History

The Jewish community in Chester, PA has a long history that echoes the modern day values of Congregation Ohev Shalom. Although the first Jews settled in this area of the country as early as the Civil War, Ohev Shalom as we know it was not officially created and chartered until early 1920. At that point, two synagogues existed in Chester – B’nai Israel and B’nai Aaron. On March 29 of that year, the two congregations merged and formed Congregation Ohev Shalom, meaning “Lover of Peace.” Although there was now a bigger, more united congregation, the Jewish world in Chester was still fragmented and disparate. There were now three distinct buildings serving the needs of the Jewish community: the Ohev Shalom Synagogue, the YMHA Community Center, and the Religious School.

In 1925, the directors of the YMHA decided to purchase a plot of ground on Eighth Street that would be the site of a new Congregation Ohev Shalom synagogue-center. Again, A. W. Wolson directed the community in this tremendous undertaking, and launched a Capital Campaign in May 1926. Over the course of three days, $75,000 was raised – only half of the cost of the plot. After a mortgage of $50,000 and notes amounting to $25,000, the congregation was able to buy the land, and the building was dedicated on September 17, 1927 under the chairmanship of Harry Baron. Rabbi Philip Alstat delivered the dedication address, and Judge McDade and Bishop Tate were also in attendance. The actual dedication service was held without pews.

Including the Religious School in the new building was one of the most important goals of Congregation Ohev Shalom. The Chester Hebrew School had been reorganized in 1926 under the presidency of Samuel Bloom, and between September of that year, and July 1927, the number of pupils increased from 75 to 160. During this reorganization, “Junior Congregation” was formed, in which the students in the higher classes established two clubs: the girls’ club, “Judith,” which was devoted to the study and discussion of problems in Judaism, Zionism and the life of American Jewry, and “Hakoah Juniors,” an organization devoted mainly to sports.

The school consisted of seven classes in subjects that were taught in accordance with the modern methods that were “in vogue” with the leading Hebrew Schools in the country. The Sunday School, which was still under the auspices of the National Council of Jewish Women, had an enrollment of 169 students.

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