About B'nai Abraham Synagogue in Butler, PA
About B’nai Abraham
Jews were living in Butler as early as 1829, but it was the 1902 opening of Standard Steel Car Company that doubled Butler’s population and brought a number of Jewish families here. By 1903, twenty-five Jewish families decided to establish a religious school and place of worship. Three years later, thirteen Jewish men applied for a charter for a “Hebrew Congregation B’nai Abraham.”
March 13, 1911 marked the dedication of the first synagogue in Butler, located on Fifth Avenue. This building, which also featured a mikvah in an adjoining house, is still standing. Although currently vacant, it housed the Church of the Nazarene for many years after our congregation outgrew and sold it. It is believed that our cemetery plot was purchased in 1912.
Butler’s Jewish community continued to grow, reaching its zenith in the 1950’s. In 1948, the Edward Reiber Home was purchased and remodeled. More than sixty years later, the beautiful Victorian home still houses our Library. Eventually, an adjoining site was purchased and an architect engaged to design a synagogue and community center to connect to the Reiber property. Dedicated in 1956, the synagogue and social hall are still used for larger services and our many activities.
“Despite resulting difficulties, the Jewish community of Butler always maintained allegiance to a single synagogue. Most early Butler Jews followed the Orthodox tradition, which had been passed on to them in the shtetles of Eastern Europe. As Americanization took hold, new forms of Judaism emerged and individual members began to side more with Conservative or Reform Judaism.” (Leeds) Current liturgical practices draw from both traditions, although the congregation is not affiliated with the national body of either of these movements.
B’nai Abraham’s population includes and embraces a large number of interfaith families. It pulls geographically from a large circumference, up to 50 miles in all directions.
The history of Congregation B’nai Abraham and the Jews of Butler was chronicled in a paper written by Slippery Rock student Alice Leeds in 1988.