Jewish community of Rumford.
This section of the Documenting Maine Jewry project has information on the communities of Dixfield, Rumford, Rumford Falls, Mexico.The coordinator of Rumford site is Joel Nathan. He would welcome additional photographs, documents and oral histories sent to them at dmj @ mindspring.com
The 1920 and 1930 Jewish census data for Rumford is currently available.
Brief History of Rumford Jewry
The early Jewish inhabitants of Rumford were primarily merchants of all kinds, but particularly clothiers. The most prominent among the earliest Jewish haberdashers was Harold Marx, who opened his first clothing store in Rumford in 1890. Charles Israelson and Benjamin Schwind soon followed after the turn of the 20th century with the opening of their own clothing businesses.
No history of the Rumford Jewish community is complete without an acknowledgment of the importance of the Oxford Paper Company to the Rumford economy. Hugh Chisholm founded the paper mill, which began producing paper in 1901. It was responsible for transforming a sleepy little agricultural town into a booming industrial community. Thousands of new workers migrated to Rumford for construction jobs while the mill was being built and then later as plant workers making the paper products. The new workers needed the goods that the Jewish merchants provided, and the years immediately following the turn of the century saw a rapid increase in the number of Jewish inhabitants in Rumford.
The earliest reference to a Jewish house of worship dates back to 1898 to the Temple Israel Congregation. At its peak in the 1920’s, the Rumford Jewish community probably numbered no more than 20 or 30 families. So the Temple Israel Congregation could not afford to purchase a building to house the congregation nor employ a rabbi to conduct regular Shabat services. However, High Holy Day services conducted by rabbis from more populated Maine towns or by rabbinical students were held annually in temporary facilities, most notably the Knights of Pythias Hall on Canal St.
In spite of the relatively small number of Rumford Jewish families, the Temple Israel Congregation eventually was able to secure funding to purchase an old schoolhouse on Penobscot St. in November 1935. Interestingly enough, the schoolhouse, whose original location was on Franklin St., had previously been the meeting place of many denominations of other religious faiths, including Methodist, Universalist, Baptist, and Catholic. After an extensive renovation period, the Temple Israel Congregation proudly celebrated the start of the Jewish year 5697 in the little schoolhouse on September 17, 1936, with Rabbi Goldstein of Old Orchard conducting Rosh Hashana services.
Mill towns like Rumford are heavily dependent on the economic vitality of their sole industry for their own success. The Great Depression hit the Maine paper industry severely. At the depths of the Depression, the Oxford Paper Company was in production for only several days a week, instead of the normal six. The mill workers were hit hard, which in turn made it difficult for many of the smaller businesses operated by Jewish merchants. They looked for opportunities in larger communities further south, like the Lewiston and Portland areas. So even while the Jewish community was able to purchase their first building for religious worship, by the late 1930’s the community was beginning to dwindle.
While the paper mill was able to recover and thrive in the years leading up to, during, and following World War II, the trend for Jews to migrate from Rumford continued. The children of the more successful Jewish families who went away to college found no economic incentive to return to Rumford. The Jewish community was becoming increasingly older. By 1952, the Temple Israel Congregation included only 5 five Jewish families with children, for a grand total of 9 youths. While Temple Israel never had regular Shabbat services, it was always able to afford a rabbi to conduct High Holy Day services. But by the mid 1950’s, even that had become beyond their modest means, and from then forward, High Holy Day services were conducted by the congregation members themselves. This trend only accelerated into the early 1960’s when it became difficult to gather a minyan even for High Holy Day services. By the late 1960’s only a couple of Jewish families remained and they were forced to sell the little schoolhouse in 1969. The proceeds were donated to the Jewish Home for the Aged in Portland.
DATABASE RESOURCES : Information is available today on
- 143 individual Jews with strong ties to Rumford of which 23 record the Old Country origin of first generation immigrants
- 27 records of burial in Jewish cemeteries for which there are 31 headstone images
- 5 organizations important to the Rumford Jewish community of which 1 are Jewish community institutions and 2 are businesses important to the Rumford Jewish community
- 13 bibliographic citations and sources pertaining to Rumford of which 9 are photographs and 0 are oral histories
Recent additions to the Documenting Rumford database include
- Julius and Olive Nathan in front of Nathan's Apparel Shop (Rumford) - Joel Nathan
- Lillian Cohen, Lou Cohen, and Three Others at a Temple Israel (Rumford) dinner (Rumford) - Joel Nathan
- Nathan, Cohen, Sorofman, Oestrich Boys in Front of Temple Israel (Rumford) (Rumford) - Joel Nathan
- Temple Israel (Rumford) (Rumford) - Joel Nathan
- "Alan Nathan Makes Bar Mitzvah" (Rumford) - Joel Nathan The Rumford Fall Times
- Eight Children in front of Bimah at Temple Israel Rumford (Rumford) - Joel Nathan
- Jay and Mary Nathan Wedding on the steps of Temple Israel, Rumford (Rumford) - Joel Nathan
- Temple Israel - exterior (Rumford) - Alan Nathan
- Rumford, Me : Jewish Census Data (Rumford) - David M. Freidenreich the Colby College Maine Jewish History Project (2011)
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 DRJ is also building a community-based history around the religious and secular institutions that were the lifeblood of the Rumford Jewish community – as well as the source of quite regular souris (headaches). The project is creating 'family trees' of those often-interconnected local institutions: Jewish service organizations, religious bodies, Chevra Kaddisha, cemeteries, Jewish summer camps, and Jewish businesses crucial to the economic survival of Maine Jews.
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 Rumford Documenting Maine Jewry effort is an all 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 Temple Beth El (Portland). Donations are welcome using the Tzedakah box below or by sending a gift (marked DOMJ) to Temple Beth El, Deering Ave, 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 dmj @ mindspring.com . To get a mailing address, please email describing the materials you would like to share.
Last Updated : 17 March 2012
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