Rankin was incorporated as a borough in 1892, as the waterfront along the Allegheny River southeast of Pittsburgh began to attract major industrial operations such as the Duquesne Forge Company and the Homestead Steel Works’ Carrie Furnaces.
The early settlement of Rankin included “a substantial number of Jews,” according to an ethnographic survey of the borough in 1992 by Daniel A. Karaczun. Even though a much larger Jewish community in neighboring Braddock was within walking distance, a group of Jewish immigrants from Germany and Hungary chartered Congregation Sons of Israel in Rankin on April 29, 1908. They prayed in private homes or rented halls until 1910, when they built a synagogue at the corner of Second Avenue and Grace Street.
The Jewish population of Rankin increased through the first four decades of the 20th century. The American Jewish Yearbook counted 60 people in its 1918-1919 edition and 100 in its 1940-1941 edition. According to anecdotal evidence, the membership of Congregation Sons of Israel peaked at approximately 100 families, which would suggest that some of the members might have lived in nearby communities, such as Braddock or Swissvale.
Aside from a religious school operated under the auspices of the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools program, it is unclear whether the congregation or the wider Jewish community established many communal organizations. A charitable and social organization called the Daughters of Israel was organized in the 1920s. Before Sons of Israel was chartered, some Rankin residents were members of B’nai B’rith Lodge No. 516 in Braddock.
As Jewish families left Rankin in the decade after World War II, Sons of Israel stopped holding regular weekly services. The synagogue hosted its final High Holidays services in 1956, and the congregation sold the building to the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County in July 1959. The board of the congregation continued to meet into the 1980s to oversee its cemetery, once known as the 11th Street Cemetery, on Sherwood Road in Forest Hills.