Jewish community of Aroostook County.
This section of the Documenting Maine Jewry project has information on the communities of Caribou, Presque Isle, Eagle Lake, Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent, Houlton, Island Falls, Limestone, Madawaska, Mars Hill, Portage Lake, Van Buren, Washburn.
The coordinator of this site is Susan Adelman Rudolph . She
would welcome additional photographs, documents and oral histories sent to her at dmj @ mindspring.com
Local Jewish Organizations
|Aroostook Hebrew Community Center||6 Cook St Presque Isle||207-764-1840 -|
Brief History of Jewry in The County
Aroostook, a Native American word meaning “Beautiful River” is aptly called the “The Crown of Maine.” Mainers, however, refer to the area simply as “The County.” Bordering the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, geographically it is larger than the States of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. As of 2010, Aroostook County's population was approximately 72,000. Obtaining statistics of the County’s Jewish population is difficult at best. It would be safe to say that it is less than one percent.
One gets an appreciation of the County from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. “ Lots of people had talked of Aroostook County, but I had never met anyone who had actually been there.” (pg 47) “I saw mountains of potatoes – oceans – more potatoes than you would think the world’s population could consume in a hundred years.” (pg. 50) “What I remember are the long avenues in the frost, the farms and house braced against the winter, the flat, laconic Maine speech in crossroads stores where I stopped to buy supplies.” (pg 56)
It would be a mistake to think that the story of the American Jewish experience can be told without considering the history of small-town Jewish life such as what was experienced in Aroostook County. Jews who came to northern Maine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century came mostly for economic opportunities. The relative frequency with which these immigrants raised and traded cattle or poultry or became farmers or merchants seems to have followed from the circumstances of their previous existence in Eastern Europe. In other cases, they embraced their professions as a result of necessity, or they bravely took on new opportunities in the community in order to make a living for their families.
Culturally the Jewry of northern Maine defied both other people’s and their own expectations. They became recognizable participants in the cultural life of places where they constituted a barely recognizable minority, while at the same time they worked to sustain their identity as Jews.
|Population of Aroostook Maine Jews : 1928 - 1965|
|American Jewish Yearbook,various years|
|1928/ 1929 : "Places having 10 Jews or less : Ashland (Aroostook Co); Brownville & Brownville Junction (Piscatquis County); Eastport Fairfield; Lincoln; Madison; Newport (Penobscot Co), Oakfield (Aroostook Co); Pittsfield; Richmand (Sagadahoc Co)|
| 1940 - 26 in Presque Isle .
"Other Towns with less than 10 Jews : Ashland, Berwick, Brownville, Bucksport, Caribou, Chelsea, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Eagle Lake, Eastport, Ellsworth, Enfield, Fairfield, Fort Fairfield, Freeport, Guildord, Hallowell, Howland, Lincoln, Lisbon, Livermore Falls, Lubec, Mars Hill, Mechanic Falls, Milo, Newport, Norway, Oakland, Pittsfield, Searsport, Van Buren, Vinalhaven, Winslow "
|1955 - 120|
|1965 - 120|
DATABASE RESOURCES : Information is available today on
- 263 individual Jews with strong ties to Aroostook County of which 15 record the Old Country origin of first generation immigrants
- 16 records of burial in Jewish cemeteries for which there are 48 headstone images
- 27 organizations important to the Aroostook County Jewish community of which 6 are Jewish community institutions and 14 are businesses important to the Aroostook County Jewish community
- 47 bibliographic citations and sources pertaining to Aroostook County of which 27 are photographs and 1 are oral histories
Recent additions to the Documenting Aroostook database include
- Katherine Adelman Obituary (Mars Hill) - Congregation Beth Israel, Bangor
- Marriage certificate of Eli E Berger & Bertha C Shur (Fort Kent) - Robert Hains
- Aroostook Hebrew Community Center - membership records and accounts (Aroostook) - Bangor Public Library
- Five Men Smiling, Presque Isle Lions Club room (Presque Isle) - Bangor Public Library
- International Lodge of B'nai B'rith (Aroostook), Six Men With Torah "Donated by Mr and Mrs Adelman 1948" (Aroostook) - Bangor Public Library
- Postcard to Herman Zimmerman (Presque Isle) from Budapest (Presque Isle) - Bangor Public Library
- News Brief : Vandals drew swastikas and a hate message at a synagogue in Presque Isle, Maine, before Rosh Hashanah. (Presque Isle) - Jewish Telegraphic Agency Archive
- Silverman on the Bimah in the Aroostook Hebrew Community Center (Presque Isle) - Susan Cummings-Lawrence
People The questions unavoidably arise: Who is a Jew? And who is a Mainer? On the former, the project takes no position. On the latter, we have used a broad definition including not only those who were born, grew up, or lived here, but also those who are buried here.
Organizations DA is also building a community-based history around the religious and secular institutions that were or are the lifeblood of the Aroostook Jewish community – as well as the source of quite regular souris (headaches). The project is creating 'family trees' of those often-interconnected local institutions: some 180 Jewish service organizations, 94 Jewish religious bodies, 18 Chevra Kaddisha and cemeteries, 15 Jewish camps, and 240 businesses crucial to the economic survival of Maine Jews.
Places The state-wide database has information on Maine Jews from over 90 cities and towns . Users can seek information in a particular town or city or can select a wider area to search on the state map index . Each option allows users to find organizations and people either in these key cities/towns or by county.
Oral Histories The DAJ project is also collecting oral histories.
Sources The Documenting Maine Jewry methodology is basically a jigsaw approach. We take whatever community, municipal, and cemetery records we have and merge them into a common database. As a result, we face problems of duplication and incompleteness. To minimize those problems, we try to name-match only when we have at least two factual sources for a given name. Ultimately, we feel it is better to have duplicate records than inaccurate information linking two unrelated people with the same names; Jews do love to repeat certain family names. In the name of historic accuracy, we ask families to supplement/correct their information using the on-line edit function on their page, or by emailing correct information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For security reasons, complete access to the database is available only on request. A full index of all burials , however, is publicly available.
Volunteers The Aroostook Jewry effort is largely a volunteer effort; we always welcome more help. Volunteers interested in photographing older Jewish headstones, collecting information on a particular town or organization, transferring data from print to electronic records, or upgrading software should email to email@example.com.
Finances Financial contributions supplement the volunteer effort by supporting data collection and outreach. DMJ is under the financial supervision of Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine(JCA), a 501(c)3 organization. Donations are welcome using the Tzedakah box below or by sending a gift (marked DMJ) to the JCA, 57 Ashmont St., Portland, Maine 04103. Major donors can select a range of contributions to honor their own Maine immigrant family or to inspire and inform the next generation of Maine Jews.
Heart and Soul The core of the project is the addition of new information by Maine Jews, whether online through the website, by email, or by old-fashioned mail. We encourage all registered users to supplement or correct existing information on individuals using the edit function on each person's page. Historical documents, oral accounts, photographs of community activities, and print articles can be emailed to Susan Adelman. To get a mailing address, please email to dmj @ mindspring.com describing the materials you would like to share.
Last Updated : March 16, 2011
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