Yiddish Documents Reveal Life, Tradition and Politics

The History of Maine’s Immigrant-Era Shuls: Yiddish Documents Reveal Life, Tradition and Politics

Photo courtesy of Susan Cummings-Lawrence
Photo courtesy of Susan Cummings-Lawrence

Maine Historical Society (MHS) has recently been awarded grants for support of translating Yiddish documents for public research purposes. The grants are from the Arthur Wein Foundation; Levey Foundation; Kaplun Foundation, Beth Israel Synagogue, Bath; and Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue.

The Jewish communities that have called Maine home since the 1840s have left rich collections and reminders of daily life during that time. Approximately 1600 pages of Yiddish documents have been made available to MHS through the community research efforts of Susan Cummings-Lawrence, Maine Jewish history consultant at MHS. Participants in the community- wide translation project include Mt. Carmel Cemetery Association, Portland; Beth Israel Synagogue, Bath; Congregation Etz Chaim, Biddeford; Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue, Portland; the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at USM; and, Maine Historical Society.

The purpose of the project is to scan, translate and make the documents available to scholars, students and the interested public. These documents include: minutes book from Etz Chaim and Shaarey Tphiloh synagogues; burial society minutes and ledgers from Mt. Carmel Cemetery Association; a mix of papers from University of Southern Maine’s collection that include documents from area synagogues, the Hebrew Benevolent Association and the Young Women’s Hebrew Association and a Sisterhood book from Beth Israel in Bath. As a whole, this group of documents is one of the few recorded representations of Portland Jewish social and organizational history over a period of 1890s to 1946.

Taken altogether, these precious written materials are the remnant of Portland area Maine Jewish life in the early part of the 20th century. Our goal in organizing and translating this collection of documents is to enable wider dissemination. As a result, all Maine citizens – now and in the future – will benefit from the Maine Historical Society’s efforts to preserve and share our state’s cultural heritage.

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