A group of German immigrants led by John and Abigal Mason built the Fort Mason blockhouse in present-day Fayette County, southwest of present-day Uniontown, between 1774 and 1778. Early settlers called the area German Township. The borough of Masontown was incorporated in 1876. Its population increased more than four-fold between 1910 and 1930, as the emerging coke and coal industries brought thousands of people to the area.
Among these new settlers were several Jewish families. By 1919, they had become organized enough to contribute as a group to war relief efforts in Pittsburgh. They held High Holidays services in a “public hall” on Main Street starting in 1921, according to a survey from the Works Progress Administration Church Archives.
On January 31, 1924, they chartered Congregation Beth El to worship “according to the faith, doctrine, creed, discipline and usages of the Orthodox Jewish Religion.” The first president of the congregation was Meyer Pearl. Other charter members were Ezra Margolis, Morris Margolis, Samson Rosenshein, L. Towyee, Jacob Hirsch, Ph. Epstein, William Bush, D. Lipshitz, N. Janoff, Louis Franklin, Theo. I. Pinsker, Harry Sandore, Albert Sosin, B. Franklin, Samuel Klein, Harry Kaplan, Abe Kohn, Heymen Frankel and Ben Wolkoff.
In October of that year, William and Rebecca Bush donated a plot of land on Neff Avenue to the congregation. Beth El dedicated a synagogue in September 1925. The red brick building included a first-floor sanctuary with 165 seats upholstered in leather, a wooden ark in “Early English” style and basement with classrooms and meeting space, according to the WPA Church Archives survey.
Congregation Beth El was most active in its first decade. The congregation employed a full-time rabbi—Rabbi Samuel Baran—from 1925 until 1929. A newly formed Ladies Auxiliary organized religious school under the auspices of the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools program in 1926 and hosted social and fundraising events for the community for many years.
At the time of the dedication of the synagogue, Congregation Beth El included approximately 24 families, according to newspaper accounts. The community was small but stable before World War II. The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 90 in its 1928-1929 edition and a population of 85 in its 1940-1941 edition. By the mid-1940s, Sabbath services had become sporadic, even though congregational leaders made several appeals to members over the years in an attempt to increase synagogue attendance.
After donating its furnishings to the Hillel Foundation of West Virginia University in late 1953, Congregation Beth El began discussing plans to disband and sell its synagogue. The congregation ultimately decided to donate the building for use as a community center and library in late 1957. The German-Masontown Public Library occupied the building for many years. The building is currently the home of the Bridge Baptist Church.