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Boston Walks

The Jewish Friendship Trail

in

Portland, Maine

From *Kuddle-Muddle* to the Maine Supreme Court

A Walking Tour

to

Sites of Jewish Experience




An Introduction
Featuring
Sites Related to Portland ME Jewish Immigrants of the Late 19th Through the 20th Centuries



Copyright Michael Alan Ross, 2000-2015. All Rights Reserved.

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It was fun and educational to lead walking tours of Boston for a dozen years. Branching out and devising a Jewish walking tour of Portland, Maine equally was fun and instructive.

Once part of Massachusetts, Maine became a separate state in 1820.

After Portland's devastating urban fire of 1866, Jewish peddlers slowly began discovering the area.

From the 1860s to 1900s, approximately 500-1000 Jewish immigrants arrived and stayed in Portland.

The bulk of these immigrants were Eastern European Jews, who came via Boston, Massachusetts, retaining many of their traditional beliefs and practices.

Within 1-2 generations, these Jews were well along in establishing themselves as businesspersons and white collar professionals as well as participants in the community's life and institutions. This Jewish Friendship Trail in Portland, Maine can commemorate and honor the contributions and friendship of Portland's Jewish citizens.

This BostonWalks' "The Jewish Friendship Trail" in Portland, Maine is designed as a 2.5 hour walking tour.

Let's walk, then, to these sites of Jewish Experience in Portland:





  • (1) As we enter the top of the Old Port section of Portland, the section where Jewish life in Portland centered from the 1860s through the 1940s, let me offer a little more comprehensive introduction to Portland's Jewry:


    Starting out as peddlers with *kuddle-muddle* (everything from needles and pins to broaches and ornaments), the Jews of Portland, Maine became businesspersons, white collar professionals, community contributors, Jewish activists, and elected and appointed governmental officials. Their vibrant participation in Portland defies their small numbers, which in Greater Portland only has risen from 500 to about 5000 in the century between 1900 and 2000.

    Portland's Jews continue today their vibrant impact: as we'll see, from Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson (one of Portland's more prominent law firms) to Levinsky's Clothing Store, from Hub Furniture to Pennywise Market, from Beth El to Bet Haam synagogues.

    Less visible, but of equal or greater contribution, has been that of individual Portland and Maine Jewish citizens in government, the judiciary, charitable organizations, re-building of the infrastucture and real estate of downtown Portland, and the many clubs and social organizations.


  • (2) Etz Chaim Synagogue, 267 Congress Street, is 1 of 2 remaining downtown synagogue buildings. Built in 1920, this synagogue still is available for prayer services. It was named after its 1st rabbi, Chaim Shohet. While traditional and orthodox, Etz Chaim was considered modern by some congregants for its willingness to permit members participation in the larger community, to include English translations of prayers, and to hire an English speaking rabbi (Phineas Israeli). Up until his death a few years ago, David "Buddy" Silverman and a few other devoted members still maintained a traditional prayer service here. Since then, efforts have been made to develop a liberal minyan.

  • (3) Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue, 145 Newbury Street, is the remaining facade of the downtown building which once housed Portland's most central and active traditional orthodox Jewish congregation. Built in 1904, this building's interior today is an office complex. The outside memorializes the original congregation. A renewed Shaarey Tphiloh has existed on Noyes Street in the Woodfords/Deering section of the city since the 1950s.

  • (4)Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, 100-120 Middle Street. This 50+ attorneys law firm was started by one of Portland's most participatory Jewish families: the Bernsteins. Husband and wife, Israel and Peggy Bernstein, both lawyers, and Israel's brother, Louis Bernstein, lawyer/judge/member of Maine's Supreme Court, managed to engage themselves in dozens of community, charitable, governmental, and Jewish organizations. The law firm's employment policy was to welcome competent lawyer descendents of their clients into the law firm. Sumner Bernstein, Israel's and Peggy's son, headed the law firm for many years and then was of counsel before his recent death. Lenny Nelson now heads the firm.

  • (5) House of Ill Repute with a Jewish madame, 342 Fore Street. To add spice to Portland's Jewish life, rumor has it that the building today occupied by Silver House Tavern once was a brothel. As more information is forthcoming, we'll keep you apprised of this site.

