Traces of local Jewish history found by native of Lancaster – Lancaster Eagle Gazette

Posted By on September 25, 2022

LANCASTER A history of Jewish tradition in Lancaster has been discovered by Lancaster-native Austin Reid. Through his research, Reid is attempting to inform the public of a once-forgotten part of the city's past.

Reid has been doing this research in a volunteer capacity as a hobby, working in collaboration with multiple historical societies. Instead of making his discoveries as part of a job, he does it out of a passion for the work.

"I think there are really two goals I have in my mind," said Reid. "The first was I hope these pieces are engaging for a broad audience including non-Jewish readers. I think many people don't know much about Judaism and I think sometimes there's this impression that Judaism is a religion that is only found in big cities but there's a really long history of Jewish life in small towns as well and I hope these histories are an accessible way for individuals to learn a bit about a community that has a long presence in many parts of Ohio. It is an important piece of local history."

"The second goal is for the descendants of these families who are now living in various areas," said Reid. "I'm hoping this can be a valuable genealogical resource for them to learn about their forebears and how they made contributions to small towns."

While much of this history is not well recorded, Reid has found his ways of digging up information.

"The primary resource I'm using is newspaper archives," said Reid. "A lot of these are digitized on a website called Ohio Memory that is run by the state library of Ohio and Ohio History Connection. You can also find the Eagle-Gazette archives on a website called In addition to the newspaper archives I'm also looking at Jewish newspapers from across Ohio, particularly in Columbus and Cincinnati. Even though these newspapers aren't based in Lancaster, they often carry reports from smaller communities."

Reid originally decided to follow Lancaster's history with Judaism because of traces he noticed while living in the area. Although he does not live in the area anymore, those signs stuck with him and pointed him towards his research. One of those traces was the site of the former B'Nai Israel synagogue, which stopped serving as a place of worship in 1993.

"On 131 East Chestnut Street you can still see the former B'Nai Israel synagogue," said Reid. "Now it's a private home and it's been a private home since 1994, but it was originally built by a Lutheran congregation and was converted into a synagogue in 1927. So I think, look I'm in a historical Facebook and every few months it seems like there's someone who asks about this building. You can tell it used to be a place of worship, but there's not a congregation meeting there now and I think it gets people curious about what the building was used for."

Among the most interesting stories of Jewish history that Reid found in Lancaster included a fire at B'nai synagogue in 1961, in which two members of the congregation, Clearance Epstein and Jacob Molar, ran in to save Torah scrolls.

Another story of interest that stood out to Reid was the Jewish Welfare Society, which earned itself a shoutout in the book 'Fairfield County in the World War' by Van Snider. He said this was significant because despite the Jewish community never totaling more than 100 people, they made enough of an impact to be put in Snider's book.

"(Snider) mentions in this book that this Jewish Welfare Society was very active with volunteering with the Red Cross and helped to raise funds for literary loans, so despite being a really small community, it still made a big enough impact that this author noted it in his book about Fairfield County in World War One," said Reid.

With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on Sept. 25, Reid believes that this is a perfect time for readers to be exposed to Lancaster's rich history of Judaism.

For readers interested in learning more about Lancaster's forgotten Jewish past, Reid's full article is available online through the Columbus Jewish Historical Society:

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Traces of local Jewish history found by native of Lancaster - Lancaster Eagle Gazette

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