Houtzdale, Pa. was incorporated as a borough in March 1872. The population of the borough grew with the development of the coal industry and the construction of railroads in Clearfield County and peaked at 2,231 in 1890.
A small Jewish community chartered a congregation called Sons of Israel in Houtzdale in April 1874, although little is known about it today. Only about 15 Jews lived in the borough at the time, according to Statistics of the Jews of the United States, published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregation in 1880. A second wave of Jews settled in Houtzdale in the early 20th century. One of the earliest Jewish families in Houtzdale was Jacob and Claudia Luxenberg. Jacob Luxenberg immigrated to Philadelphia from Russia about 1893, married Claudia Mayer in 1902, and together they moved to Houtzdale after 1910. A young watchmaker named Abe Berman immigrated to Philadelphia from Latvia in 1907 and four years later brought over a young woman he knew from his hometown named Tsivah “Sylvia” Gordin to be his wife. Assuming it would be cheaper to live in a small town, Berman asked various wholesalers in Philadelphia about job opportunities in the region and learned about the Luxenberg store in Houtzdale. Berman worked for Jacob and Claudia Luxenberg for several years and even lived with the couple for a time.
The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 24 for Houtzdale in its 1928-1929 edition and 27 in its 1940-1941 edition. Although larger than the original group, the second group never formed a congregation. Some families attended religious services in Barnesboro, which was the nearest synagogue. Having spent her youth in the large city of Riga, Sylvia Berman struggled to adapt to life in a small town. “In Houtzdale, I was in a bad fix,” she said in an oral history with her children in the 1970s, which was later self-published. “To come to a small town, yet, where there were maybe half a dozen Jewish people. But there was Mrs. Luxemberg (sic)… And Mrs. Luxemberg knew a little German, and I spoke Yiddish. So it worked out—you know, German and Yiddish have something in common. So she taught me how to cook, even how to bake bread and bagels. How to do it in a small town, because—In fact there were bakers but they didn’t do it like Jewish people did. They were German bakers. But it did me good because I had to learn English. That’s the way I learned, a little bit here, a little bit there.”
Abe and Sylvia Berman soon moved to the much larger city of Altoona, Pa., where they started a jewelry store. Although they both came from traditional families in Latvia, they gradually lessened their religious observance after immigrating. “The sheer impracticality of buying kosher meat in an area as isolated a Houtzdale no doubt contributed to this decision,” their daughter Florence Berman Karp wrote in her memoir Roses in December.
Another family to settle in Houtzdale in the early 20th century was Morris and Ethel Kahal. Their son Irving Kahal became a noted song lyricist in the 1920s and 1930s.