Synagogue Building Association record book, Portland, ca. 1902
Item 53999 info
Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh
Among Portland's 50,000 residents in 1900 were about 80 Jewish families. While they had been organized in several congregations, two groups of Orthodox Jews decided in 1900 to join forces to build a synagogue and attract a rabbi.
The cover of the Hebrew Building Association record book is written in Yiddish, a reflection of the Jewish community's Eastern European roots.
Even though the title of the record book and most other documents were in Yiddish, the Finance Committee statements were in English.
The members of the committee, which was raising money to build a synagogue for Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh, were Samuel Rosenberg, a native of Poland, was a merchant; David Shwartz, a native of Russia who ran a clothing store; Joseph Mack, a native of Russia, was a clothing merchant; I Santasky, Nathan Stein, a native of Russia, was a dry goods peddler; and A.J. Bernstein, a native of Russia, ran a clothing store.
Mack was president, Rosenberg the treasurer, and Stein the secretary of the committee.
The congregation built Shaarey Tphiloh in 1904 on Newbury Street, in the area of Portland where most Jewish residents -- and many other immigrant groups -- lived.
Invited to the cornerstone ceremony were civic leaders, including Mayor James P. Baxter, and Christian clergy.
Isaac Marcus, a native of Russia, who probably came to Portland from Utica, New York, was the first rabbi. He stayed in Portland until about 1910.
Chaim Nasan Shohet, a distinguished Talmudic scholar, was the rabbi at Shaarey Tphiloh until 1916.
He wrote the Secher Chaim, a "responsa" in which a rabbi puts forward religious questions, then writes answers based on a wide range of sources of Jewish texts.
The cover is in Yiddish. The English portion reads: "Secher Chaim, By Rabbi H.N. Shohet, Portland, Maine, Published by the Author, Second Edition, 1913."
It was not until the arrival of Rabbi David Essrig in 1917, that English became the language for official synagogue documents and for services.
But switching from Yiddish was not always easy. The name of the synagogue was written in many different ways in English before "Shaarey Tphiloh" became the accepted spelling.
In 1914, a group of men including Morris Crashnitz, a native of Russia, who was a peddler; Jacob Weinstein, a native of Russia and a clothing merchant; Morris Gavitsky, a native of Russia and a painter; Israel Cinamon, a native of Russia who was a grocer; Bennet Goffin, a native of Russia; and Michael Rubinoff, an insurance agent, formed Chevra t'Hilim to offer aid and charity for Hebrew people in distress, prayers for sick and injured Hebrew people, and to instruct Hebrew people in religious movements.
People sought help from Chevra t'Hillim in times of illness, sorrow, or trouble. When requested, members gathered at a person's home, synagogue or funeral chapel and chanted the Psalms of David.
The synagogue spawned other chevras (groups), including a Chevra Shas and Chevra Mishnayos, whose members studied the holy tracts daily; and the Chevra Linas Ha'Zedek, whose members acted as male and female nurses attending the sick.
Shaarey Tphiloh Constitution and Bylaws, Portland, ca. 1920
Item 54066 info
Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh
Shaarey Tphiloh adopted its bylaws on November 13, 1904.
The first president of the congregation was Bernard L. Shalit, a native of Russia who owned a clothing store. Other officers were Benjamin Snider, vice president; Samuel Rosenberg, treasurer; and Nathan Stein, secretary.
Snider, a shoemaker; Rosenberg, a clothing dealer; and Stein, a dry goods peddler; all were natives of Russia and Yiddish speaking.
The common language -- for both religious services and daily business -- was Yiddish.
Even as the synagogue moved into its new building in 1904, historian Michael R. Cohen wrote, members faced the challenge of observing religious laws and traditions -- and fitting into Portland and America.
He argues that Shaarey Tphiloh adapted to Protestant America, modernizing in a number of way, while maintaining many Orthodox practices.
One compromise, Cohen noted, was making services more "refined," limiting individual participation in favor of a rabbi-centered "performance."
The bimah, which is in front of the ark, was built at the front of the sanctuary in the new synagogue, rather than in the center as was traditional.
In 1949, under the direction of the congregation's new rabbi, Morris Bekritsky, a new ark took its place in the Newbury Street synagogue.
The ark was dedicated in March 1949. Along with the new ark, the congregation rewired, painted and paneled the vestry to show off the dark mahogany ark. Much of the cost of the work was paid by families of two Jewish veterans of World War II, which ended in 1945.
Jacob Citrin, a native of Russian Poland, who came to Portland in about 1905 and who worked as a building contractor, designed the ark and supervised its construction.
In 1954, Shaarey Tphiloh celebrated its Golden Jubilee. In the 50 years that passed, English had largely replaced Yiddish in the congregation and documents, and many congregation members moved away from the India Street area of Portland.
Several other synagogues had taken root in Portland as well, including Temple Beth El, a Conservative congregation in the Woodfords area where many Jews had moved.
Within several years of the celebration, Shaarey Tphiloh built a new synagogue in the same community.
At the golden jubilee events in 1954, Cantor Moshe Kusevitsky (1899-1966), one of the best-known cantors of the 20th century, gave a concert.
A native of Lithuania, Kusevitsky, who was a tenor, performed on June 14, 1954, accompanied by Jack Barras on the piano.
When Shaarey Tphiloh built a new synagogue on Noyes Street in 1956, some members remained at the Newbury Street, worshipping there instead.
By 1973, High Holy Days services at Noyes Street were so crowded, the congregation had to purchase tickets to insure admission.
When the new synagogue opened on Noyes Street, some members of the congregation continued to worship at Newbury Street and uphold the older Orthodox traditions.
In 1975, nearly 20 years the Noyes Street Shul was built, Shaarey Tphiloh advertised to sell the Newbury Street building.
While the congregation had long conducted its business in English and moved away in many ways from its Eastern European roots, the sale of the building on Newbury Street further closed that part of the synagogue's past.
Shaarey Tphiloh celebrated its centennial in 2004, still serving Portland's Orthodox community.
Among the events, advertised by this poster, was a performance by Paul Zim, "The Jewish Music Man," and his Simcha Klezmar Band.
Zim grew up in Portland. His father, Samuel Zimelman, was the longtime cantor of Shaarey Tphiloh
While the synagogue had modernized in a number of ways over its first 100 years, it retained a sense of its history.
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