History of New Light Congregation
A rising number of Jewish immigrants from Romania began arriving in Pittsburgh at the turn of the 20th century. Known as fussgeyers (foot goers), many Romanian Jews walked across Eastern Europe to escape brutal oppression and to find their passage to America. Those who settled in Pittsburgh established several Orthodox congregations in the city’s Hill District neighborhood, the first of which was Oher Chodesh (New Light), at first called Roberts Street Ohel Jacob Synagogue (Tent of Jacob), which was chartered in 1899.
By 1903, it had become one of the larger congregations in the city, having grown to over 400 men, women and children. On the day the Roberts Street building was dedicated, September 13, 1903, the Jews of the neighborhood were so anxious to view the interior that it took six policeman and many congregation leaders to keep the crowd from bursting through the doors. In 1909, the name was officially changed to Oir Hudish Congregation of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Another Romanian congregation, Shaare Shamayim Anshe Romanian, merged with Oir Hudish. in 1912, at which point the synagogue became locally known as the “Big Romanian Shul.”
In June 1922, Oir Hudish purchased a lot on 83 Roberts Street and a cemetery. An article in the Jewish Criterion dated January 10, 1926 says “A party was held at the Congregation New Light, Roberts Street, at which time the mortgage was burned.”
The Oir Hudish congregation had an active sisterhood and men’s club and offered financial services to its members through its Building and Loan Association. Members of the Oir Hudish congregation led the charitable efforts of the Romanian Lebanon Society, a benevolent organization founded about 1901 to help recent Romanian Jewish immigrants settle into their new lives in Pittsburgh.
The Jewish community throughout Pittsburgh’s Hill District began to diminish after World War II, as many Jews moved to the city’s East End neighborhoods.
Sometime in the 1940’s the congregation adopted the name Oher Chodesh, but by the 1950’s became commonly known as New Light Congregation.
By the early 1950’s the congregation considered merging with another Squirrel Hill congregation or purchasing its a lot in Squirrel Hill. After much discussion (and disagreement) New Light left the Hill District in 1955 and opened a new synagogue on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Beechwood Blvd. in Squirrel Hill in 1957. The lot, owned by Mr. Hodge, the President of U.S.Steel, cost $50,000. A proviso in an earlier deed states that horses may not be kept in the stable (now garage) in the rear of the property.
By the late 1960’s New Light again faced a choice between merging with another congregation or expanding its building. After much discussion (and disagreement), the congregation elected to expand, building a new sanctuary addition in 1970 and converting the former sanctuary into a social hall.
In 1996, Sisterhood made arrangements to have a new sign affixed to the front of the building.
In 2012, a lighted sign was installed on the front lawn.
In 2016, faced with declining membership and a building in need of significant repair, the congregation elected to sell the building and to rent space in the Tree of Life building on the corner of Wilkins and Shady Avenues.
Following the mass shooting in the Tree of Life building, where three New Light congregants were murdered, the congregation moved to temporarily rent space in the Beth Shalom building while the Tree of Life building underwent reconstruction.