Maine

Beth Jacob Boys
Beth Jacob Boys

Beth Jacob Boys Wearing Their Tallitot, April 10, 1964.

Rosh Hashanah at Shaarey Tphiloh 1951
Rosh Hashanah at Shaarey Tphiloh 1951

Rosh Hashanah preperation at Shaarey Tphiloh, Newbury St. Portland, 1951.

Model Seder - Portland Hebrew Day School
Model Seder - Portland Hebrew Day School

Model Seder at Portland Hebrew Day School, 1956.

Beth Jacob Boys
Beth Jacob Boys

Beth Jacob Boys Wearing Their Tallitot, April 10, 1964.

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Early Days

Earliest Settlers and Communities

First recorded Jewish resident: Susman Abrams in 1785.

Earliest Jewish community:  A German Jewish community in Bangor in the 1849; it established Congregation Ahawas Achim and its own cemetery (now known as the Webster Ave cemetery). The community collapsed with the downturn in the lumber industry in 1856.  

Major Immigrant-era Settlements: Earliest Known Settlement Dates

Settlements: Bangor, Portland, Rockland, Lewiston, Biddeford, Calais, and Aroostook County.

Industries: Peddling, main street stores, retail and wholesale supplies to the local industries (forests in particular) industries, junk, leather, and chickens/eggs.  

Current Information

The current Jewish population of Maine is 22,600.  

Major current Jewish population centers

Principal statewide Jewish organizations  

  • Center for Small Town Jewish Life

  • Documenting Maine Jewry  

  • Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center

  • Maine Jewish Film Festival

  • Maine Jewish Museum

  • The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Southern Maine Section

  • Jewish Community Alliance (Cumberland and York Counties)

Schools and universities

  • Pre-K to middle school: Levey Day School, Portland

  • College level: Colby College, Jewish Studies Program; University of Maine, Jewish studies minor

  • Adult education: most congregations and the Jewish Community Alliance, Portland; Center for Small Town Jewish Life.

Jewish cemeteries and burial information  

  • Sixteen Jewish cemeteries  

  • Burial records  

Other information resources

  • 85 Jewish summer camps

Historical Resources

Local Jewish Historical Societies and Resource Centers

Bangor Public Library  

The Bangor Public Library has the largest physical Jewish collection in Maine. The collection includes books, genealogies, letters and postcards, newspaper articles, property deeds, and photos. Newspaper article clippings of Maine Jewish life are plentiful in the collection. Among the unique items are a 1974 art festival poster, the minutes from a Mu Sigma Fraternity chapter meeting, and a collection of B’nai B’rith membership records for hundreds of individuals and chapter lists for various years in the 1950s. There are also records on donations for the International B’nai B’rith Charity Chest.  

The collection has numerous invoices from or for various Jewish affiliated businesses. For example, there is a 1957 invoice from Archie Bishop & Sons for fuel oil and furnace cleaning services in Presque Isle.  

The collection also contains various articles of “The Community News,” a publication by the Jewish Community Council, from the 1950, 1960s and 1980s; records on Jewish families and individuals living in Maine, including a 1955 list of Jews in Aroostook and New Brunswick from the Aroostook Hebrew Community Center; and a summary census table of Bangor residents recording number of years as a residence, and a photo collection of the large Cohen and Minsky families.

Colby College – Maine Jewish History Project  

The Maine Jewish History Project is a collaboration between Colby’s Jewish Studies Program and the Special Collections at Colby College. The site has research reports by Colby students and other historians and mainly focuses on Jewish life at the college and throughout the Kennebec Valley. The project’s website is organized by Maine, Kennebec Valley and Colby College. The Maine section is organized by Individuals and Communities, further sectioned by town, Religious, Cultural, and Social Life and Jewish-Gentile Relations. The Kennebec Valley page is organized by Jewish Population, Occupational Activity, Religious, Cultural, and Social Activities, Jewish Women, and Integration into Waterville Society. The section Jews at Colby does not have subsections. The website also contains the papers from the 2011 conference “Discovering Maine’s Jewish History: The Second Maine Jewish History Conference”.

The project’s website has a joint exhibition with Maine Memory Network on “Lobster and Latkes: Jewish Life in Maine.” The exhibit is sectioned into Occupational Activities; Religious Life; Communal Life; Life Cycle; Maine’s Jews in America’s Wars; Leisure and Recreation; Jews in Maine’s Colleges; Changing Landscape of Jewish Organizations; Jewish Contributions to Maine’s Cultural Landscape; Preserving Jewish Traditions and Culture; Contributing, Advancing, Succeeding: Jews and Occupations; and Experiences of Jewish Teenagers in Maine.  

