Since Jews first settled two centuries ago in the future state of West Virginia (a portion of Virginia that refused to secede the American Civil War), Jews involved themselves in all aspects of wholesaling and retailing. In most cities and many of the small towns, a large percentage of the stores were Jewish owned and operated. Jewish names were found on retail businesses throughout the state. It was not uncommon for the few Jewish residents of a small town to be well known and respected. In some cases, these were the first Jews that the towns’ predominantly Gentile population had ever met. Jews also were involved in manufacturing and distribution on a smaller scale. Jewish pharmacists, doctors, attorneys, dentists could also be found even in the small towns. Among the notable Jews with connections to the state, are the Wheeling native Rabbi Jacob Rader Marcus (historian and founder of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinatti), author Rabbi Abraham Shinedling (1886-1982), civic leader Rabbi Israel Bettan (1889-1957), and author Rabbi Jakob Petuchowski (1925-1991).
A small number of itinerant Jews lived and traded in the region as early as the late 18th century, but not until roughly 1843 was a Jew, Alexander Heyman of Wheeling, documented as settling permanently within the state. By 1846, Wheeling apparently included a sufficient number of Jewish residents to hold High Holiday services, as reported in The Occident Jewish newspaper.
The first official Jewish organization in West Virginia was a Jewish burial society established in Wheeling in 1849 by a small group of German-Jewish immigrants. The group procured land for Jewish burials, organized a burial society and shortly thereafter organized the first Jewish congregation in the state, Congregation L’Shem Shomayim (For the Sake of Heaven).
An earlier Jewish burial ground opened in Charleston in 1836, but the B’nai Israel Congregation in Charleston was organized only informally in 1856, and not legally chartered by the state as the Hebrew Educational Society until 1873. The Charleston cemetery and religious group is today’s Temple Israel. Wheeling’s Congregation L’Shem Shomayim is today’s Temple Shalom.
Because of good retail and merchant opportunities in Wheeling, the Jewish community grew quickly. Family members from Europe and from other parts of the United States were encouraged to settle in Wheeling by relatives already living in the state. As various industries, especially coal mining, grew in West Virginia, opportunities for work and advancement, primarily as merchants and retailers became plentiful and was the main reason that more Jews came to West Virginia, settling in a number of small towns and cities throughout the state.
As the Jewish population grew, formal communal and religious organizations were established in:
In addition, small numbers of Jews also settled elsewhere in the state in towns where the Jewish population was insufficient to establish a formal congregation, although many formed local chapters of Jewish fraternal and charitable groups such as B’nai B’rith and Hadassah. Among these towns were:
In the larger Jewish communities of Wheeling, Huntington and Charleston, members of the Jewish community helped to organize social and business clubs. Jews were also members of the established fraternal, commerce and community groups in each community.
The estimated Jewish population of West Virginia (2,300 in 2014) has declined from 7,000 over the past 50 years because of changes in declines in retail and other small local businesses typically owned by Jews. As was common elsewhere in Jewish communities in interior North America, college age children did not return to West Virginia, preferring to live in larger and less isolated Jewish communities in large metropolitan areas.
There are numerous exceptions, however, and many young people have returned to West Virginia to raise families and continue a family business or strike out in their own careers. Today, dedicated Jewish communities can still be found in the state, forming large Jewish communities in Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown, as well as small Jewish communities in Beckley, Bluefield, Parkersburg and Wheeling.
Charleston has a Reform temple and a Traditional synagogue. It is the largest Jewish community in the state and has a stable community life with diverse religious services and a variety of Jewish community organizations. Temple Israel and B’nai Jacob Synagogue are well-recognized institutions in the city.
Huntington has a magnificent and historic synagogue building, several auxiliary Jewish organizations and continued Jewish involvement in civic and business life in the city. The Tree of Life Synagogue in Morgantown is growing because of their location near West Virginia University. Morgantown is the only college or university in the state to have a local chapter of Hillel, the Jewish student group associated with B’nai B’rith. Synagogues have closed in the last few years in Martinsburg and Williamson.
West Virginia possesses a rich and varied Jewish past and a hopeful Jewish future. The Jewish population of the state supports a variety of synagogues, temples and Jewish social and charitable organizations. There are landmark synagogues, famous and historic businesses, large and small cemeteries and many notable Jewish families such as Angel, Barbakow, Bloch, Broh, Broida, Cohen, Frankenberger, Good, Hyman, Kammer, Loewenstein, Schoenbaum, Weisberg, with a long history in the state.
