Short history of the Jewish community of Greater Calais

"Living in Snovsk, Russia, in 1903, Sarah Unobskey demanded that her husband escape conscription in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War and go to America. Joseph arrived at Ellis Island with 17 cents and one possession - a mink-lined coat…

Initially Joseph worked in Boston in the fur business, as he had done in Russia. It is not clear whether Joseph found his way to Eastport, Maine, before or after Sarah arrived in 1905 with their two sons, Arthur and William. What is certain is that Sarah was attracted to cheap land in areas far from the large eastern cities. Like many poor Jewish immigrants, Joseph peddled goods around rural Maine coast, selling bits of inexpensive clothing, pots, pans, and anything else that allowed a profit. Finally, the family settled in Eastport and opened a small dry-goods store. There, another son, Charles was born in 1906. Joseph and Sarah lived in Eastport for several years building their business and family. In 1906 Louis Unobsky, Joseph's brother, and Mary Unobsky, Sarah's sister, arrived in the United States. The two brothers had married sisters in Russia.

Brought over by Joseph and Sarah, Louis and his wife started their own dry-goods store in Lubec,…

The Unobskeys found Eastport, filled with fishermen and workers in the sardine plants, a difficult pace. Arthur and Bill were frequently beaten up by, taunted as Jews and forced to eat pork by gangs of young ruffians.

In 1911, the Unobskeys… sold their Eastport store and moved 26 miles to Calais, lured by the city's location as a regional center of trade between Canada and Maine.

At the time, Calais was a small Jewish center that drew upon several immigrant familes in St. Stephen (New Brunswick), Eastport, and Lubec.

One such Jew, Joseph Gordon, had left Minsk in 1806, traveled to New York, and yearned for work beyond the harsh competitive turmoil of the Lower East Side. Looking for reasons to try his luck in Maine, Gordon wrote for information to an immigrant friedn already living in Calais. 'You'll never be a millionarie,' Gordon's friend replied, 'but you can do what you want here. Come down.' "

Judith S Goldstein Crossing Lines : Histories of Jews and Gentiles in Three Communites 1992, New York, chapter 12

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page updated : August 5, 2015

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