The area now known as Clairton, Pa. was a sparsely populated section fo Allegheny County until the Carnegie Steel Company built a steel mill and coke plant in the area in the early 1900s. Under the ownership of the U.S. Steel Corporation, the Clairton plant became one of the largest of its kind in the world. Clairton was incorporated as a borough in 1903 and became a third-class city in 1922, when it merged with the nearby boroughs of Wilson and North Clairton.
The first Jewish settlers in Clairton arrived shortly after the mill was built. They organized Congregation B’nai Abraham Anshe Sfard in 1903 and incorporated the Orthodox congregation in 1908. The charter members were David Krill, Abraham Recht, Max Recht, Morris Recht, Sam Recht and Bernet B. Samuels. In 1918, the congregation purchased and renovated a former Presbyterian church at First Street (now Reed Street) and Waddell Avenue at a cost of $10,000, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Daily Post. To accommodate the tradition of facing toward Jerusalem during prayer, the ark holding the Torah was placed at the east-facing front entrance and worshipers entered the building through the kitchen.
By the 1930s, many Jewish families in Clairton also belonged to congregations in the larger borough of nearby McKeesport, Pa., in part for religious school and cemetery privileges. The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 230 for Clairton in its 1940-1941 edition and 120 in its 1951 edition. Congregation B’nai Abraham Anshe Sfard had just twelve members at the time of the dedication and only had seven by the mid-1930s. Despite its small membership, the congregation employed a spiritual leader, Rabbi Jacob Friedman, throughout most of the 1930s. The Jewish communities of Clairton and nearby Elizabeth, Pa. also briefly supported a B’nai B’rith lodge, a Hadassah chapter and an intermittent religious school.
The total population of Clairton peaked in the 1950s and declined rapidly after U.S. Steel discontinued steelmaking operations at the plant in 1962, one of the earlier plant closings in Western Pennsylvania. By the early 1970s, Congregation B’nai Abraham Anshe Sfard was no longer holding regular religious services. The four remaining members—Leonard Chotiner, Norman Ilkuvitz, Herman Silberblatt and Max Zweibel—liquidated the assets of the congregation in 1979 and 1980 and donated the proceeds to Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Achei T’mimim in Squirrel Hill. The former synagogue building was later demolished.