The first Jewish residents of present-day Nanty Glo arrived at the end of the 19th century, when coal deposits were attracting miners to Cambria County several decades before the borough was incorporated, Abraham Donofsky came to the area about 1890 to sell blasting powder to the mines. As the town grew, he opened a furniture store that later became a general store, according to an oral history of his grandson, Allan Zeman.
The Jewish population of Nanty Glo peaked in the 1920s at approximately 45 people, according to the American Jewish Yearbook. The Jewish community never chartered a congregation and never built synagogue. Families usually prayed in private homes. For the High Holidays, they would rent rooms at the local Moose lodge and hire a cantor from nearby Altoona, who would also come to the town when needed to tutor bar mitzvah students. As early as 1925, a Mother’s Club in Nanty Glo was overseeing a branch of the Southwestern District of Pittsburgh Jewish Religious Schools program. The students were regularly confirmed at Rodef Sholom Congregation in Johnstown.
The Jewish community of Nanty Glo was dependent on the larger community in Johnstown for some religious goods and services. For many years, families who kept kosher patronized a butcher in Johnstown. When the butcher closed, those families had to travel all the way to Pittsburgh to buy meat. Along with the nearby towns of Barnesboro, Portage and Windber, Nanty Glo was under the umbrella of the United Jewish Appeal and Jewish Community Council of Johnstown, which was created in 1938.
The Jewish population of Nanty Glo remained small but stable through the beginning of World War II. In the years following the war, the Jewish community shrank as the overall population of the borough declined. At various points between the 1920s and the 1940s, Nanty Glo had at least three Jewish-owned department stores: Donofsky’s, Edelstein’s and Levinson’s. In 1921, a Jewish immigrant from Kiev named Herman Sedloff began to publish the Nanty Glo Journal, which he oversaw until his retirement in 1962, according to a profile by Nanty Glo native Francis “Frank” Charney. Some other Jewish families in Nanty Glo from those years include Aaron, Berkowitz and Newman.