Jews as Mainers: Jewish Contributions to Maine's Culture

Summit Springs Hotel, Poland, ca. 1910

Summit Springs Hotel, Poland, ca. 1910
Item 138   info
Maine Historical Society

Although Maine has been a popular American vacation spot for many years, the resorts for which the state is famous have not always been open to everyone.

In the early 20th century there was a rising national trend of excluding Jews from hotels and resorts, and Maine was no exception.

Poland Spring, for example, was a popular resort that welcomed wealthy Jews during its first half-century of existence, but potential guests reported that the hotel turned to a policy of discrimination as anti-Semitism rose nationally in the early 20th century.

Jews, however, were not left out in the cold as other resorts friendly to Jews started to appear.

The Jewish-owned Summit Springs, located on the next hill over from Poland Spring, offered wealthy out-of-state Jews an alternative place to stay during their jaunts into Maine.

Summit Springs is an example of how the presence of Jews in Maine altered the local culture and how Jews carved out a space for themselves in the face of adversity.

Maccabiah patch, Camp Lown, ca. 1958

Maccabiah patch, Camp Lown, ca. 1958
Item 57659   info
Individual Partner

Camp Lown, located in Oakland, was one of Maine’s Jewish summer camps. The general trend of Jewish summer camps in Maine was to have a Jewish name, a mostly Jewish staff, and a primarily Jewish collection of campers.

For most camps, this is where their Jewish identity ended. Lown was an exception, opting to flavor American camp traditions in a new way with a strong focus on Jewish religion and culture.

Camp Lown is an example of a Jewish summer camp that was both American and distinctly Jewish. The camp held daily prayer services, along with Friday night services every week for Shabbat.

But Lown was also known for maintaining the important aspects of other American summer camps. Substituting the classic camp tradition of “color wars” for the more Jewish Maccabiah (a similar all-camp competition of games and sports), Lown sought to give its campers an authentic American camp experience each summer while delivering a healthy dose of Jewish culture and religious observance.

Camp Lown patch, Oakland, ca. 1957

Camp Lown patch, Oakland, ca. 1957
Item 57611   info
Individual Partner

The combination of American and Jewish identities at Camp Lown can be seen clearly in the design of camp patches.

Some Maccabiah patches feature red, white and blue, signifying the American identity of the camp, and other Maccabiah patches feature the Star of David, the international Jewish symbol.

This blue and gold camp patch also has a large Star of David in the center.

Camp Lown is another example of an institution through which Jews managed to add significantly to the already existing culture of Maine. They were able to take the distinct identity and focus of an American summer camp and meld it together with Jewish practices and traditions in order to create something new.

Dave the Guesser with kids, Old Orchard Beach, 1964

Dave the Guesser with kids, Old Orchard Beach, 1964
Item 146   info
Maine Historical Society

Dave Glovsky, in the center of the photo with glasses, is one of the most interesting examples of a Jew who not only fit into the Vacationland culture successfully, but also added to it in a totally unique way.

Located on Old Orchard Beach, Glovsky’s Guessing Booth attracted thousands of tourists every summer. Guessing (often correctly) everything from weight or age to marital status, Glovsky offered prizes to patrons who stumped him.

Signs around his booth advertised his various games and prompted people to improve their lives by quitting smoking and promoting a "focus on fun."

His guessing games and messages of self-improvement, coupled with his skill as a ventriloquist, served Glovsky well as his stand quickly grew to be a very popular source of entertainment for beachgoers.

His business was not distinctively Jewish, but serves as an example of how Jews could fit into Maine’s culture and expand it in their own ways.

'For Teenagers Only,' Portland, ca. 1960

'For Teenagers Only,' Portland, ca. 1960
Item 55530   info
Maine Historical Society

The Dave Astor Show was immensely popular during the second half of the 20th century. Astor, a Jew from Portland, served as the variety show’s only host, bringing entertainment to Maine televisions from 1956 to 1971.

Dave Astor's show was important to many Mainers, Jewish and gentile alike, as a view into American popular culture.

Ruth Conner Bastarache recalls, "The Dave Astor Show was our local 'American Bandstand.' It taught us how to dance, dress and act by example."

Ruth and her siblings remember watching the show every Saturday afternoon without fail. Astor’s show was also well known for its weekly For Teenagers Only segment.

The television station invited local teens to come to the recordings of the show for a chance to display their own talents for the camera.

'Carrying Water' book cover, Waterville, 1997

'Carrying Water' book cover, Waterville, 1997
Item 56915   info
Colby College Special Collections

To Linda Tatelbaum, the process of canning is no different from her efforts to maintain and protect Maine's wildlife.

In Carrying Water as a Way of Life, she describes how by reusing the same jars she continues her sustainable way of life: "I feed them. They feed me." These ideas are central to the Back to the Land Movement, which was picking up steam in U.S. by the 1960s.

Maine was a popular locale for those inclined to live off of the land. Linda Tatelbaum and her husband, Kal Winer, Jewish professors from out of state, had such an inclination and in 1977 purchased a 75-acre plot of land in Appleton.

For Tatelbaum and Winer, moving to Maine became just as much about protecting the land as it was about living on it. These two Jews, like many others, found that just fitting in was not enough.

They started their lives in Maine by living fully off the land, first in a one-room cabin Winer built.

Tatelbaum and Winer have also worked to protect Maine's environment. They were involved with projects designed to maintain Maine's ecosystems, and Tatelbaum published several books about living off the land and the importance of protecting the environment.

Winer and Tatelbaum have worked for many years now to strengthen the Back to the Land movement, whose idea of close-knit community life fits in well with Maine's culture.

In this way, they have contributed something very Maine to the community, but also have worked outside of it in order to ensure that others can enjoy the same lifestyle of living off the land.

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