The Disappearing Jewish Community in the Coal Region

The disappearance of a Jewish community in a small mining town in Pennsylvania sheds light on the disappearance of many other small Jewish communities that once dotted the American landscape.

Upon arriving in America in the late 1800s, many Jewish immigrants were faced with the same problem—earning a living. They were forced to peddle various goods, but the markets in the large immigrant centers were already saturated with peddlers. Many enterprising immigrants began searching for better locales to peddle their wares. Word spread that with so much less competition, a hard-working peddler in Pennsylvania’s small coal-mining towns had a better chance of making a living. Before long, Jewish peddlers, shopkeepers, and small business owners became a common sight in the small towns throughout the coal-mining region.   Small Jewish communities throughout the mountainous Pennsylvania coal region began to appear. One such community was in the small mining town of Mahanoy City, Pa.

By 1923, Mahanoy City’s Jewish community was able to lay the cornerstone for a respectable new synagogue. The town’s Jewish cemetery was established in 1932. But  Mahanoy City’s Jewish community never numbered more than about fifty families. By the late 1950s, Mahanoy City’s Jewish community began its rapid decline. What caused Mahanoy City’s Jewish community to decline and eventually disappear?