Eastern Panhandle - WEST VIRGINIA
Martinsburg - Charles Town - Harpers Ferry
Jews were living and operating clothing stores in Martinsburg as early as the 1870s. The Cohen, Fine, Katz, Kirson, Snyder, and Weil families were among the earliest Jewish families in town. Informal religious services were held sporadically in the early years, but it was not until 1912 that a more permanent and organized Jewish congregation was established. It would become known as Beth Jacob Congregation and was originally orthodox, but became reform by the 1950s. There were also a number of Jewish families in nearby Charles Town and Harpers Ferry since the early 1900s, though they were never numerous enough to form a congregation. Most were members of the Martinsburg congregation. The Jews of Martinsburg and Charles Town were engaged primarily in the retail sector, as was the case in so many locations. From the 1920s through the 1960s, Martinsburgís Queen Street was filled with a variety of Jewish-owned stores such as M. Cohen and Son, The Hub, Katzís, Diamondís, Lipsics, Kirsonís, Garnerís, and others. The Beth Jacob Jewish Cemetery was established in 1916. Beth Jacobís first permanent home was the former United Brethren Church on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was used from 1912 to 1952. Their last home was a former funeral home on West Martin Street that was converted for use as a synagogue and formally dedicated in 1954. The Jewish community of Martinsburg was never large, but they had a visible presence due to their retail stores and also their civic involvement. The membership declined as people moved away and the younger generations looked for careers and family lives in larger Jewish communities in other states. The congregation decided in 2007 to sell the synagogue building, and in 2009 the congregation was officially dissolved. Their assets were distributed among local organizations and the synagogues in Hagerstown and Winchester. Most Jews who live in the Eastern Panhandle are members of the Hagerstown, Maryland or Winchester, Virginia synagogues or they are unaffiliated.
Martinsburg - Berkeley County: Martinsburg is located in the Eastern Panhandle of the state. The town was first laid out in 1773 by General Adam Stephen. Martinsburg was incorporated in 1778 and by the mid 19th century it became a center for the growing railroad industry. Later, Martinsburg became a center for textile and related mills. Jews first settled in the city sometime prior to 1870 when the Weil Family opened a retail clothing store in the town. The Fine, Levin, Katz, Kirson, & Snyder families were some of the earliest Jewish families to settle in Martinsburg. Jewish worship services and education were held in town during the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century though no congregation was formally organized. Records indicate that there was a rabbi who also served as the shochet. In 1912, Congregation Beth Jacob "Bash Yonkev" was organized as an Orthodox synagogue and thus was the first official community organization. The Martinsburg Jewish Community grew modestly with most members working in the retail & wholesale sectors. Many of the most famous and sought-after apparel stores in Martinsburg were Jewish-owned businesses. Names such as "The Hub Store", "George Katz & Son", "Katz's Economy Basement, "M. Cohen & Son", "Diamond's Smart Fashions", Louis Lipsic Men's Store, are just a few of the well-known stores that could be found along Queen Street and other locations downtown. Beth Jacob Congregation worshipped from 1912 to 1952 in a former church building that was purchased on Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1952 a former funeral home building at 126 East Martin Street was purchased and remodeled to serve as a synagogue and a Jewish Community Center. It was around this time that the congregation moved towards the Reform mode of worship and became a member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. A Jewish burial ground, Beth Jacob Cemetery, was established in 1916. It is located adjacent to the Rosedale Cemetery outside of Martinsburg. It is a small Jewish cemetery that bears witness to the lives of the members in the community. Today, Beth Jacob Synagogue has only a few remaining member families. The Jewish businesses that once lined Queen Street are now gone and only the painted signs on some of the buildings remain. As of March 2007, Beth Jacob has closed and the synagogue building is now up for sale thus bringing to a close"Organized Jewish Life" in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Harpers Ferry - Jefferson County: Abraham and Bessie Kaplon were one of the few Jewish families in Harpers Ferry. Abraham Kaplon came to America from Lithuania as a young man a few years prior to 1889. He first went to Hagerstown, Maryland, because he had some friends there, and started immediately as a peddler. He came to Harpers Ferry and quickly became involved in the business, civic and political life of the town. Around 1900, he constructed a beautiful store building in Harpers Ferry. It was one of the most up-to-date buildings of its kind at that time: a department store, carrying everything from groceries to household furnishings on its three floors. In 1908 he constructed a large home in town for his new bride. The house was was of the earliest built in rusticated concrete block made by the Miracle Block Machine. Mr. Kaplon continued in the mercantile business in Harpers Ferry until 1936, at which time he sold his stock and rented his building to Polan Katz & Company, a manufacturer of umbrellas from Baltimore. He brought his entire family to the United States from Europe, establishing his father in business in Keyser, West Virginia, and a sister in Romney, West Virginia. A brother, Victor Kaplon, for a time had a store in Harpers Ferry, but afterwards relocated to nearby Brunswick, Maryland where he remained in business for many years. The rest of Abraham's sisters lived with him in Harpers Ferry until they established homes of their own. Mr. Kaplon served as Mayor of Harpers Ferry and also as Supervisor of Streets & Roads. He was a charter member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in Harpers Ferry. He died in Washington, DC in 1955. his wife Bessie died in 1978 also in Washington, DC. They are both buried in the Montefiore Cemetery in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their beautiful home in Harpers Ferry is now owned (2005) by an artistic couple and is being restored. It has been featured on the annual tour of historic homes. Sadly, the imposing building that once houses the Kaplon store in Harpers Ferry was torn down in the late 1950's.
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