  • (7) Levinsky's Clothing Store, 516 Congress Street. Since 1919, when it succeeded an army/navy clothing store diagonally across the street from Etz Chaim Synagogue, the Levinsky family store had been a fixture of downtown Portland. Up until early 2003, Phil Levinsky still frequently greeted potential customers as they walked into the store. Today, only a suburban branch still is open for business. Like the Bernsteins, the Levinskys generously give of themselves to their community and Jewish institutions.

  • (8) Jewish Community Center building, 341 Cumberland Avenue. While no longer the JCC, the building is worthy of a plaque for its years of service starting in the 1930s as a center of Jewish social and cultural life.

  • (9) Noyes Street Shaarey Tphiloh and Levey Hebrew Day School, 76 Noyes Street. The traditional orthodox synagogue of Portland Jewry was established anew in the 1950s here.

  • (10) Temple Beth El, 400 Deering Avenue. Today, this is Portland's largest synagogue. It is conservative and egalitarian. Since 1947, this synagogue has become the leader of Portland Jewry's religious and educational life.





Key Facts About Portland ME Jewry

  • 1870s-1890s, Portland Jewry evolves from a handful of peddlers to several hundred Jews. They're principally from Eastern Europe and orthodox in lifestyle and religious practices. Their livelihood is small commerce. For examples, they establish small clothing stores such as Bernsteins, Rosenbergs, Wassermans, and Davis.

  • By the 1st decade of the 20th century, Portland's approximately 500 Jews establish their 1st central orthodox synagogue, Shaarey Tphiloh, on Middle Street. There, they share in worship, study, and traditional rituals.

  • During the 1st 2 decades of the 20th century, the number of Portland's Jews quadruples. Several additional orthodox synagogues (and briefly, one conservative-type congregation) develop. By the 3rd decade, Etz Chaim synagogue, Vaad Hair (orthodox supervisory body for kashrut, mikvah, and other rituals), Chevra Kadisha (burial society), Portland Hebrew School, United Hebrew Charities, YMHA and YWHA, Jewish Home for the Aged, Bnai Brith, and Zionist clubs are constituted.

  • In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Jewish Community Center supercedes YMHA and YWHA as well as a number of other cultural, educational, recreational groups and Jewish Federation supercedes its precedents, the United Jewish Appeal and United Hebrew Charities.

  • By the late 1940s, as Portland Jewry moves from downtown and Munjoy Hill to Woodfords/Deering, conservative Judaism emerges in the form of Temple Beth El.
  • During the 2nd half of the 20th century, Portland Jewry coalesces around Temple Beth El and a new reform synagogue in South Portland, Bet Haam.





Hope you enjoyed our walking tour of sites of Jewish experience in Portland, ME.



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Now available!


The Jewish Friendship Trail Guidebook

6 Self-Guided Walking/Bicycling Jewish Boston History Tours

Covers Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge

Softcover 198 pages with maps & b/w photos

Click here
Book Order Form
to order now!



Now available!


The Ten Commandments Guidebook

Ways to Self-Struggle with Classic Morals

In Song, Poetry, and Prose

Covers 10 Commandments Plus One Other!

Softcover 153 pages with practical suggestions pages!

Click here
Book Order Form
to order now!














"West End House" circa 2004
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Copyright Michael Alan Ross, 2000-2015. All Rights Reserved.

Email: BostonWalks



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img Filene img Best of Boston img NYC UWS img Brandeis img Love Your Neighbor img Watertown, New Town, & Muddy River imgWalk Near Water img Refute Hate img Walk West/North Ends img We're One img Pray Here img Meditation img Clubs img Brookline img Sensual Walks img More Love img Reporting img Jewish Books img TEN img South End img What's a political mensch? img More "What's a political mensch?" img Phoenix Scottsdale, AZ



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Sing Sense to America


Remember the 21st century 1st decade presidential elections by singing some salivatingly satirical and serious song lyrics.
To do so, try these on your tongue:




Question: What's a political mensch?

Answer #1
Answer #2



BostonWalks

Integrating the urban, modern Jewish American city experience with its historical sites and themes in such locales as Boston, MA, Portland, ME, East Bay and Providence, RI, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan, NYC.





Table of Contents of Boston Walks The Jewish Friendship Trail




Copyright Michael Alan Ross, 2004-2015. All Rights Reserved.