The website has four videos: “Congregation Beth Israel, 120 Years” (Bangor), by Sarah Wiseman (2009); “A Jewish Community, for the 25th Anniversary of Lewiston-Auburn’s Temple Shalom Synagogue Center” by Phyllis Graber Jensen (2007); “Shaarey Tphiloh Torah dedication ceremony,” 1955 (Portland) prepared by Maine Historical Society; and “Legacy: The Levine Family [of Waterville]” (2011). The morning and afternoon plenary and panel sessions are listed with links to recordings, keynotes, and essays. Finally, the website has a page of additional print resources with links to online publications when available.  

Colby College Library  

A search of the Colby College Library collection on “Maine Jews” lists 239 items, the majority of which (184) are newspaper articles; 18 are books and ebooks; and 16 are articles.  

The library has the original Colby student interviews with Maine Jews.  The library also has a collection of artifacts, such as a photo of a Civil War sack coat, and a Hadassah record book from 1928.  

Documenting Maine Jewry (DMJ)  

The Documenting Maine Jewry website (Dec 2020) provides an integrated listing of primary and secondary documents on Maine Jewish history that are housed in-state, on-line, and in its own collection.  

DMJ’s own collection includes brief biographic notes on over 39,000 people with strong connections to Maine Jewry; over 2,900 local, state, and regional organizations important to Maine’s Jewish life; 3,400 photographs; 1,509 newspaper articles or citations; 205 obituaries, 127 letters; 431 community newsletters; 400 membership records; and 400 other Jewish community records.  

The material is indexed by Jewish community (8 current and 8 former communities), by individual, by organization, by year, and by theme. The website also serves the state-wide index to Jewish burials in the 18 current or former cemeteries. Most of these entries have an associated headstone image. Separately DMJ provides a state-wide listing of the names on memorial boards from all current and former congregations.

Over the years, Maine has had a rather remarkable collection on cantors. There are recordings of the davening of many of these cantors. There are separate listings of Maine’s clergy over the years, Jewish summer camps, Jews in the professions, Jewish affiliated businesses, Jews active in different industrial sectors, and Jewish census estimates 1850-2019.

Judaica Collection, Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine

 The Judaica Collection at the University of Southern Maine primarily documents Southern Maine, with mostly manuscript material and some book collections. It has the records from 1894-1977 of Portland groups including Temple Israel, Temple Beth El, Temple Etz Chaim, Young Women's Hebrew Association, Ladies Auxiliary for the Jewish Home for the Aged, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, United Hebrew Charities, and Jewish Bicentennial Oral History Program, as well as the archives of two major community organizations, the Jewish Community Alliance and the National Council of Jewish Women, Southern Maine Section. The collection also contains the papers of 20th century Jewish leaders such as Linda and Joel Abromson, Rosalyne S. Bernstein and Sumner T. Bernstein, Merle Royte Nelson, and Rabbi Harry Sky.

Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center  

The Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center has a collection of 80 oral histories done by the Center of all the known Holocaust survivors in Maine as well as memoirs by Maine Holocaust survivors Judith Magyar Isaacson and Gerda Haas and a private biography of survivor Edith Lucas Pagelson. In addition, the collection contains interviews with Holocaust eyewitnesses, liberators, and survivors. Transcripts and audio and visual interview links are found at the DMJ website.  

Portland Public Library

The Portland Public Library has an online collection of 80 oral histories from the Greater Portland Area. The library also has “The 2007 Jewish Community Study of Southern Maine” by Ira Sheskin, “Maine’s Jewish Heritage” by Abraham and Jean Peck, “Jerusalem of the North” by Michael Cohen, “Crossing Lines: Histories of Jews and Gentiles in Three Communities” by Judith Goldstein, and “Yankee Fiddler: A Man Called Suss” by Julius Sussman.  

Maine Historical Society (MHS)

The Maine Historical Society has photo collection of the Anshe Sfard synagogue and selected artifacts, such as a carved eagle and carved feet from the bimah of the former synagogue. MHS also contains bibliographic and genealogic collections, such as a collection of paper from Benjamin Band, the David family, Justice Pinansky and Philip Morris Schwind.  

