Notable Personalities, Families, and Sections Within JCBA Cemeteries
Bess Topolsky — Pittsburgh
“Sober, steadfast and demure” was the way Bess Toplosky was described at Fifth Avenue High School, and she lived up to that reputation for her entire life. Born in Skriva in present day Ukraine, Bess immigrated to America at the age of 9, grew up on Dinwiddie Street in the Hill District and attended the Miller Street School.
Her activism with labor causes started at an early age, and one of her first jobs was as a field director for the Jewish Labor Committee. She was a sixty-two year mainstay at the Pittsburgh office of the Jewish Daily Forward, starting as an office assistant and ending her career as managing editor.
Bess coupled her professional career with a lifetime of volunteer positions including as Workmen’s Circle #45’s secretary and as the creator of the Joy of Yiddish Club at the JCC. She was recognized for her work in human rights by the City of Pittsburgh. This lifelong advocate for the labor movement, and for the continuation of Yiddish culture, Bess Topolsky passed away in 1996 and is buried in Workmen’s Circle #45 Cemetery in Shaler.
Philip Chosky — Pittsburgh
Giving people in need a helping hand, providing for scholarships to enhance culture, and funding important priorities within the community were all central to Philip Chosky. Born in the Hill District in 1925, Philip’s brilliant mind took him first to Carnegie Tech for an electrical engineering degree and then on to found Rosedale Technical Institute in 1949. He also founded both the Electronics Institutes of Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, programs that afforded graduates associates degrees. Philip always found it in his heart to assist veterans through scholarships as they prepared for their post-military careers.
This pioneer in technical education shared his good fortune with causes close to him with an emphasis on theater arts, education, science and children’s programs. This man, who had no children, has a legacy that lives on through bettering students’ lives as well as the lives of needy individuals in the Pittsburgh area.
When Philip talked, which was not often as he was a quiet man, his trademark wit and humor came out. He established the Philip Chosky Charitable and Educational Foundation in 1996, and was joined by his close friend Charles Kirshner as its first Executive Director. Charles’s guidance, along with fellow advisors Stanley Barg and Judge Michael O’Malley, was invaluable as the Philip Chosky Charitable and Educational Foundation set its course for the future. The Foundation has made Pittsburgh and Jewish Pittsburgh a better place to live and is ably led by Meryl Ainsman as its Executive Director. Philip Chosky passed away in 2011 and is buried at Machsikei HaDas Cemetery in Reserve Township.
Jack Gerson — New Castle
Jack Gerson was born in modern-day Poland in 1892. At the age of 21 he decided to immigrate to the United States in 1913 eventually making his way to New Castle. Jack found employment as an apprentice at J. F. Perelman’s jewelry business on East Washington Street.
After service in the US Army in WW I, the enterprising jeweler opened his own store in 1923 in the new Penn Theater building on North Mercer Street. New Castle was booming. He started out with a single employee but by his business quickly grew and within a decade he had about fifteen employees. Jack and his wife, Pittsburgh native Rebecca Moltz became active members of Temple Israel, the Reform congregation founded in New Castle in 1926.
On Thursday, April 16, 1936, he relocated and opened a larger store at #200 East Washington Street – at the intersection with Mill Street. He became the premier jewelry and watch dealer in New Castle and was known as the “King of Diamonds.” Always the loyal veteran, Jack Gerson led an effort to honor the eight New Castle Jews who had died serving in World War II. “Little Arlington” was established at Tifereth Israel Cemetery, an outstanding tribute to Jewish Americans serving our country.
Jack was very involved in community affairs and taking the lead in establishing the Jack Gerson Camp, a popular camping and fishing spot on the Neshannock Creek near Eastbrook and helping to restore the lake at Cascade Park. Gerson was the recipient of New Castle’s Distinguished Citizen’s Award for 1957. In 1968, after forty-five years in operation, Jack Gerson sold his downtown store to Zales Jewelers. He passed away at the age of ninety-four in 1987 and is buried in Temple Israel Memorial Park in Neshannock Township, Lawrence County.
Nathan Liff — Pittsburgh
Born in Russia on 1900 and emigrating with his family as a toddler, Nathan “Natey” Liff was ever present in Pittsburgh’s colorful boxing history. As a newsboy he sold papers at the matches, and then got involved with fighting as a featherweight as a young man. By the early 20’s he was working local boxing star Harry Greb’s corner when he beat Gene Tunney at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
In the 1930’s, Natey ran the Eagles Nest in Millvale, a training facility that attracted local legend Billy Conn. Even Joe Louis worked out there when in town. Part lodge part boxing club, the Eagles Nest attracted area promoters Milton Jaffe and Art Rooney. Natey Liff managed and trained boxers, and promoted many bouts at Duquesne Gardens. He stayed close with Pittsburgh’s boxing community his entire life. A Squirrel Hill resident, Nathan Liff passed away in 2000 and is buried in Anshe Lubovitz Cemetery in Shaler Township.
