Homestead Hebrew Congregation

Please check out my new site, HomesteadHebrews.com!

The Hepps Family Book, quoting my father's beloved Cousin Bobby, relates: "The Heppses attended the orthodox synagogue Rodef Shalom in Homestead which Barney (and I assume several of his relatives) h elped to build literally brick-by-brick." After some research and assistance from the archivist at an unrelated (and far more illustrious) Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh, I've been able to put some facts behind this amazing statement.

Our family's Homestead Hebrew Congregation was organized in 1894 and disbanded in 1992. Its records are now held by the Rauh Jewish Archives of the Heinz History Center. The "finding guide" provides the following history of the synagogue building itself:

The Homestead Hebrew Congregation started with only 18 chartered members, who in 1896 purchased a plot of land in Homeville (Pa.) to serve as the congregants' cemetery. In 1901 a lot on Ammon Street in Homestead was purchased for the site of the Congregation's first synagogue. Dedicated in 1902, this building served the growing Jewish community of Homestead, Munhall, McKeesport, and other neighboring areas...In 1911, the synagogue caught fire and burned beyond repair. By this time the Congregation had grown to about 65 families. The loss of the synagogue to fire enabled the Congregation to plan for a larger facility in order to accommodate the growing Jewish community. In March of 1911, a new location on 10th Avenue and McClure Street in Homestead was purchased and construction soon began for a new, larger synagogue which was completed in 1914.

But I found something even cooler: proof of Bernhardt's involvement in building the shul! The Rodef Shalom archivist pointed me to the Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, which has nearly every issue of the main Jewish newspapers published in Pittsburgh since 1895. Amidst notices about an "extended Eastern trip" my grandmother took when she was 22 (four years prior to the publication of her engagement announcement—followed, of course, by an announcement of when her parents would receive well-wishers), the "black and white cape suit" she wore to her sister's wedding, and countless other amusing items (what passed for news in those days!), I found the following two articles about the dedications of the two synagogue buildings:

Newspaper article announcing the March 30, 1902 dedication

March 28, 1902 Dedication

1/19/12 article announcing a benefit to rebuilt the synagogue

1/19/1912 article

Newspaper article announcing the September 6, 1914 dedication

September 4, 1914 Dedication

Here it what it looks like today (courtesy of Google Maps):

Homestead Hebrew Congregation today

It is now a non-denomational church, The Community of the Crucified One.

The Hepps Family Books also says that Bernhardt and his brother, Alex, founded the cemetery where much of the family is buried, and that their family plots flank the entrance. I was able to corroboate some of this by searching for Heppses buried in Pennsylvania in the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry. Bernhardt and Alex and some of their siblings and many of their descendents are, indeed, buried in the Homestead Hebrew Cemetery, about which the database says the following:

The Homestead Hebrew Congregation was organized in 1894 as an Orthodox congregation to serve what was then a small Jewish community in Homestead (Allegheny County), Pennsylvania. The Congregation eventually disbanded in 1992. The cemetery chairman is Allen B. Smook, 1052 Welfer Street, Pittsburgh PA 15217.

Here is what it looks like today (again courtesy of Google Maps):



Satellite view of Homestead Hebrew Cemetery

It's impossible to tell from the burial locations or Google Maps whether the "flanking the entrance" part is true.