On a beautiful Sunday in May, a full bus load of people from the community enjoyed a six-hour, organized trip from New Light Synagogue to the East End, Squirrel Hill and Homestead. The group revisited the former B’nai Israel and Margaretta Street shuls in the East End.
After a complete tour of the area, the bus returned to Squirrel Hill. Jerry Vondas discussed the way Murray Avenue was in bygone years as we sat parked across from the former Ratner’s Hardware. A visit to the Yeshiva was most informative. The last stop was the Homestead Hebrew Congregation. Now that it is an Evangelical church, it was bittersweet to former congregants.
Future trips are planned for other defunct shuls in towns that are disappearing from Jewish Life. I urge Chronicle readers to join in future trips to visit our rich past before all the remnants disappear.
Grateful for trip
I was one of 55 Jewish adults who embarked on a trip down memory lane on a Jewish heritage tour sponsored by the Jewish Men’s Club at New Light Congregation. Rachel Cranson from the University of Pittsburgh gave us an overview of Jewish settlement.
In East Liberty, our guide, Bette Landish, told us at one time East Liberty was the third largest business district in Pennsylvania. Many of the businesses there were owned and operated by Jewish merchants. We also saw the spacious homes where the Jewish vendors resided. At the former B’nai Israel synagogue on Negley Avenue, now home to the Urban League of Pittsburgh Charter School, we viewed the grandeur of the sanctuary. Its former rabbi, Richard Marcovitz, provided the historical information as our group, lost in reverence, remembered this sanctuary as it used to be in its glory days.
At the old Adath Jeshurun, also known at the Margaretta Street Shul, Pastor Harris of the Full Gospel Baptist Church greeted us, along with Eddie Childs, who became a bar mitzva there many years ago. We climbed a steep staircase to the main sanctuary. The room still had the old pews, amid the dust and one round colorful stained-glass window complete with its Jewish symbols.
We passed the old Y-IKC building, Mellon Street, with memories of “mom and pop” stores. In Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter, Jerry Vondas, pointed out locations of the old Jewish-owned bakeries, butcher shops, and Weinstein’s Restaurant.
At the Lubavitcher Yeshiva on Wightman Street, Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld told us about the 70- year-old history of the school from its roots in the Hill District. It is the largest Jewish day school in the area with an enrollment of 800.
Our last stop on our journey was the former Homestead Hebrew Congregation. This well-maintained building was as beautiful as it was when it had 325 members in the 1950’s, with its resplendent stained-glass windows glimmering in the afternoon sun. Former members told stories about its past. Above the altar were painted Christian icons and in several places there were Stars of David superimposed over crosses.
We were all so grateful that the Men’s Club was able to arrange visits to so many places that were once important in our lives.