- (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.
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
- (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.