text, the first record of Sam Finkel in Canonsburg is in the R. L Polk & Co. Washington Directory, 1905. He, his wife, Mary, and his brother, Joseph, are living in what may have been a rooming house at 16 Iron Street. Both their housing and their occupations, peddlers, seem transitory for established residents of the town.

2 A fuller discussion of the Bernstein Building by James T. Herron, Jr., can be found in JCT, May 1996 in an article entitled, ”Rapid Reconstruction: Part 1, The Borough and Canonsburg Hotel Lots.”

3 In the FC 1900, the Auerbach family is found indexed under Aninbach; in FC 1910 under the name Auerbach; I have not been able to find them in the FC 1920; and in the FC 1930, they are indexed under Amsbaugh. Auerbach at some point became a Presbyterian and is buried as such in 1942. His daughter, Sue, married a non-Jew, J Ben Cowan, and never was a practicing Jew. She was a long time photographer in Canonsburg.

4Why it was named B’nai Israel at this point is not known. When a more formal congregation is established the name chosen is Tree of Life.

5Among the Lebeau children in FC 1910 is Adolph Lebeau (subsequently Adolph Zeman). How this came about is contained in a biography of Adolph Lebeau Zeman found in Earle Forest, History of Washington County (S.J. Clarke Publishing Company: Chicago, 1926), II, 613. “Bereaved of a mother’s care in the hour of his birth, Adolph Lebeau Zeman was tenderly cared for by an uncle and aunt, Rev. Hyman and Sarah Lebeau.” Sarah Lebeau was a sister of Adolph’s father, David Zeman In FC 1910 David Zeman, a widower, was living with his brother, Joseph, and his family in Evans City, Butler County. ”

Rabbi Lebeau’s clerical role is unclear. The 1919 JC article about the Canonsburg Jewish community states: “At that time, [around 1905-06] the services were held in a small hall known as McNary’s. Even though the congregation was so small services were conducted by Rabbi Ginsburg, who remained with the Canonsburg community until four years ago [around 1915].” No first name is given for Rabbi Ginsburg, and I cannot find him in FC 1910.

A story in the Notes, February 8, 1909, “Local Hebrews Dedicate Bible” contains the statement, “Addresses were made by Rabbis Cochen [later in the story, Cohn] Pittsburg (sic), Perlman of Carnegie, and Newman of Canonsburg. . . .” (emphasis mine) No mention is made in the story of either Rabbi Lebeau or Rabbi Ginsburg. I cannot find Rabbi Newman in the FC 1910.

6The Skirble’s sister, I believe, was Morris Bernstein’s wife. An obituary of Sarah Skirble, the Skirble’s mother, in JC, August 25, 1924, lists among the children, Mrs. M. Bernstein.

7 The Notes in the February 8 story, reported that, “Announcement was made at the meeting of the birth of a son to Mr. and Mrs. Harry Levine of Richland Avenue, South Canonsburg. The christening will take place next Sunday. [emphasis added]” Sadly, by the following year in the FC 1910 , Harry had died, and his wife and children were boarding in the household of Samuel Rosenberg.

8 Notes, 11 February 1914.

9 Notes, 3 March 1914.

10 Notes, 22 October 1914. The Notes story reports, “It is also proposed to put a swimming pool in the basement.” Also in the report was that the seating capacity was to be 650. Actual seating capacity was perhaps one third of that.

11In FC 1920, Rebecca is a widow with three children, living with her parents at 141 North Central Avenue.

12Max may be the brother of the original Canonsburg Jewish settler, Morris Bernstein. In an obituary for Max’s mother in the JC February 9, 1923, a brother Morris is listed.

13In FC 1910 Samuel Balbersky is living in Pittsburgh and married to Rebecca. His second marriage to Kate Striker is announced in the JC February 25, 1921.

14Isadore worked at Klahr Furniture. Hyman Klahr was Eva Katz’s brother.

15I could not find Jacob and Fannie in FC 1910 or FC 1920. I did find his WWI draft registration which had him living at 177 ˝ East Pike.

16Many of the families in the grocery business or working in the grocery stores were related to Sam Burg. Anna Zucker, Nathan Zucker’s wife, was Sam Burg’s sister. Sam Benowitz was his first cousin. Sam Burg’s wife, Bessie was the sister of Morris Popover, Sam Popover, Sophia Karwan, Tillie Klein, Mary Abraham, and Sarah Caplan.

17 Their son, Isadore, is mentioned as participating in an AZA conference in the JC May 14, 1926.

18 He is mentioned prominently in the JC December 16, 1927, as an adult participant in an AZA production.

19 They are noted as living in Canonsburg in announcements in issues of JC October 8, 1926, and December 2, 1927.

20 Sol Toder, their son, in a letter to me said, “When they moved from Carnegie to Canonsburg in 1927, they lived at the corner of East Pike and Ashland above Buffalo Confectionary, which we all called Tom’s candy kitchen.”