Forward Thinking

8 Things You Didn't Know About Jewish Maine

By Yardain Amron

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Camp Modin, in the Belgrade Lake district, is New England’s oldest summer camp. // Courtesy of Camp Modin

1) Jewish population as of 2012: 13,890

2) The Portland JCC opened in 1938.

3) Camp Modin, established in 1922 in the Belgrade Lake district, is the oldest Jewish camp in New England.

4) Susman Abrams (1743-1830., a native of Hamburg, Germany, was the first known Jewish resident of Maine. He came to the state in the post-Revolutionary period and lived in Waldborough, Thomaston, and finally in Union, where he operated a tannery. Abrams married a Christian woman but did not himself convert to Christianity.

5) Captain Harold H. Gordon, Jewish chaplain for the North Atlantic Division, Air Transport Command, took a Torah, on loan from the Beth Israel Synagogue in Bangor, on his rounds in 1945. Gordon and the Torah racked up more than 75,000 miles on a circuit that covered bases as disparate as Reykjavik, Iceland and Bermuda.

6) Nearly two-thirds of Maine’s resorts refused to accept Jewish guests in the 1950s, the highest percentage of any state in the union.

7) Shaarey Tphiloh was the first synagogue in Maine, built in 1904. Etz Chaim Synagogue came into being because of a dispute that started in 1915 between Rabbi Chaim Shohet and the board of directors of Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue over the dismissal of Cantor Lebovitz. Rabbi Shohet’s support of Cantor Lebovitz culminated in the rabbi’s dismissal in 1917. According to popular legend, the rabbi’s chair was removed from the sanctuary and placed in the bathroom.

8) The Maine Jewish Film Festival is held every March in Portland, the smallest city in the nation to host an independent and professional Jewish film festival.


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