The area now known as East Liverpool, Ohio, was settled at the turn of the 19th century, after it was included in a public land auction following the Revolutionary War. The town was known for a time as Fawcettstown, for an early landowner Thomas Fawcett. It became known as Liverpool in 1817, and it was renamed East Liverpool when it was incorporated as a city in 1834 to avoid confusion with the existing Ohio township of Liverpool. By the end of the 19th century, East Liverpool had become a center of the national ceramic industry, with hundreds of potteries in the vicinity. Among these was the Homer Laughlin China Co., which was led by members of the Aaron family for many years.
The industrial growth of East Liverpool and surrounding cities in the Ohio Valley such as Wellsville, Ohio; Chester and Newell, West Virginia; and Midland, Pa. attracted a small Jewish population. The earliest Jewish families to settle in the area were largely from Germany, although a few came from Poland. A small group began holding prayer services in private homes about 1880 and worshiped according to the liberal traditions of Central Europe, according to remembrances by resident Eva Wasbutzky in 1976.
The group organized a Reform congregation called B’nai Israel in 1894. The early leaders of the congregation were Julius Goetz, William Erlanger Sr. and William Erlanger Jr., Gustave Bendheim, Adolph Joseph, Henry Newman, Mendel Wasbutzky, Jacob Stein and a Mr. Lang and Mr. Livingston, according to Wasbutzky. The congregation held worship services and later religious school classes in rented halls in the city, including the Elks Lodge, the Odd Fellows Hall, the Moose Hall, the Oyster Building on East Sixth Street and the Citizens National Bank on Washington Street.
A second group of Jewish families organized an Orthodox prayer group in the early 1900s and chartered Congregation B’nai Jacob in 1908, according to a history of the community in the Jewish Criterion in 1919. The early leaders of the congregation included Abraham Fisher, Morris Sarbin, Benjamin Wolk, Meyer Reich, L. Caplan, Charles Wasbutzky, Leon Rich, Harry Godron, Morris Fineman, Harvey Aronson, Nathan Conrich, Abraham Sand, Julius Sulkes and others, according to Wasbutzky.
For a time, the religious school was the chief Jewish organization in East Liverpool and attracted children from both Reform and Orthodox families. The school held its first confirmation in 1913 with five students, and its second in 1916 with six students. As early as 1934, the school was operating under the auspices of the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools program, one of its few outside Pennsylvania.
By 1919, the community also had a B’nai B’rith lodge with 37 members. The lodge was later named in honor of Gustave Bendheim, a leader of the Reform contingent. The East Liverpool community had a Hadassah chapter by 1924 and a Zionist District by 1928.
Congregation B’nai Jacob built a small brick synagogue on East Third Street in 1915 at a cost of $5,000 and hired Rabbi Hyman Fine for a three-year term in 1918. The congregation established a cemetery about 1924, after previously using a section of a Jewish cemetery in Steubenville, Ohio. Congregation B’nai Israel began a fundraising campaign for its synagogue in 1919 and dedicated a $40,000 building on Fifth Street in 1922. The congregation hired Rabbi I. E. Philo, of Temple Rodef Shalom in Youngstown, Ohio, to teach religious school classes and led services on a part-time basis.
The total population of East Liverpool increased rapidly through World War I and more slowly through World War II before declining steadily through the latter half of the 20th century. The Jewish population followed a similar trend. The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 300 in its 1918-1919 edition, which rose to 500 by the 1928-1929 edition and 535 by the 1940-1941 edition, before falling to 365 in the 1951 edition. The yearbook listed a population of 300 in its 1984 edition and 200 in its 1992 edition.
By the early 1960s, East Liverpool and the surrounding towns could no longer support two congregations. The trustees of the B’nai Israel and B’nai Jacob voted to merge in November 1962 and created Congregation Beth Shalom. The new congregation used the former B’nai Israel synagogue and sold the East Third Street building. The merged congregation had more Torah scrolls than it required and donated one to the Hillel chapter at Oberlin College. By the time of the merger, the Orthodox contingent in East Liverpool had largely shifted toward a Conservative ideology. Congregation Beth Shalom incorporated multiple forms of worship and ritual into its communal observance.
As early as 1966, an East Liverpool Jewish Federation was organized to oversee charitable and communal activities. The membership included Congregation Beth Shalom and its Sisterhood, the local B’nai B’rith Lodge and Hadassah chapter and the Hillel Study Group. The Federation donated funds to both local and national causes.
With continued outmigration from East Liverpool, Congregation Beth Shalom had fewer than 10 members by late 2016 but continued the hold services on the High Holidays.