In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Maine Memory Network

Contributing, Advancing, Succeeding: Jews and Occupations

This slideshow contains 6 items
1
Wolf Lipsky, Bangor, ca. 1900

Wolf Lipsky, Bangor, ca. 1900

Item 56722 info
Bangor Public Library

Most Jews who came to Maine were uninterested in wage-labor jobs, but, without capital, their opportunities for self-employment were limited.

Peddling goods and foodstuffs became the occupation most often pursued by recent Jewish immigrants. Although a difficult and demanding job, peddling provided Jews a chance to collect capital from a relatively small initial investment.

It also provided the communities they serviced connections to the outside world. Peddlers imported commodities from other states and brought merchandise to people's front doors, saving them long and arduous trips into town.

For Wolf Lipsky, as for many others, peddling was a transitional occupation. Within two to five years most peddlers either moved to a different area or to a different occupation.

Setting up a storefront was a natural evolution for peddlers like Wolf Lipsky, who had bought and sold clothes in Bangor's surrounding area before founding a clothing shop in Bangor itself.

As peddlers advanced, they became more visible parts of Maine communities.


2
Cohen shop, Bangor, ca. 1930

Cohen shop, Bangor, ca. 1930

Item 52661 info
Bangor Public Library

Jacob Cohen's store, also in Bangor, was established around the turn of the 20th century.

The Bangor Jewish community was the second largest in the state, with a population of about 1,000 by 1930.

Jewish department stores were prominently situated on Main Streets in a number of towns. Far from serving only Jewish residents, these stores brought the latest fashion trends north from New York City and Boston and sold them to Mainers.


3
Paymaster machine, Waterville, ca. 1960

Paymaster machine, Waterville, ca. 1960

Item 53719 info
Colby College Special Collections

Levine's: The Store for Men and Boys, established by peddler William Levine in Waterville in 1891, was a focal point of downtown Waterville for over 100 years.

William chose Maine because the peddler's license was half the price of a similar license in Massachusetts. For whatever reason, William thought he could succeed in the small town communities of Maine.

By all accounts, he did just that, eventually attracting a vast array of family members to Waterville as well.

Levine's Store let its customers pay on credit, balancing their tab regularly instead of at each purchase, which helped develop long-lasting relationships between the store and its customers.


4
Hiram Adelman, Mars Hill, ca. 1935

Hiram Adelman, Mars Hill, ca. 1935

Item 52660 info
Colby College Special Collections

Some Jews came to Maine without knowing what opportunities that would come.

Hiram Adelman, a recent immigrant unsatisfied with life in New York City, asked where he could find a climate more like his former home in Eastern Europe.

People told him to head north, and so he took the train all the way to Houlton, on the Canadian border.

The potato business Hiram established became one of the largest in Aroostook County.


5
Harris M. Isaacson, Lewiston, ca. 1950

Harris M. Isaacson, Lewiston, ca. 1950

Item 53723 info
Colby College Special Collections

Success for Jews in their occupations could come in many forms—from William Levine's family store to Hiram Adelman's potato business and, increasingly as the 20th century progressed, to the professions.

As teachers, lawyers and doctors, Jews have thrived in Maine. Harris Isaacson, who grew up in Auburn in the century's first years, spent most of his professional life in Lewiston, where he was among the first Jews to establish his own law firm.


6
Harold Alfond bronzed shoes, 1989

Harold Alfond bronzed shoes, 1989

Item 56925 info
Colby College Special Collections

The story of Jewish occupational success in Maine would be incomplete without mentioning the contribution of Harold Alfond.

Raised in Massachusetts by Jewish immigrants from Russia, Alfond moved to Maine after high school and quickly moved from "odd shoe boy" to plant superintendent by the time he was 22.

Within a matter of decades he founded two successful shoe companies, including Dexter Shoes in 1956. In 1950, as he was becoming a successful businessman, Alfond established the charitable Harold Alfond Foundation and over the next 50 years gave more than $100 million to colleges, youth centers and charities throughout Maine.


This slideshow contains 6 items