Early Jewish Pioneers of McAlester, Hartshorne & Wilburton, Oklahoma

Jewish Pioneers of McAlester, Hartshorne & Wilburton, Oklahoma

In 1895, Sam Wolf opened the New York Store in Hartshorne. The store was later run by his wife and brother-in-law, Jacob Epstein, known locally as “Mose.”


In 1895, Abbie Wolf of McAlester owned the Globe Department StoreHe lived with his three sisters in McAlester in 1900.


In 1896, Al Meyer opened the Grand Leader in Hartshorne. Ten years later, the Grand leader was owned by Sam Oppenheim.


In 1898, John Joseph opened a store in Wilburton, which stayed in the family until 1978. The store became Goldberg & Joseph when Sam Goldberg bought in.


In 1900, Mike Goldberg and his brother-in-law, Harry Serwinsky, opened the Grand Leader (yes, some name), also in Hartshorne. The business stayed in the family until closing in 1970.


In 1911, Benjamin Gladstein founded the Gladstein Company, a dry goods store and wholesale supply house in McAlester. It closed in 1994.


Louis Berlowitz owned the Model Clothing Store.


Abe Lapp and his partner, Morris Serwinsky, owned a furniture store/mortuary combination.


I. Yourman was an optometrist and watchmaker.


Alex Grossman was a cotton and cotton ginning dealer in the 1910’s.

Cotton Ginning & Bailing, OK, Vintage Postcard

Cotton Ginning & Bailing, Oklahoma, vintage postcard


Among the Charter Members of the McAlester Rotary Club, founded in 1914, were Alex Grossman, Louis Berlowitz, and Harris Gladstein


Alex Grossman and Irvin Gladstein served on the Board of Directors of the National Bank of McAlester.


Leo Goldberg was President of the McAlester Retail Merchants Association and the member of the Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association.


Sylvia Goldberg was TB Seal chairman for 35 years. She also led the first Mothers March for Infantile Paralysis.


In 2007, the  Goldberg & Joseph Heritage Park was dedicated in downtown Wilburton.

Goldberg & Jones Heritage Park, Wilburton, OK

Goldberg & Jones Heritage Park, Wilburton, Oklahoma, today


The area’s Jewish community was small but active into the 1950’s.


In 1901, a  Jewish community started to form between the three towns, along with Jews of neighboring Alderson, Atoka, and KrebsServices were held on second floor of the Great Leader store owned by Goldberg and Serwinsky, and were led by Harry ByersSome Jewish stores closed for High Holidays, such as the Golden Eagle.


Congregation B’nai Israel was formed in Hartshorne, in 1916. Romanian-born merchant, Louis Rothbaum, led services in Hebrew and English for the congregation of 18. He also taught Sunday School. Hebrew Union College usually sent a student rabbi for High Holy Days. B’nai Israel dissolved in the early 1920’s.


In 1923, a chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women was formed with Fannie Gladstein as President.


The Jewish Community House was established in McAlester in 1934, with funds raised by Benjamin Gladstein, Leo Goldberg, Alex Grossman, and John JosephElected officers were: John Joseph, President; Fannie Gladstein, Vice President; Joe Weingarten, Secretary; and Louise GrossmanTreasurer.


Alex Grossman also served as President of the United Jewish Center.


Joe Weingarten also served as President of the McAlester Rotary Club in 1938, and was a member of the McAlester School Board from 1937 to 1943. Joe and his wife, Helen Weingarten, owned a ladies’ millinery and dress shop called Weingarten’s, which closed in 1945 when the family moved away.


Louis Berlowitz was the 1918 Chairman of the Jewish Relief Campaign.



In 1910, the McAlester branch of B’nai B’rith was formed.


Sam Goldberg was a member of the Wilburton Lions Club for 40 years.



  • Henry J. Tobias, The Jews of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).
  • Goldring/Waldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, “Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities: McAlester/Hartshorne/Wilberton,” https://www.isjl.org/oklahoma-mcalester-encyclopedia.html 

Regina Merwin is curator for this McAlester, Hartshorne & Wilburton exhibit.

Thanks to Harriet Carson and Monroe Weingarten Wingate for additional information.