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Maine Memory Network

The Changing Landscape of Jewish Organizations

Portland Lodge 218 IOBB minutes, 1874

Portland Lodge 218 IOBB minutes, 1874

Item 56938 info
Maine Historical Society

B'nai B'rith formed nationwide as a secular Jewish cultural fraternal organization in 1843. Its earliest lodges, based in New York City, organized mutual aid programs to encourage peoplehood and Jewish unity.

The Portland area lodge, founded in 1874, included members from all over Maine, including Saco, Lewiston, Waterville and Bangor. This B'nai B'rith lodge provided valuable social services to members of the community, offering monetary support both to lodge members who could not work and to local Jewish widows.

Sometimes secular and religious groups gather to perform the same tasks. One of the Portland lodge's first actions was the purchase of land Cape Elizabeth in 1875, providing the first Jewish cemetery in southern Maine.

Separate Jewish cemetery space, in which members could be buried according to Jewish rites, was of utmost importance to B'nai B'rith just as it was important to members of Ahavas Achim before them.

Secular or religious, acquisition of cemetery space took precedence in Jewish organizations in Maine in the 19th century.

The Waterville area chapter of B'nai B'rith was founded about 1930. Though created as a fraternal organization, the organization's membership in Waterville consisted entirely of women by the late 1930s.

The then all-women's lodge organized local social events and maintained a relationship with larger Jewish communities outside of Waterville through B'nai B'rith.

Secular Jewish organizations like B'nai B'rith, as well as synagogues, worked to meet the needs of Jewish community members and members and foster a sense of connection to Jews across the country and around the world.

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