Kittanning was the site of a major battle during the French and Indian War and later settled. The borough was incorporated in 1803 and eventually became the seat of Armstrong County. By the early 20th century, the area around Kittanning had become an important industrial center, with several mines, mills and factories. Among these facilities was a clothing factory owned by Sidney Kaufman, who was a member of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh.
Various sources provide conflicting dates for the beginning of a Jewish community in Kittanning. According a January 1940 survey conducted by the Works Progress Administration Church Archives, a group of Jewish families first began meeting in 1896, for the purposes of starting a religious school. In his book The Jewish Experience in Western Pennsylvania, A History: 1755-1945, Jacob Feldman places the beginnings of the community in 1900, when several Jewish immigrants from Lithuania began walking to religious services at the home of Louis Pollock in Manorville, which was equidistant from the bigger towns of Kittanning and Ford City. A community history published in 1954 put the date of these services at 1905. According to a different community history, 15 women founded the Mother’s Club of Kittanning in January 1912 and ran a religious school at the International Order of the Odd Fellows Hall at 315 Jacobs Street and later at the Kittanning Academy Building at 370 N. Jefferson Street until approximately 1918, when the school joined the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools program run by the National Council of Jewish Women.
Some of the earliest Jewish families in the Kittanning community were the Appels, the Adelsons, the Caplans, the Gruskins, the Pollocks, the Rambachs, the Silverblatts and a shochet (ritual slaughterer) from Ford City named Harry Friedman. No later than 1918, these families chartered Kneseth Israel Congregation and purchased an existing residence that they converted into a synagogue. Israel Rambach was the first president of the group and Morris Adelson was the first vice president. The congregation paid off the mortgage for the building in 1941. A decade after, a newly formed building committee began discussing plans to build a new synagogue. The congregation eventually sold its original synagogue and hired architect Alexander Sharove to design a new synagogue . The congregation broke ground of the building in 1953 and dedicated a new synagogue at 599 N. Water Street in 1954.
An important feature of the new synagogue was two series of stained glass windows. One series of 13 windows depicted Jewish history from creation to the founding of the State of Israel. A second series of eight windows depicted the major Jewish holidays.
The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 145 for Kittanning in its 1918-1919 edition. The figure might have included Ford City, given that the yearbook listed a population of 109 for Kittanning and 68 for Ford City in the 1928-1929 edition. In the 1940-1941 yearbook, the population of Kittanning increased to 167 and the population of Ford City decreased to 35. Kittanning and Ford City had a combined Jewish population of 200 in the 1951 yearbook, and Kittanning had a Jewish population 175 in the 1984 yearbook. According to congregational notes, Kneseth Israel had approximately 200 members at the time of a mortgage burning ceremony for the new synagogue in 1960 but only 20 members when the congregation sold its synagogue to a local church in 1987.