The following listing contains the addresses for all known Jewish cemeteries and Jewish sections of non-denominational cemeteries in West Virginia. Also listed are those cemeteries in nearby Ohio and Kentucky that are located close to current or former Jewish communities in West Virginia. Over the years, congregations in nearby Bellaire, Ohio, and Ashland, Kentucky, have closed and merged into the West Virginia Jewish congregations in the vicinity. The oldest Jewish cemeteries are those in Wheeling, Charleston and Huntington. The individual city or municipality owns some of the cemeteries listed. Others are commercial cemeteries; a few are owned by the individual temple or synagogue.
Rosedale Cemetery – Beth Jacob Section
2060 Rosedale Road
(304) 263-4922 – (304) 263-4936 fax
The Beth Jacob Cemetery is adjacent to the Rosedale Cemetery and since the Beth Jacob congregation no longer exists, the cemetery is tended by Rosedale and considered by many to be a distinct section of Rosedale. The cemetery opened in 1916, has very few new burials. Records are located at Rosedale. The cemetery has been documented online at Find-a-Grave.com
Spring Hill Cemetery – Jewish Sections
1427 Norway Avenue
Huntington, WV 25705
Several Jewish sections at Spring Hill all now are connected to the Ohev Shalom Congregation. The original B’nai Israel Section was established in 1919 and the Ohev Shalom Section was established in 1880s. The two congregations merged in the 1970s. Spring Hill is owned and operated by the city and is one of oldest cemeteries in the Huntington area. Active.
Bridgeport Cemetery – Jewish Memorial Cemetery
P.O. Box 266
Bridgeport, WV 26330
The Cemetery is located at 400 Benedum Drive and serves the former Jewish community of Clarksburg. The Jewish section was dedicated in 1961 and has an Orthodox section as well as a Non-Traditional Jewish section. The cemetery is owned and operated by the City of Bridgeport. Few new burials.
Spring Hill Cemetery – Jewish Sections
1555 Farnsworth Drive
Charleston, WV 25301
The B’nai Israel Jewish section is one of the oldest Jewish burial grounds in West Virginia and is connected to Temple Israel. Also in Spring Hill is the Loewenstein Family Cemetery, an additional distinct Jewish section established by one of the oldest Jewish families in Charleston. Spring Hill Cemetery is owned by the city and is among the oldest and most opulent in Charleston. Active.
B’nai Jacob Congregation Cemetery
This is a traditional Jewish cemetery established approximately 1900. It is the original cemetery belonging to the B’nai Jacob Congregation. Active. Some new burials, records may be found at the congregation.
B’nai Jacob Congregation New Cemetery
Green Road; US 119 South
This new cemetery was established is approximately 1990. Records are maintained at the congregation.
Monte Vista Park Cemetery – Jewish Section
RR 2, Box 196A
Bluefield, WV 24701
This Jewish cemetery section belongs to the Ahavath Sholom Congregation and is also known as the Mount Sinai Section. It is located off of the Bluefield-Princeton Road. Active, records at cemetery office.
Beverly Hills Memory Gardens – Jewish Sections
P.O. Box 2064
Westover, WV 26502
Located just outside Morgantown, this cemetery has two Jewish sections, one for the former Jewish Community of Fairmont, West Virginia, (Garden of the Ten Commandments) and one for the current Jewish Community of Morgantown (Mount Zion Jewish Section). Active. Records at the cemetery office, no dates avail.
Greenwood Cemetery – Jewish Section
1526 National Road
Wheeling, WV 26003
Mount Wood Jewish Cemetery
Mount Wood Road and Fourth Street
This is the oldest Jewish cemetery in West Virginia established in 1849. It sometimes is referred to as “The Hill Cemetery.” Many of Wheeling’s prominent Jewish families are buried in beautiful memorials here. Some burials, records at Temple Shalom in Wheeling
Memorial Park Jewish Cemetery
Middle Wheeling Creek Road (CR 39)
The Synagogue of Israel, a Conservative congregation in Wheeling, established this cemetery in 1954. After the merger of the two congregations Synagogue of Israel & Temple Shalom, the cemetery came under the administration of Temple Shalom formerly known as the Eoff Street Temple and Woodsdale Temple. The Memorial Park Jewish Cemetery is still referred to by many as the “Synagogue of Israel Cemetery.” Active. Records at Temple Shalom.
Sunset Memorial Cemetery – Temple Beth El Section
1915 Harper Road (2955 Robert C Bird Dr.)
Beckley, WV 25801
This Jewish section belongs to Temple Beth El and was established in 1954. Active. Records at cemetery office
Mount Olivet Cemetery – Jewish Section (cemetery office)
900 Market Street
The Jewish section belongs to the B’nai Israel Congregation. The cemetery is located on 23rd Street near City Park.
