Like other immigrant groups, Jews came to Maine to make a living and enjoy the natural and cultural environment. Their experiences have been shaped by their occupational choices, Jewish values and, until recently, experiences of anti-Semitism.
Chassidic Jews who came to Portland from Eastern Europe formed a congregation in the late 19th century and, in 1917, built a synagogue -- Anshe Sfard -- on Cumberland Avenue in Portland. By the early 1960s, the congregation was largely gone. The building was demolished in 1983.
Thirty-four young Jewish men from Maine died in the service of their country in the two World Wars. This project, including a Maine Memory Network exhibit, is meant to say a little something about some of them. More than just names on a public memorial marker or grave stone, these men were getting started in adult life. They had newly acquired high school and college diplomas, they had friends, families and communities who loved and valued them, and felt the losses of their deaths.
Grade Level: 6-8, 9-12
Content Area: English Language Arts, Social Studies
Longfellow's poem "The Jewish Cemetery at Newport" opens up the issue of the earliest history of the Jews in America, and the significant roles they played as businessmen and later benefactors to the greater community. The history of the building itself is notable in terms of early American architecture, its having been designed, apparently gratis, by the most noted architect of the day. Furthermore, the poem traces the history of Newport as kind of a microcosm of New England commercial cities before the industrialization boom. For almost any age student the poem could be used to open up interest in local cemeteries, which are almost always a wealth of curiousities and history. Longfellow and his friends enjoyed exploring cemeteries, and today our little local cemeteries can be used to teach little local histories and parts of the big picture as well. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited the Jewish cemetery in Newport, RI on July 9, 1852. His popular poem about the site, published two years later, was certainly a sympathetic portrayal of the place and its people. In addition to Victorian romantic musings about the "Hebrews in their graves," Longfellow includes in this poem references to the historic persecution of the Jews, as well as very specific references to their religious practices. Since the cemetery and the nearby synagogue were restored and protected with an infusion of funding just a couple years after Longfellow's visit, and later a congregation again assembled, his gloomy predictions about the place proved false (never mind the conclusion of the poem, "And the dead nations never rise again!"). Nevertheless, it is a fascinating poem, and an interesting window into the history of the nation's oldest extant synagogue.