In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Maine Memory Network

Experience of Jewish Teenagers in Maine

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YMCA basketball team, Waterville, 1944

YMCA basketball team, Waterville, 1944

Item 56913 info
Colby College Special Collections

Many of Maine's teenagers were involved in sports, and Jews were no exception. However, between the 1920s and 1940s, it was often tough for Jews to get involved.

As Ethel Talberth of Waterville recalled, "I loved sports. And, in order to engage in them, I had to bow down to the Catholic people. One would say, 'If you want me to vote for you, you have to scrub coals—you're Jewish.'"

But despite discrimination and name-calling on the courts and fields, Jewish teens had great success in athletics.

In 1944, Teddy Shiro was on the Waterville basketball team that won a New England title. By the 1950s and '60s, the name-calling turned from anti-Semitic to playful jokes.

Peter Beckerman, another Waterville native, remembered that his friends called him "bagel eater" on the basketball court. This did not offend him because it was funny and pertained to his identity.

Even if Jews experienced name-calling, they embraced the athletic lifestyle of Maine.

Shabbat Service, Camp Lown, Oakland, 1947

Shabbat Service, Camp Lown, Oakland, 1947

Item 56912 info
Colby College Special Collections

Jewish teenagers fully embraced Maine's well-known slogan, "Vacationland." In the summer, many children and teens attended Camp Lown, a Jewish camp where they had fun and met other Jewish kids.

They even had Maccabiah games, which were their own distinctly Jewish version of color war.

There were Jewish camps throughout the state, many of which are still in existence today.

For example, Camp Walden and Camp Kennebec were both "ethnically" Jewish, although no religious observances took place.

At the same time, there are many camps where youth and teens chant blessings before and after meals and get dressed up to observe Shabbat. These camps include Camp Lown, Camp Modin, Camp Kingswood, and the newest addition, Camp Micah.

Whether religious or not, Jewish camps offered teens the opportunity to actively affirm their Jewish identity while they integrate into the outdoor culture of Maine.

Dance Card, Waterville, 1917

Dance Card, Waterville, 1917

Item 56911 info
Colby College Special Collections

Jewish teens in Maine, such as Teddy Levine, often spent their evenings socializing on the dance floor, taking part in the typical American high school and college lifestyle.

But Judaism was just as important to Teddy as his social life. Despite the fact that Teddy was popular on the dance floor, with every waltz, foxtrot, and one-step penciled in on his dance card, he never married -- because he could not find a Jewish girl.

In order to keep the religious community alive, Jews were expected to marry within the faith. Teddy's brothers also were unable to find Jewish girls, so they never married either.

Gamma Phi Epsilon members, Colby College, 1930

Gamma Phi Epsilon members, Colby College, 1930

Item 56914 info
Colby College Special Collections

Being a Jewish student on a Maine college campus was often difficult. For example, even though the administration at Colby was open to Jewish enrollment, the students did not always treat their Jewish peers with respect.

Judy Quint Schreider '39 recalled, "I get up to Colby and nobody can say hello to me, except my roommate that I brought up with me."

Similarly, Doris Rose Hopengarten remembered being excluded from sorority life in the late 1930s; the dean explained that sororities were outside the administration's control.

Due to this exclusion from the social scene, Jewish teens worked to establish their own fraternities on Maine's college campuses. These students needed their own organizations with which they could associate.

The University of Maine was home to the state's first Jewish fraternity, founded in 1916, which was affiliated with the national Jewish fraternity Phi Epsilon Pi.

At Colby, seven students founded Gamma Phi Epsilon in 1919. Despite the fact that Colby's President and Board of Trustees approved the creation of the fraternity, the fraternity-dominated Student Council refused to recognize it.

Eventually, a faculty committee recommended that Gamma Phi Epsilon be acknowledged as long as it was "not founded upon religious or racial lines." This suggestion pleased the members of Gamma Phi but not the Student Council.

It was not until 1932 that the Council finally agreed to recognize Gamma Phi Epsilon, 13 years after its founding.

After its recognition, Gamma Phi Epsilon affiliated with the national fraternity, Tau Delta Phi, an officially nonsectarian fraternity but one whose members were almost all Jewish.

Alpha Rho Upsilon, Bowdoin College, 1948

Alpha Rho Upsilon, Bowdoin College, 1948

Item 53713 info
Bowdoin College Library

In 1946, Bowdoin students founded the fraternity Alpha Rho Upsilon. The group of students, which consisted primarily of Jews, chose the letters ARU to stand for "All Races United."

The fraternity was established with the belief that it would give Jews and Blacks their own group with which they could associate.

However, the student newspaper, The Orient, opposed the formation of the fraternity on the grounds that the existing fraternities should stop being anti-Semitic and accept Jewish students as members, which ultimately did happen.

Once the Jewish students had their own group with which to associate on campus, they felt more included in communal life on campus.

Hillel Silver Jubilee, 1949

Hillel Silver Jubilee, 1949

Item 53714 info
Maine Historical Society

Chapters of Hillel, the national Jewish organization on college campuses, were established at the four Maine universities.

Colby started its chapter of Hillel in 1947–48. Bates and the University of Maine had both established their chapters of Hillel by 1949 as well.

At Bowdoin, the earliest mention of Jewish students gathering together dates December 1, 1967.

That group eventually became known as the Bowdoin Jewish Organization. The BJO became affiliated with the national Hillel organization and changed its name to the "Bowdoin Hillel" in 2002.

The establishment of these Hillel chapters was significant because it was the first time that Jewish students were able to have their own distinctively Jewish organization that celebrated Jewish culture and identity.

This slideshow contains 6 items