Rabbi Jacob Goldfarb (1871-1949) immigrated to the United States in 1890 from Lithuania. He sought a rabbinic position in Pittsburgh. Instead, Rabbi Moshe Shimon Sivitz of Shaaray Torah Congregation dispatched him to the nearby town of Connellsville, Pa. About a month later, the small but dedicated Jewish community in Washington, Pa., asked Rabbi Sivitz for help forming a congregation, and Rabbi Sivitz sent the promising young rabbi to their aid, according to a 1981 article in the Washington Observer-Reporter. In 1891, Rabbi Goldfarb and the community founded a small congregation.
The elders of the congregation felt the young bachelor rabbi should be married. “Delicately they suggested to him that a young lady then living in London, England — the niece of a member of the congregation — would be the ideal wife for him,” Harriet Branton wrote in the Observer-Reporter article. “Arrangements were made and that is how it developed that Zelda Simon journeyed to western Pennsylvania to meet her future husband.” Rabbi Jacob Goldfarb and Zelda Simon were married for more than 50 years, until her death in 1942. They had seven children, one of whom died as a child.
Under Rabbi Goldfarb’s leadership, the Jews of Washington held services in private homes and then in a rented building. They chartered Beth Israel Congregation in December 1901. The cornerstone for a synagogue was laid at the corner of North Franklin and West Spruce streets in June 1902. He oversaw remodeling efforts in 1914 and 1939 while managing the spiritual needs of a congregation that had 125 families at its peak. He was both the rabbi and the cantor of the congregation and the main teacher in its daily Hebrew school. He officiated at several weddings in his home each week. He also sold insurance, designed tombstones and built bookcases and other small pieces of furniture.
After leading the congregation for 50 years, Rabbi Goldfarb retired in 1941.