B’nai Israel Congregation was the first Jewish congregation in the East End of Pittsburgh.
Jewish families began settling in the present day neighborhood of East Liberty in the first decade of the 20th century, after the construction of Bigelow Boulevard created a quick thoroughfare between the downtown business district of Pittsburgh and emerging residential neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. The first Jewish residents in the East End mostly came from the Hill District and many operated wholesale businesses along lower Fifth Avenue. As early as 1908, they founded B’nai Israel Congregation, perhaps choosing the name in honor of the original name of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Congregation. B’nai Israel Congregation was chartered in 1911.
B’nai Israel Congregation rented meeting space throughout the East End for more than a decade before constructing a synagogue at 327 N. Negley Avenue (Henry Hornbostle, architect; Sharove and Friedman, associate architects). The congregation initially used a mansion behind the property for its chapel, classrooms and office. The synagogue was expanded in the early 1950s to include a social hall and school wing (Alexander Sharove, architect). The congregation added stained glass windows by Jean Jacques Duval in 1964.
B’nai Israel Congregation established a Ladies Auxiliary in 1912, the co-ed Latovah Society in 1916, and a Men’s Club in 1929. B’nai Israel opened a Sunday school in 1920. The school expanded and evolved over the years, becoming the Jewish Learning Center by the 1980s. The congregation in 1925 established a scouting program, leading to the formation of Boy Scout Troop No. 3 and an associated Cub Scout troop. A Young People’s Division was started in the early 1950s as a junior congregation for members aged 21 to 33 years. A United Synagogue Youth chapter was started in the 1960s. The B’nai Israel Cemetery was established in Penn Township in 1921.
Spiritual leaders of B’nai Israel include Rabbi Solomon B. Neches, Rabbi Benjamin Lichter, Rabbi Seymour Cohen, Rabbi Mordecai Chertoff, Rabbi Jack Shechter, and Rabbi Richard Marcovitz. Cantors include Cantor Julius Bloom (1924-1942), Cantor Mordecai Heiser (1942-1989), and Cantor Mordecai Haalman (1960s-1980s).
With the decline in the Jewish population of the East End in the latter half of the 20th century, B’nai Israel Congregation made the decision in 1995 to merge with Beth Jacob Congregation of New Kensington to create the new Adat Shalom in Cheswick, Pa.