Poale Zedeck Congregation, the institution that currently houses this Torah, was established in 1881 by Hungarian Jewish immigrants in a rented room on the corner of Grant Street and Second Avenue downtown. At that time, the congregation had forty member families who were meeting in the second floor of a building. When the congregation outgrew its space, it purchased a house on Federal (later called Fernando) Street in the Hill District, the area of the city in which newly arriving Jewish immigrants were settling. The house was renovated and served as the synagogue until 1900.
In 1901, the growing congregation purchased a building on Crawford and Rose Streets, which burned down in 1916 and was rebuilt. The Crawford building was also in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where it remained until 1929, when the congregation was able to follow its upwardly-mobile membership and build a synagogue on Shady and Phillips Avenue in Squirrel Hill. With this development, Poale Zedeck became the first Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.
In addition to providing synagogue services, Poale Zedeck provides an abundance of other services to the community. The Rabbi Joseph Shapiro Education Center opened in 1956 on an adjacent property on Phillips Street and housed classrooms for the congregation’s nursery school and Hebrew school. In 1961, the congregation joined with the United Mental Health Services of Allegheny County to provide education and counseling to Jewish and non-Jewish children with psychological problems and disabilities. The Shapiro Education Center, which opened in 1975, is utilized by the members of the community for special education programs for Jewish children with physical disabilities. The Congregation has also maintained an active sisterhood, men’s club, and Chevra Kadisah (lit: Holy Society) which attends to and memorializes the deceased. The congregation boasts about 300 member families today.