The concept of a Young Men’s Hebrew Association struggled for decades to take hold in Pittsburgh with five short-lived attempts by different groups between 1877 and 1905.
The first Young Men’s Hebrew Association in Pittsburgh was formed in November 1877, following a public call from the American Israelite newspaper for young Jews in the city to follow the recent example of their colleagues in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cincinnati. The Young Men’s Hebrew Association was the first major Jewish youth organization in Pittsburgh. By 1880, it had some 90 members, largely drawn from the Rodef Shalom Congregation. The association was overseen by adviser Josiah Cohen.
Unlike earlier attempts at organizing Jewish youth in Pittsburgh, young people actively directed the affairs of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. Activities included lectures, recitals, debates, theatrical productions, and social events such as picnics and dances. The first iteration of the local Young Men’s Hebrew Association dissolved before 1884.
A second Young Men’s Hebrew Association with different leadership held an inaugural event in March 1886 at its new hall 175 Federal St. in Allegheny, Pa., now the North Side of Pittsburgh. The group was again largely drawn from Rodef Shalom Congregation. A competing organization called the Young Men’s Hebrew and Literary Debating Society emerged in 1899, composed largely of recent Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Rabbi Samuel Greenfield of Rodef Shalom Congregation reorganized the Young Men’s Hebrew Association for a third time in 1893 and included a ladies auxiliary. It dissolved and liquidated its assets sometime around 1899, when Rabbi Greenfield left Pittsburgh.
A fourth Young Men’s Hebrew Association existed for only a few months in 1900,. it was impacted by the displacement during the construction of the new Rodef Shalom Congregation synagogue on Eighth Street in downtown Pittsburgh. The organization attempted to temporarily relocate its library to the J. M Gusky Orphanage and to utilize the gym at the Columbian Council School but ultimately discontinued meeting instead.
A fifth Young Men’s Hebrew Association was founded in early 1903, following a call from the local Jewish Criterion. Among its activities were a recital in 1903 and an employment bureau in the Bijou Building in 1904. The group disbanded in late 1905.
A sixth Young Men’s Hebrew Association was founded in 1910 in the vestry room of the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue on Craft Avenue in Oakland. It merged with the new Young Women’s Hebrew Association in 1912 to create the Young Men’s & Women’s Hebrew Association. The Young Men’s & Women’s Hebrew Association merged with the Irene Kaufmann Center in 1961 to become the Y-IKC. The Y-IKC changed its name in 1974 to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.