The state of Maine, which on this day in 1820 became the 23rd state of the United States of America, is not known for its bustling Jewish population. Small as the state’s Jewish population may be, it is nevertheless, a community of determined pride – as can be seen by movements currently underway to track their history and connect the diverse elements of the community.

The first known Jew in the colony of Maine was Susman Abrams (1743-1830). Abrams is noted for using Hebrew for his business records, but he also set an all-too-familiar pattern of assimilation. According to one account, he abstained from work on Shabbat, but was lax in his observance of kashrut.

As in many states, the Jewish population came to Maine as peddlers. In the 1820s, the German Jews began establishing themselves in Bangor, even opening a Jewish cemetery, but the first congregation, Ahawas Achim, was not formed until 1849. A decade later, few of these settlers still remained in the city. However, as the original German Jewish settlers either left Maine or assimilated into the general culture they were replaced by the arriving Eastern European Jews. By the end of the 19th century, Portland, rather than Bangor, became the hub of Maine Jewry. Some records even refer to Portland as the “Jerusalem of the North.”

Fortunately, Maine was not a place of rabid anti-Semitism. Indeed, hate groups, such as the Klu Klux Klan, focused instead on Maine’s Catholic population. However, there was a great deal of ethnic snobbery that specifically excluded Jews from the larger society. The state was known for its popular resorts such as the Poland Springs House, which refused entry to Jews and other minorities. However, Jews created their own resort spots, such as Summit Springs, which was located directly across from Poland Springs. Discriminatory policies were not outlawed until the late 1960s. 

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