History of Beth Samuel Jewish Center
Early history of our Jewish Community is shrouded in vague and uncertain memory. We do know, however, that it was at the turn of the century that Jewish men and women began to settle in the Beaver Valley area. These early settlers met their spiritual needs with minyans held in community homes. From these meetings, shuls evolved in the communities of Aliquippa, Ambridge, Coraopolis, and West Aliquippa.
An early congregant of the Beth Jacob Shul in West Aliquippa reminisced about those bygone days:
"I remember the bitter cold winter mornings when we kindled a fire in our old fashioned wood stove with a copy of The Jewish Forward. By the time the shul was warm, the minyan was over.
I remember the arguments during high holiday services when the men wanted the windows opened and the women wanted windows closed.
I remember holidays when all the seats were taken, and I had to stand with my dad during the whole service.
I remember playing tag in the shul yard and trapping beautiful butterflies by day and lightening bugs by night.
I remember Abe Labensky who was caretaker, janitor, and president of the shul for thirty-five years. On Hanukah and Simhat Torah, he brought corned beef, herring, and pickles from Pittsburgh. We made sandwiches and drank Yaky's pop.
I remember cheder with our teacher Rabbi Klein and the arguments he had with the boys."
Early members of other congregations had similar memories. By 1909, inhabitants of Aliquippa had banded together to form an Agudath Achim, a union of brothers. Services were held in Logstown Church, in the Romanian Hall on Kiehl Street, and at the German Beneficial Society on Sheffield Avenue. In 1919, a state charter was granted to Agudath Achim Synagogue; and in 1921, the congregation purchased a one story frame building on Church Street and remodeled it into the house of worship which served until the congregation was dissolved in 1959 upon dedication of the new Aliquippa Jewish Community Center.
The Beth Samuel Congregation in Ambridge evolved from similar beginnings. The first minyans were held in members homes and stores. In 1914, the charter of Beth Schmuil Congregation was entered in the records of the Beaver County Courts, giving birth to a legal body dedicated to "Public Worship of the Almighty." The first shul was housed in the old Ambridge Library on Maplewood Avenue. During the Great Depression, this site was given up and the Torahs were kept in the home of Sam and Mollie Iwler, who provided a room for Hebrew classes. The congregation rented various rooms for Sunday School and High Holiday Services...the Elks Club, the Prince Movie Theater building, the third floor of the building at the corner of 6th and Merchant Streets. In 1941, the congregation dedicated its first permanent synagogue in a building purchased for $3,000 at 463 Maplewood Avenue. By 1959, the congregation had outgrown this facility. Ground was purchased at Latimer Avenue near Eight Street, and in 1963, The Beth Samuel Synagogue and Community Center was dedicated.
In the early 1930's, Coraopolis Jews who had also been meeting in members homes, rented the Lyric Theater which was located on Mill Street. Ahavath Sholom Temple prospered. The need for a religious school to accommodate the children of over forty families became a priority and the congregation moved to a building at Fourth and Main Streets. Here, the congregation weathered not only the Great Depression, but also the 1936 flood when the building was inundated. In the early 1950's, the congregation purchased a church at the corner of Vance of Fleming Streets. Leonard Cahen supervised the laborers, members of the congregation, who plumbed, pointed and repaired their newly acquired house of worship. In the late 1950's, the congregation considered building an addition to the temple in order to accommodate sixty-five religious school students. However, before plans were complete, the population explosion subsided; and as with the other congregations, Ahavath Sholom began to experience a declining membership.
Beth Jacob Congregation in West Aliquippa was the first to dwindle to the point where it merged with Aliquippa Jewish Community Center in 1959. As their populations decreased, Aliquippa Community Center joined with the Ambridge congregation which was also experiencing a decline in membership to form Beth Samuel Jewish Center in 1970. By 1982, the jointure was complete when Ahavath Sholom joined Beth Samuel.
-From the Beth Samuel Jewish Center 75th Anniversary Commemorative Book