Short history of the Jewish community of Aroostook 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´┐Żs 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." " ;

page updated : August 5, 2015

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