MHS also has documents from individual congregations, such as a Bet Ha’am congregational profile, a history on the Beth Israel Congregation in Waterville, and a directory of churches and religious organizations in Maine from 1940. The society has articles from and about the Jewish Community Center, the Lafayette Hotel, and the Maimonides Club. There is a 1940 publication on “The Growth of Portland's Jewish Community Life: A Complete History from the Very Beginning of the City's Jewish Life to Its Present-Day Prominence” by Dr. Elias Caplan. Lastly, the collection contains many photos of Jewish life in Maine.  

Publications

Ben Band, Portland Jewry: Its Growth and Development, 1955, Jewish Historical Society

Judith Goldsmith, Crossing Lines: Histories of Jews and Gentiles in Three Communities, 1992, Morrow  

Abe Peck and Jean Marcus Peck, Maine’s Jewish Heritage  

Celia C Risen, Some Jewels of Maine, 1997, Dorrance Pub

Famous Jewish people from Maine

Artists

  • Louise Berliawsky Nevelson (Rockland)

  • Dahlov Zorach Ipcar (Georgetown)  

Business and Finance

  • Barney Osher (Biddeford), founding director of World Savings Bank, philanthropist.  

  • Marion Sandler (Biddeford), co-CEO of Golden West Financial Corporation and World Savings Bank

  • Ingram Berg ‘Burt’ Shavitz (Parkman/Dexter), co-founder of Burt’s Bees  

Education and Research

  • Arthur B Wein (Waterville) linguist, Harvard University  

  • Peter Lunder (Waterville), Vice-Chair of the national board of the Smithsonian Institution and the Dana-Farber Cancer Center  

  • Philip Lown (Auburn), founded Lown School of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and the Graduate Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies, Brandeis

Entertainment

  • Hiram Abrams (Portland), co-founder of Paramount Pictures and founder of United Artist Corp Adam Barr (Portland) Emmy TV writer and producer, including Will & Grace   

  • Linda Lavin (Portland), multiple Emmy award winner

Health Care and Medicine

  • Leah Binder (Portland), named one of top 25 women in healthcare by Modern Healthcare.  

  • Dr Bernard Lown (Auburn), inventor of the direct current defibrillator, co-recipient of the 1985 Nobel Prize, and co-founder of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War

Journalism

  • David Brown (Bath), an important Reuter's war correspondent during WWII. He was one of the newspapermen present at the press conference in Casablanca between President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and at the Japanese surrender to Douglas MacArthur aboard the USS Missouri.

  • Shirley Povich (Bar Harbor/Bath), an American sports columnist and reporter for The Washington Post and elected to the National Sportswriters Hall of Fame.   

  • Elaine S Povich (Bath), an award-winning Washington correspondent, reporter, writer and journalism professor and author of John McCain: A Biography and Nancy Pelosi: A Biography.

Law  

  • Morton Brody (Lewiston), Judge US District Court for the District of Maine.

  • David Cohen (Portland), US Magistrate Judge; Robert Hirshon (Portland), President of the American Bar Association.

  • Louis Kornreich (Bangor), US Federal Bankruptcy Judge.

  • Kermit Lipez (Augusta/Portland), Judge, US Court of Appeals for the First District.

  • George Z Singal (Bangor) Chief, US District Court for the District of Maine.

  • Military Service

  • Maurice (Mashe) Rubinoff (Portland), at the conclusion of WWII searched protected Jewish areas in Germany and re-united families in DP camps.

  • Louis H Weinstein (Portland) served as the liaison officer from General Eisenhower to General de Gaulle and entered Paris on Liberation Day with de Gaulle.

Music

  • Cantor Kurt Messerschmidt (Portland) – pre-Shoah, director Berlin choir, post-Shoah, director Munich Radio Choir and cantor for the first memorial service at Dachau concentration camp.

  • Batya (Bonnie) Ben David (Portland) – soprano with the Metropolitian Opera, New York.  

  • Cantor Paul Zim (Portland, born Zimmelman), producer of Judaica-based children’s and ceremonial music.    

Public Affairs / Politics

  • Albert Abrahamson (Portland/Brunswick), Assistant Director of the War Refugee Board, created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only official government organization with a responsibility to rescue Jews from Nazi Europe; Harlan Baker (Portland), founding member of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, which later became the Democratic Socialist of America.

  • William Cohen (Bangor) – US Senator & Secretary of Defense.

  • Oscar Cox (Portland) helped write Lend-Lease Act (1941) & served as Corporation Counsel for New York City.  

Sports

  • Joel Bloom (Camp Powhatan) received first PhD in camp management, Columbia University.

  • Johnny Dutch Levine (Waterville), 1905 Yale Football team.

  • Abe Nathanson (Portland), Boxing 1920s-1930s.