In 1829, Jewish settlers, predominantly from Germany, began moving to the Butler area, drawn by its growing prosperity. Another wave of Eastern European Jews immigrated to the area in the early 1900s, as the newly-established Pullman Standard plant and ancillary industrial development provided new employment opportunities. Many of these immigrants were single men who saved up to bring their families to the area after they had established economic stability. This focus on family set the tone for the Butler Jewish community in the early 20th century, and continues to hold true for the community today. In 1903 the 25 Jewish families that settled in the Butler area decided to organize a faith-based community.
The budding Jewish community in Butler made room for both traditions brought by Western Reformed German Jews and those of Orthodox Jews. They built a cohesive congregation, one that benefited from, rather than divided over, their differences. The blending of Western and Eastern European Jewish tradition has often been a challenge in places with a large Jewish population. Large Jewish communities typically worshiped in separate synagogues according to their tradition. The congregation’s small size made it, somewhat by necessity, a working model of cross-cultural unification. The name they chose reflects their commitment to unity: The Congregation B’nai (the Children of) Abraham.
The community formed in 1903 and received its official charter in March of 1906, but the congregation still did not have a building to call home until March 1911, when they dedicated the first B’nai Abraham Synagogue on Fifth Avenue. By 1919, the congregation had grown to 250 members, and in that same year they installed their first ordained rabbi, A.H. Kahn, a native of Brooklyn who studied at Yale, Columbia University, and Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The synagogue’s rabbis through the years have guided the congregation in matters both spiritual and social. B’Nai Abraham rabbi R. Allen Secher, a Butler native, was active in the civil rights movement, and was among 16 Jewish clergy members arrested in 1964 civil rights protests in St. Augustine, Florida as they attempted to integrate segregated swimming pools.
The congregation’s present-day synagogue is a fitting representation of the community itself - understated but solidly-built, proud, yet blending unassumingly with the surrounding neighborhood. Plans for the present building orginated in 1954 when the congregation’s President, William Horwitz, who was also the president of the Keystone Pipe and Supply Company, bought the Brandon House and adjacent property to erect a new Synagogue and Jewish center. On August 15th, 1955 William Horwitz had the honor of laying the cornerstone for the new Synagogue, which was finished and dedicated in November 1956. The congregation used the old structure (the Brandon House) for Sunday school, while the new structure housed the chapel, social hall, and kitchen.
Since that time the synagogue on North Main Street has been the center of Jewish life for Butler and the surrounding area, striving to honor the plurality of its community and working together with other faith groups to celebrate and advance mutual ideals. The Congregation is also a hub for other Jewish groups such as the B’nai Abraham Sisterhood, the Butler Hadassah, B'nai B’rith Organization, and the Jewish War Veterans. As Rabbi Walter Boninger aptly described in 1988, “Butler’s Jewish community remains active, with pride in its past and great hope for its future.”