Belmont County, Ohio
Agudas Achim Cemetery
Winding Hill Road
This Jewish cemetery was established in 1850 and served the now closed Agudas Achim Congregation. Cemetery records are kept at Temple Shalom in Wheeling with which Agudas Achim merged several years ago. Also known as ”Winding Hill Jewish Cemetery.” The cemetery is closed. Burials are documented at http://billiongraves.com
Jefferson County, Ohio
Temple B’nai Israel Cemetery
1700 Block of Sunset Boulevard
Steubenville, OH 49352
This Jewish cemetery is located just a few minutes from Weirton, West Virginia, and serves the former Jewish Communities of Weirton, WV and Steubenville, OH. It was founded by the former B’nai Israel Congregation of Steubenville, which merged with Beth El of Steubenville to become Beth Israel. The congregation closed in 2013. The cemetery is located adjacent to the Union Cemetery. Burials are documented on http://www.findagrave.com
Union Cemetery – Jewish Section
1720 Sunset Boulevard
Steubenville, OH 49352-1300
Some Jewish burials from the former Weirton Jewish Community also may be found in this cemetery, which was established by the former Beth El Congregation. Steubenville’s two congregations, Beth El and B’nai Israel merged in 1980 to form Beth Israel, which is now closed. The cemetery remains active. Records may be found at Union Cemetery offices.
Synagogues and Temples
The number of synagogues in the state of West Virginia has declined over the years with the emigration of Jewish families from many of the small-town Jewish communities. Towns in the southern part of the state such as Clarksburg, Fairmont, Keystone, Kimball, Logan, Martinsburg, Welch, Weirton, and Williamson no longer host active Jewish congregations. In many other Jewish communities, synagogues and temples have merged because of dwindling populations, Communities in adjacent states, most notably Bellaire, Ohio, and Ashland, Kentucky, have recently have closed and merged its congregations with synagogues in nearby Wheeling and Huntington, respectively.
Many congregations maintain records and papers useful for Jewish genealogical research and general family history research. For information on former Jewish communities and synagogues, contact a local funeral home or library. Often the remaining Jews in the town are well known and are interested in doing what they can to keep the memory of their community alive. Local libraries or historical societies also may have information on former local Jewish communities. Funeral homes are in some cases the only place where information on Jewish burials and cemeteries can be found.
B’nai Sholom Congregation (Reform, Conservative)
949 10th Avenue
Huntington, WV 25701
Congregation B’nai Jacob (Conservative/Traditional)
1599 Virginia Street, East
Congregation B’nai Israel (Reform)
2312 Kanawha Boulevard, East
Charleston, WV 25311
Congregation Ahavath Sholom (Reform)
632 Albemarle Street
P.O. Box 1240
Bluefield, WV 24701
Tree of Life Congregation (Reform)
242 South High Street
Morgantown, WV 26505
Temple Shalom – Congregation Leshem Shomayim (Reform)
23 Bethany Pike
Wheeling, WV 26003
Temple Beth El (Reform)
Belleview Avenue & 2nd Street
Beckley, WV 25801
Temple B’nai Israel (Reform)
P.O Box 1894
Parkersburg, WV 26102
Jefferson County, Ohio
Reform Temple Beth Israel
300 Lovers Lane
Steubenville, OH 43952
Located just a few miles from Weirton, West Virginia. This synagogue closed during 2013. Many of the congregation’s artifacts perhaps including records will be housed at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills – http://thejewishchronicle.net/view/full_story/22984594/article-Steubenville-synagogue-to-close–sale-completed-on-building
Jewish Organizations in West Virginia
Federated Jewish Charities of Charleston Inc.
P.O. Box 1613
Charleston, WV 25326
Federated Jewish Charities of Huntington
P.O. Box 947
Huntington, WV 25713
The synagogues in Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling each have their own congregational archives. Following is an incomplete listing of some collections relevant to the Jews of West Virginia.
Charleston, West Virginia. B’nai Israel Congregation (Virginia Street Temple). Records, 1917-1945. 0.4 linear ft. Collection includes congregational and Temple Sisterhood minute books.
Huntington, West Virginia. Ohev Sholom Congregation. Records, 1946-1956. 1 reel microfilm. Microfilm copy of constitution, by-laws, membership rosters, correspondence and congregational and Board of Trustees minutes.
Logan, West Virginia. Congregation B’nai El, Records, 1924-1970. 2 reels microfilm. Includes microfilm copy of congregational minute book (1924-1938), and Sisterhood minutes (1925-1970).
