A Jewish community emerged in New Castle after the area became an important industrial hub. A branch of the canal system, built in 1833, had connected the town to the regional system of commerce. A tannery was started in 1836 and a lumber business in 1840. The Shenango Iron Works was organized in 1845. The New Castle and Beaver Railroad began running in 1864. New Castle was named the county seat of Lawrence County in 1849 and became a third-class city in 1874. Manassah and Sarah Heinlein are believed to be the first Jewish family in New Castle, according to historian Jacob Feldman. Heinlein started a dry goods store with his father-in-law Marx Arnold in 1848. By 1860, Heinlein was employing three Jewish teenagers as clerks, who boarded at the Heinlein house. Faye Weisberg, a Jewish maid, helped with the housework.
In the mid-1870s, a small group of Jews was regularly holdings services in the home of Max and Fannie Weinberg, although “the possibility of having a minyan, the necessary 10 men for prayer, depended on how many Jewish salesmen were in town for the night,” according to a community history written by a congregant in 1958. Over the following decade, Jewish peddlers and scrap dealers immigrated to New Castle. Many came from Vilna province in Lithuania. They settled on the south side of the town in the vicinity of several industrial facilities, including a tin mill. Soon, many opened shops on Long Avenue, which became the commercial center of Jewish life in New Castle.
A community of approximately 40 members broke ground on a synagogue in August 1894 and incorporated Tifereth Israel Congregation in November 1894. The synagogue was a 28-foot by 48-foot wooden building on Home Street, in the South Side section of the city. The construction cost $2,000. Weinberg was named the first president. Tifereth Israel grew quickly in its first decade, acquiring a cemetery plot in 1899 and establishing a chevra kadisha, or burial society, in 1901. By that time, the congregation included 140 members and was outgrowing its synagogue on Home Street. The community soon moved into an existing building on nearby Moravia Street. Even at the time, the move was seen as a temporary arrangement as the congregation raised money for larger accommodations. In September 1909, Tifereth Israel dedicated a new synagogue on South Jefferson Street, also in the South Side. The congregation held a symbolic mortgage-burning ceremony for the South Jefferson Street synagogue in May 1927.
* * *
Starting in the first decade of the 20th century, a contingent of Reform Jews also began meeting in New Castle. They held services in private homes during the year and rented rooms in various meeting halls for the High Holidays. They engaged a rabbi from nearby Youngstown, Ohio, for funerals, and one member purchased a section in the Oak Park Cemetery on Neshannock Boulevard in New Castle in 1913. The congregation formally consecrated this plot in 1930 and took ownership of the 75 available plots in 1932. Early members of this group included Marcus and Nell Feuchtwanger and Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Kline, both of German ancestry. Eventually, the group attracted families of Eastern European ancestry who were attracted to the liberal theology of Reform Judaism. The group maintained a close association with Rodef Shalom Congregation, the Reform congregation in Pittsburgh. Its well-known rabbi, Dr. J. Leonard Levy, visited New Castle in 1906, when the local Jewish community organized its B’nai B’rith lodge.
In addition to B’nai B’rith, the first quarter of the 20th century saw the establishment of many other Jewish communal institutions in New Castle, including a Zionist Council about 1904, a chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women in 1905, a Hebrew Free Loan Association in 1912, and a Hadassah chapter in 1923. Marcus Feuchtwanger was the first B’nai B’rith president, and Nell Feuchtwanger was the first NCJW president.
The Reform contingency began meeting as the Temple Israel congregation in January 1926. After chartering the congregation in March 1927 with 19 members, they broke ground on a synagogue at the corner of Highland Avenue and Moody Street on the North Hill of the city in April 1927. Architect and charter member J. A. Altschuler designed the synagogue. At a ceremony in November 1927, the building was dedicated in memory of Rabbi Levy, who had died in 1917. Among the dignitaries in attendance were Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland and Rabbi Samuel Goldenson of Rodef Shalom. Feuchtwanger was the first president and held the position until his death in 1944. The congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1928.
A third group, ideologically aligned with the Conservative movement, began meeting in 1925 under the name Beth Shalom. This contingent joined Temple Israel in 1928 but withdrew the following year and eventually dissolved in the 1930s without formalities.
Temple Israel had five rabbis through its first half-century: Jacob B. Menkes, Avery Grossfield, Leo B. Turitz, Norman H. Diamond and Iwan J. Gruen, who served longest — from 1945 until his death in 1981.
* * *
Tifereth Israel and Temple Israel quickly expanded.
In the 1930s, during the worst years of the Great Depression, Tifereth Israel remodeled its chapel, its kitchen, its vestry and its heating system. The membership founded the Merry Eighteen Club for girls in 1931, a Sisterhood in 1934, a Junior Congregation in 1936, and a Men’s Club in 1944. By the end of World War II, the congregation was outgrowing its building on South Jefferson Street. In 1949, there were 180 members. With many of its members moving to the more prosperous North Hill of the city, the congregation started a building fund in 1946 and, in 1954, purchased a lot on Moody Street, a block from Temple Israel. The congregation dedicated a religious school later that year, broke ground on a synagogue in 1957, and dedicated a new building in 1958. By that time, Tifereth Israel had shifted from its Orthodox origins and and aligned its practice with Conservative Judaism.
Temple Israel was also expanding. The congregation organized a Temple Youth Group in 1939 and founded a Sisterhood and a Men’s Club. Throughout the 1930s, the congregation fielded a basketball team in a regional church league. The congregation grew from 14 members in 1926 to 120 members in 1951. By 1962, the congregation acquired a plot of land in Neshannock Township, where many of its members had now lived, but an economic downturn ended plans to build a new synagogue.
Even though both congregations were located on the North Hill, the South Side remained the center of Jewish commercial life. Some of the best-known businesses were Alpern’s Bakery, Moresky’s wholesale candy and cigarettes and I. Samuels and Sons shoes. A list of Jewish owned businesses compiled by congregant Sybil Epstein includes three department stores, six drug stores, several furniture stores, three grocers, five jewelers and various other businesses and professionals such as doctors, dentists and lawyers. The Jewish community also has connections to business of national importance. Although the four Warner brothers never lived in New Castle, they opened their first movie theater at the corner of East Washington and Mill Streets in downtown in 1903. New Castle natives and one-time Tifereth Israel members Forrest and Leroy Raffel started the Arby’s fast food chain (named after the “Raffel Brothers,” or “RBs”) in Boardman, Ohio, in 1964.
* * *
The Jewish population of New Castle began to decline in the late 1960s, as birth rates fell, major industry left the region and college graduates resettled in other cities.
The theological differences between the congregations diminished after Tifereth Israel joined the Conservative movement, and the two congregations merged their respective religious schools in 1973. The congregations began working on a complete merger in the 1980s, although those efforts were scuttled by a lawsuit from members. The two congregations successfully merged in 1997, after nearly five years of discussions. The combined congregations sold the Temple Israel building, moved into the existing Tifereth Israel synagogue up the block and changed the name to Temple Hadar Israel.
In 2015, the congregation sold its synagogue to a local business owner. An arrangement with the new owner allowed the congregation to continue using the sanctuary for weekly and holiday services.
This exhibit was made possible through the generous support of Temple Hadar Israel.