Abe Beerman — Johnstown
The legacy left by Abe Beerman (1916-2007) will live on through generations of youth being taught the important lessons of man’s inhumanity to man. A product of Rodef Sholom Congregation’s early teachings in Tzedakah and in our Jewish homeland, Abe’s commitment to Israel through the UJA, annually and in perpetuity, may be second to none. This auto parts dealer turned investor turned philanthropist is one of the many reasons that leadership of Greater Johnstown refers to its Jewish community as an important one. And Abe, along with others, sensitized local financial institutions about the importance of Israel Bonds.
The Abe and Janet Beerman Fund has already sent over 20,000 students to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC for a day of learning, and the Cambria, Somerset, Bedford, Indiana, Westmoreland, and Blair County areas are far better off for the Museum’s teachings. Essays written and exhibits created by the students are housed within the Holocaust Remembrance Room at Beth Sholom Congregation. The program is endowed in perpetuity, with 800 students attending each year. The Beerman Fund is a pillar to the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, enhancing the Conemaugh Valley in many significant ways. Abe was inducted into the Cambria County Business Hall of Fame in 2006.
Abe and Janet are buried in the Rodef Sholom Cemetery in Johnstown.
Judge J. Quint Salmon — Beaver Falls
Judge J. Quint Salmon’s life was like his service on the bench…distinguished. Born in 1907 and raised in Beaver Falls, Judge Salmon was a graduate of Pitt Law School, staying devoted to it in the form of an endowed chair. Appointed in 1970, and then elected to his first ten-year term in 1971 the Republican Salmon was Beaver County’s first Jewish judge. Into his 90’s, the Senior Judge could be seen at the Beaver County Courthouse working on cases and writing legal opinions, and even was perusing law reviews until his final days.
His judicial hallmarks included practical approaches to solving problems. Attorneys recall him as quick-witted, bright, fair, and compassionate. His early career in private practice included a great deal of pro bono work. J. Quint Salmon was one of the first attorneys in Beaver County to represent black clients. He always gave back to the community that he loved, including a significant endowment left to the Beaver County Foundation. Judge J. Quint Salmon passed away in 2009 at the age of 101 and is buried in the Agudath Achim Cemetery in Beaver Falls.
Tom Wein — Clarion
Thomas Wein’s sales skills pioneered the Wein Family of Clarion to come to Western Pennsylvania. Originally from Sakavoli in what is now modern day Poland, Tom (1890-1941) had peddled in Sweden as a young man before plying his skills in the Swedish speaking parts of early 1900’s Wisconsin. On his way back to New York, Tom scouted out a store operated by his sister-in-law’s cousin. He liked what he saw. Joined by his brother Philip, a cloth cutter in New York, they formed Wein Brothers in 1911 in the growing coal mining and lumbering county seat along the Clarion River.
Tom was part of the first group of Clarion men to be called up for service in WW I. He served proudly in France, and then returned to the boom in business that was America in the 1920’s. As Clarion prospered, as many small towns did in this inter-war period, so did Wein Brothers, with other family members coming to Clarion. A second store was opened in Brookville in neighboring Jefferson County.
Younger than his brothers, and more modern and Americanized, Tom Wein was the merchant who laid the foundation for a business that was to remain open for over 100 years. Passing away far too young, Tom is buried next to his wife Sophie Finkelstein Wein, and fifteen other Wein Family members is Titusville’s Oil City-Tree of Life Jewish Cemetery.
Harry “Doc” Ratner — Pittsburgh
Harry “Doc” Ratner (1899-1965) was a beloved social worker and a key figure in the migration of the Jewish community from the Hill District to Squirrel Hill. He was associated with the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House and its successor agencies from 1916 to 1954. He started as a volunteer, became a social worker assigned to neighborhood boys and eventually became the business manager for the center. But mostly he was known as a constant friendly presence around the center, chatting with anyone about anything. Along with Joseph “Ziggy” Kahn, Doc was one of the founders of the Squirrel Hill Boys Club, which later became the Squirrel Hill IKC.
Ratner’s family was well known in Squirrel Hill, both through Ratner’s Hardware on Murray Avenue and through the success of his daughter Iris Rainer Dart, author of eight best-selling novels, including Beaches, and Some Kind of Miracle, much of which takes place in Squirrel Hill.
Ratner’s Hardware was well known for its wide selection of hardware. The building that housed the store bore its motto, “If Ratner’s doesn’t have it, nobody does.” Ratner’s son, Elliot, who was the proprietor of Ratner’s Hardware for 42 years, is also buried at Beth Abraham Cemetery, as are Harry and his wife Rose. In 1978, the Ratner Family commissioned sculptor Daniel Kafri to design a large menorah outside the Jewish Community Center in his memory.
