Documenting Maine Jewry : Early Portland Jewish History


By the President Barnard Aaronson

Centennial Celebration :
An Account of the Municipal Celebration
on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the
Incorporation of the Town of Porltand
July 4th, 5th, and 6th, 1886

I beg to thank the committee on Sunday services, for extending an invitation to our church, to participate in an historical discourse pertaining to the rise and progress of religion during the past century in the City of Portland. As president of the "Hebrew Congregation." "Sharith Israel" as a devout follower of the faith, and a citizen of our city for the past twenty years, I hope the observations 1 here note, may be of some value in records of the future, and awaken some interest in the present amongst those who have not watched closely the movements of "Judaism" in their midst. A quarter of a century ago, there was no representative of the Jewish Church in your city. In 1866 or 1867, several families pitched their tents here, and who by frugal habits, honest efforts and application to their various vocations, soon succeded in accumulating some earthly treasures, until today they number amongst them various merchants and professionals, who are rated financially, as well as some our most important citizens.

The form of religion is Orthodox, and yet thoroughly liberal in thought and action. As a class, the Portland "Sons of Israel" compares more than favorably with the Hebrews of other cities. He willingly obeys the laws as prescribed by our city fathers, is anxious to promote the welfare of the city in his way, humble though it may be. I feel that he may be called a law abiding citizen, in all that phrase implies. Our synagogue at present, while not elaborate, is impressive, and on Saturday morning, our Sabbath, service is conducted by a competent rabbi, and the Word of God is uttered and re-echoed by willing and earnest mouths.

Our various holidays and fast-days are celebrated with all the care and spiritual feeling that characterizes our cosmopolitan cities, with its crowded synagogues and inspired divines. We number some sixty families, and over the major portion being of the middle or poorer class, yet content with their lot, and always ready and willing to lend a helping hand to the old or infirm, the struggling or the unfortunate.

I may also say, we have purchased (some ten years ago) a tract of land in Cape Elizabeth, to be used for a burial plot [now called the Smith St Cemetery, South Portland]; it is kept in good condition, so that when the time arrives to be called to Him, the surviving ones can properly and feelingly place their loved ones in their final home, near at hand. I hope I have given utterance to no fulsome praise. I have endeavored to note facts, as I have observed and fully believe. I know I can safely say in behalf of my co-religionists, that our city fathers have in the past fully merited the good will and affectionate esteem in which they are held by us.

We sincerely hope nothing will occur in the future to mar the harmonious feeling now existing between the denominations; we are all "branches of one tree." May the next "centennial celebration " show as much marked progress as the present has over the past, and may our children be proud of the efforts of their fathers and say: "in the past we live."

Last Updated : February 25, 2008