Monongahela was settled in the mid-18th century, making it the oldest community in the Monongahela Valley. Several early settlers started ferry operations to take people and goods across the Monongahela River, and the river traffic eventually necessitated a post office. Monongahela initially incorporated as a borough but changed to a city in 1873.
The earliest Jewish settlers in Monongahela appear to be A. B. Cowan, who arrived in 1890, and David Goldstein, who started the first produce company between Pittsburgh and Uniontown in 1891. A small community was running the Ahavas Israel literary club by 1907, according to a listing an American Jewish Yearbook directory that year.
By 1915, the Jewish population of Monongahela was large enough to support an informal prayer group. It also employed a full time spiritual leader in Rev. S. Berger, who stayed in the community until he moved to Pittsburgh in 1931. The group met in the Markell Building at 142 W. Main St. from September to October 1915, in the Stang Building at 151 E. Main St. from October 1915 to 1917, at the home of Harry Augenblick at 514 Cuff Alley from 1917 to 1918 and at the home of Max Sklar at 615 Marne Ave. from 1918 to 1924, according to a Works Progress Administration Church Archives survey.
By 1919, the Jewish community in Monongahela numbered 35 families and included a Jewish Women’s Club, a Hebrew Relief Society and an informal religious school, according to a community profile in the Jewish Criterion at the time. By the early 1920s, the religious school operated under the auspices of the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious School program, and its teachers trained in Pittsburgh.
A group filed a charter for the Tree of Life Congregation of Monongahela in October 1923, according to local newspaper reports. The signatories were Abe Oppenheim, M. Shuler, D. J. Cohen, M. Sklarevitz, B. Weissberg, B. Cohen and Joseph Moskovitz. The petition said that the congregation would worship “according to the faith, doctrine, usages, discipline and government of the Orthodox Jewish Denomination.” According to the Works Progress Administration Church Archives survey, Tree of Life Congregation started worshipping in a three-story residence at 143 Chess St. soon after it incorporated in 1923. But local newspaper reports through the years suggest that the building was a private residence, rather than a synagogue, and also mention services being held at many local halls, suggesting that the congregation might never have had permanent accommodations. The congregation did have its own Torah scroll, which the brothers and community leaders William and Abe Oppenheim donated to the community in 1926.
As one of the smaller Jewish communities in the mid-Monongahela Valley, Tree of Life and its members often partnered with other communities in the region on communal organizations, including the Monongahela Valley Council of Jewish Women, the Monongahela Valley YMHA and the AZA Monongahela Valley No. 82, as well as more information organizations, such as the social Thursday Afternoon Club. Tree of Life Congregation joined a church basketball league in Monongahela as early as 1926. The league gave the team a special dispensation to use players from Monessen and Donora because the local community was too small to generate a team entirely from its ranks.
The Jewish population of Monongahela shrank in the decade before World War II. The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 142 in its 1928-1929 edition, down to 65 in its 1940-1941, and did not include the town in the survey in its 1951 edition. Even so, Tree of Life was still holding holiday services and communal events as late as 1958.