Joseph Denmark — Steubenville
Joseph G. Denmark was born in 1893 in Russia. He was trained as a tailor and in 1925, he and his wife Sarah Small Denmark founded Denmark’s Fur Shop in Steubenville, Ohio. The store prospered and evolved into a full service women’s fashion destination. He was joined in the business by his sons Morris and Meyer, who were later joined by their children. Denmark’s grew to three locations. Joseph was a member of the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.
He was an active philanthropist in the Jewish community and throughout the Ohio Valley. Joseph was a past president of B’nai Israel Synagogue, a founder and past president of the Steubenville Jewish Community Council, and a lifelong member of ZOA and B’nai Brith. After his retirement, he lived in Miami Beach for many years. He passed away on December 14, 1989 at the age of 97. A long life well lived. He and Sarah are buried in the B’nai Israel Cemetery in Steubenville.
The Benkovitz Family — Pittsburgh
Pittsburghers need no introduction to the Benkovitz Family. Long known as one of the region’s oldest and finest seafood emporiums, Benkovitz Seafoods operated for over 100 years. Under the name “Live Fish” and opening on Centre Avenue in the Hill District, the business relocated to Smallman Street in the late 1960’s. Yellow pike, white fish and sea bass were specialties, with Pittsburgh mainstay Klein’s being one of their first and largest customers. A stop at Benkovitz became a tradition for many shopping and enjoying the Strip District.
Beth Abraham Cemetery interments include two of the business founders Reuben and Joseph Benkovitz, their parents Yudel and Esther, and other family members. All are buried within Section 1. Originally from the city of Cherkasy in the Ukraine, the family name of “Binkowitsch” became Benkovitz, and synonymous for quality seafood for generations of Pittsburghers.
The Glossers of Johnstown
Jewish Johnstown’s largest and most prominent family is the Glossers. Arriving from Antopol, Belarus in the early 1900s, two significant branches of this very large family tree established the longstanding Glosser Brothers department store and then later the regional Gee Bee chain, and M. Glosser and Sons, starting in scrap metals and diversifying into steel manufacturing. Both branches, and their many generations of leaders, made and continue to make a difference in the quality of life throughout Western Pennsylvania and in Israel, with offspring of this far flung family carrying on the traditions of tzedakah in a most meaningful and appreciable way wherever they live.
The general community held the Glosser Family in high esteem. The name “Dave Glosser” carried weight. Be it “Store Dave”, the Glosser “Brother” known as a brilliant merchant, or “Scrap Dave” a giant in Johnstown industry and whose legacy established the David A. Glosser Foundation, these “Daves” got things done. Both were involved with 1936 Johnstown Flood relief and were key to lead gifts for the Cambria County War Memorial, YMCA, and Conemaugh Memorial Hospital. The entire Glosser Family was steeped in Zionism going back to when family members served in World War I’s British Jewish Legion. Much of the Glosser Family is buried within Israel Isaiah’s section of Grandview Cemetery.
J. Edgar Rosenberg — Pittsburgh
J. Edgar ‘Ed’ Rosenberg was clearly “a jack of all trades”. A graduate of Carnegie Tech in 1944, he served in the U.S. Army Engineers in Italy as a First Lieutenant in World War II. Ed worked for the Blawnox Corporation and then operated Rosenberg’s Department Store in Finleyville with his wife Mae for thirty-five years. The Rosenbergs were involved with the Beth Israel Center in Pleasant Hills.
In later years, Ed became an accomplished professional artist, with over two hundred oil paintings to his credit. He was respected by fellow artists and art students. He even taught at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Business, no doubt imparting life skills and lessons. Edgar passed away in 2011 at the age of 89. He and Mae are buried at Beth Abraham Cemetery.
JCBA endeavors to recognize veterans within our cemeteries with an appropriate service marker and US flag. We are working with Allegheny County and local municipalities, and with our valued group of JCBA volunteers.
The Children’s Section at Beth Abraham Cemetery
Children’s sections are not unique to Jewish cemeteries since often no arrangements are in place when a child passes away. In years past, many of the area’s Jewish cemeteries had a separate section dedicated for children. In Beth Abraham, the region’s third largest cemetery, it is located on a hillside in Section 4. There are over 70 children interred there, though almost half of these graves are unmarked. Thought is being given to a proper memorial.
This effort is part of JCBA’s overall and ongoing major work being done in Carrick at the Beth Abraham, Shaare Zedeck and Marks Cemeteries. Dignity is the watch word as monuments are being reset, downed trees are being removed, and deferred maintenance is being addressed. We are grateful for the generous partnership with Urbach Monuments and John Dioguardi. The JCBA is appreciative of the community’s ongoing support as we further maintain and sustain our sacred Jewish cemeteries.
Learn more about the cemeteries under JCBA’s care on our Cemetery History page. To volunteer, get more information about the JCBA, and/or to make a contribution please call the JCBA office at 412-533-6469, e-mail us at JCBAPgh@gmail.com, or donate online.