Parkersburg, West Virginia. Ladies Auxiliary Association, Records, 1909-1925. 0.4 linear ft. Collection includes minutes and miscellaneous records of an organization whose purpose was “to give personal and financial aid to the B’nai Israel Congregation, to foster ideals of Judaism, and support worthy causes.” In 1925 the Association became the Sisterhood of B’nai Israel Congregation.
Welch, West Virginia. Congregation Emanu-El, Records, 1921-1959. 1.2 linear ft. Collection consists of financial records (1928-1935), Sisterhood constitution, by-laws, minutes, financial records and correspondence (1921-1959).
Welch, West Virginia. Hebrew Ladies Aid Society, Records, 1915-1927. 1 volume. Minute book and financial records of the Society, founded in 1915 to aid the poor and undertake charitable projects.
Wheeling, West Virginia/ Congregation Leshem Shamayim, Records, 1849-1904. 0.4 linear ft., 1 reel microfilm. Microfilm and photocopies of minute books (1867-1904), and protocol book (1849-1867)
Williamson, West Virginia. B’nai Israel Congregation, Records, 1913-1953. 1 reel microfilm. Records consist of microfilm copies of correspondence and Sisterhood minutes
Ohio Valley of Temple Sisterhoods, District 10, Records Manuscript Collection No. 63: 1962-2000. Contains materials related to the West Virginia Temple Sisterhoods
Abraham I. Shinedling Papers, Manuscript Collection No. 128: 1886-1982, Noted West Virginia rabbi and author, Served in Beckley and Bluefield, West Virginia
Israel Bettan Papers, Manuscript Collection No. 618: 1907-1976, Rabbi and civic leader in Charleston, West Virginia from 1912-1922
Jacob Rader Marcus Papers, Manuscript Collection No. 210: 1910-1986, Noted rabbi, author and historian raised in Wheeling. Founder of the American Jewish Archives
Jakob J. Petuchowski Papers, Manuscript Collection No. 653: 1942-1986; German-born rabbi, served at Temple Emanuel in Welch, West Virginia
Statewide Historical Records Survey – West Virginia
List of West Virginia churches and synagogues by county, circa 1940. 1 item (29 leaves). Ms80-30
Charleston, West Virginia. Galperin Music Company, 1940-50. 3 items. Sc82-54
Charleston, West Virginia. Mendelsohn’s Quality Shop, 1916-1923. Account books. 2 volumes Ms2002-037
Charleston, West Virginia. Dr. Leo Seltzer Collection, stamps, ration books, sheet music, World War II medical training handbooks and forms for practice of Dr. Leo Seltzer, 1930s-70s. 1 box. Sc96-12
Charleston, West Virginia. Programs, trade cards, dance invitations and letterheads from assorted Charleston businesses and hotels, circa 1860-93. 110 items. Sc86-90
Fairmont, West Virginia. Catalogue. Fairmont Aluminum Company, aluminum rolling mill products, ca. 1944. 1 item. Transfer from library. Sc96-19
Wheeling, West Virginia. Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company, 1961. 1 item. Sc86-220
Wheeling, West Virginia. Printed and ephemeral material about Wheeling, including stock certificates for Wheeling area businesses, 1901-80. 51 items. Sc94-43 Receipts, business forms, 1893-95. 22 items. [permanent loan to West Virginia Independence Hall] Sc86-15
Huntington – BROH, Irene Drukker, 1880-1978. Papers (photo-reproduction), 1880-1978. .5 linear feet. Loaned for copying by E. Henry and Adolph Broh, 1982. ACCESSION 371. Huntington, West Virginia, resident and long-time activist for women’s rights and civic reform. Includes material from scrapbooks illustrating activities of Mrs. Broh and her mother Sara Tobias Drukker of St. Louis and Cincinnati.
National Museum of American Jewish History – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Charleston, West Virginia. Lowenstein and Sons Hardware, 1913 – 1990.12.40a-c: envelope, invoice, letter.
Wheeling, West Virginia. Gutman and Co. Clothing, ca. 1900 – 1990.53.2: trade card.
Meyer, Simon, ed., One Hundred Years: An Anthology – Charleston Jewry, Charleston, West Virginia: Jones Printing, 1972.
Shinedling, Abraham I. and Manuel Pickus, History of the Beckley Jewish Community, 1955. Beckley, West Virginia
Shinedling, Abraham I., West Virginia Jewry: Origins and History 1850-1958, Philadelphia: Press of Maurice Jacobs, Inc., 1963.
The West Virginia Encyclopedia, “Jews” accessed 6/201/2015 at http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1014
“Righteous Remnant: Jewish Survival in Appalachia”, a public broadcasting documentary film produced by Professor Maryanne Reed, West Virginia University – http://are.as.wvu.edu/reed.htm (accessed 6/20/2015)