The Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools Program was an educational initiative providing teacher training, curriculum development, classroom materials, and financial aid to Jewish religious schools in smaller communities in Pittsburgh and throughout the surrounding tri-state region. Throughout its existence, the program organized at least 73 schools with some 325 teachers and 3,000 students. The National Council of Jewish Women-Pittsburgh Section and the Rodef Shalom Congregation Sisterhood sponsored the program and oversaw its implementation.
The Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools Program emerged from several Jewish educational initiatives in the late 19th and early 20th century, including the Center Avenue Religious School and the Jewish Religious School Teachers Association of Western Pennsylvania. These coalesced into the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools Program in the early 1920s under the leadership of Field Supervisor Miriam Schoenfield. Schoenfield created local Mothers’ Clubs to ensure community support, trained teachers personally in her home, and crafted specific educational materials according to the nature of Jewish observance in each community.
Following Schoenfield’s death in 1934, Field Supervisors of the Southwestern District were Chester Bandman (interim, 1934), Abe Cohen (1934-1937), Saul Spiro (1937-1942), Mildred Kreimer (1942-1946), Oscar Harter (1946-1961), and Maurice Levy (1961-1966). The program ended around 1966, with the rise of congregational Sunday schools and the decline of youth population within small-town Jewish communities.
At various points in its existence, the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools Program oversaw religious schools in the following congregations, communities, and institutions throughout the region: Congregation Adath Israel (Oakland), Congregation Adath Jeshurun (East Liberty), Aliquippa, Ambridge, Barnesboro, Beaver Valley, Bentleyville, Congregation Beth El (Beechview), Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol (Hill District), Congregation Beth Israel (Deutschtown-North Side), Congregation Beth Jehuda (Manchester-North Side), Congregation B’nai Emunoh (Greenfield), Braddock, Brownsville, Butler, California, Canonsburg, Carnegie, Charleroi, Connellsville, DuBois, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh, East Liverpool (Ohio), Ellwood City, Etna, Ford City, Glassport, Greensburg, Hazelwood, the Hilltop Jewish Community Club (Belzhoover), Homestead, Homewood, Huntingdon (West Virginia), Indiana, the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House, Irwin, Jeannette, Johnstown, Kehilath Jeshurun (Schenley Heights), Kiski Valley, Kittanning, Latrobe, Lawrenceville, McDonald, Masontown, McKees Rocks, Midland, Monongahela, Morganza Correctional School, Mt. Pleasant, Nanty Glo, New Castle, New Kensington, Congregation Ohave Zedeck (Oakland), Penn Avenue (Bloomfield and the Strip District), Congregation Poale Zedeck (Squirrel Hill), Portage, Rankin, Scottdale, South Fork, Southside, Swissvale, Tarentum, Thornhill Correctional School, Torath Chaim Congregation (East Liberty), Uniontown, Washington, Weirton (West Virginia), West End, Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, Wilkinsburg, Woodlawn, and Woods Run.