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Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries
The Maine State Museum’s newest exhibition, Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries, presents the experiences of one of Maine’s most enduring communities, from 19th-century immigrants to more recent residents and summer visitors. It has been organized by guest curator Amy E. Waterman of Brunswick, supported by museum staff, an advisory committee of scholars and community members, and a partnership with Colby College’s Center for Small Town Jewish Life.
The exhibit gives voice to generations of people from every corner of the state, illustrating how Jewish life has become an essential part of Maine’s rhythms and character. It looks at such subjects as: where and why Jews settled in Maine; religious traditions; obstacles to full integration in Maine and barriers overcome; working lives; Jewish summer camps and tourism; agencies that served Jewish citizens; and organizations that have made community service an essential part of Jewish life.
According to museum director Bernard Fishman, “In its breadth, depth, and sharp focus on one ethnic group, Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries is something of a departure from past Maine State Museum exhibits. Although we have touched on matters of ethnic identity before, this one explores the whole range of a large Maine community’s history, connections, and cultural expressions. We anticipate that future exhibits will provide opportunities for museum visitors to learn about other groups that are as distinctive and surprisingly varied as Maine’s Jewish community.”
“This exhibition is truly a community effort,” explains curator Waterman, whose career in museums has had a concentration in Jewish history projects. “It draws heavily from Jewish citizens and organizations throughout the state and, with items from the Maine State Museum’s own collection, includes more than 200 images and 170 objects from 62 lenders. In many ways, both non-Jewish and Jewish visitors will find the exhibit reflective and spirited, illuminating and fun. ”
One of the exhibit’s most dramatic and unique artifacts is a majestic, Art Deco-style Torah ark, dating from the 1930s. The museum acquired the ark from the former Beth Abraham Synagogue in Auburn. Museum staff and contractors meticulously dismantled it, then moved, stored, and finally reassembled it in the museum exhibit gallery.
In addition to the ark, the exhibit incorporates interactive audio and video presentations, thematically related works of contemporary art, and educational activities to appeal to a wide range of audiences. An exhibition handbook will be produced in conjunction with the show.
Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries will remain on view through October 25, 2019. The lead sponsor for the exhibit is the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, supplemented by significant support from the Maine Humanities Council, the Jewish Community Endowment Associates (Bangor), the Unobskey Foundation, and the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, among dozens of supportive private and institutional friends.
Photos: (above left) Jewish immigrants to Maine in the late 1800s often worked as peddlers or opened clothing and dry goods stores. This ca. 1910 sign, on view in the exhibit, advertised Joseph Solovich’s store on Front Street in Bath. (above right) This ornamental silver and vermeil (gilded silver) crown is a Jewish ritual object used to decorate a Torah scroll. It was once owned by Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh of Portland. When that congregation moved from its Noyes Street location to new quarters at Temple Beth El, they generously donated several objects, including this one, to the Maine State Museum.