Ellen Haas, Leah Aranovitch, Lynn Carp, Linda Spill and Sharon Sneider take part in their bas mitzvah ceremony at Congregation Etz Chaim in Biddeford on June 10, 1956, the first females in the congregation to do so. This and other facets of local Jewish history will be presented by Jennie E. Aranovitch in an online event May 20, hosted by the Biddeford Cultural and Historical Center. Courtesy Photo

BIDDEFORD — Sixty-five years ago, five young women marked a milestone — their bas mitzvah, their coming of age, at Congregation Etz Chaim in Biddeford. A black and white photograph shows the young women dressed in light colored robes, hands clasped before them.

It was the first ever bas (also called bat) mitzvah ceremony held at Biddeford’s Congregation Etz Chaim on June 10, 1956. Prior to that year, only boys celebrated their coming of age with Bar Mitzvah ceremonies in the then-Orthodox congregation.

Jennie E. Aranovitch will give a presentation on the history of Jewish life in Biddeford and Saco in an online presentation May 20. She is the fourth generation of her family to live in the area. Courtesy Photo

On Thursday, May 20, in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center will host a virtual presentation on the history of Jewish life in the Biddeford Saco area. To request the online Zoom link, contact BCHC at [email protected] or call (207) 283-3993.

Viewers will learn about Jewish immigration to Biddeford; the history of Biddeford’s synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim and much more from BCHC board member, local historian, and fourth-generation member of one of Biddeford’s oldest Jewish families, Jennie E. Aranovitch.

Aranovitch will also discuss the cultural aspects of Jewish life in Biddeford and Saco, including adherence to kosher dietary laws, the evolving role of women, the establishment of local chapters of national Jewish organizations, contributions of local Jewish war veterans and the important role played by Jewish business owners in the area, particularly in Biddeford’s downtown.

Aranovitch is the curator of the 2006 Saco Museum exhibit “A Century of Jewish Life in Biddeford-Saco,” held in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Congregation Etz Chaim. As well, she authored a chapter, “A History of Congregation Etz Chaim: Biddeford, Maine” in the 2011 book “Houses of Worship: Saco, Maine.”

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my knowledge of local Jewish history with the community at large,” said Aranovitch, “and proud to be part of the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center’s effort to preserve the history and commemorate the contributions of all ethnic groups that compose or have composed the Biddeford area’s population.”

Aranovitch, a current resident of Biddeford, was raised in Saco. An alumna of Thornton Academy, she graduated summa cum laude from Colby College as an English major and is employed by the University of New England as a writer and editor in the Office of Communications. Aranovitch, who co-chairs the Marketing/Advertising Committee of BCHC, is also a member of Congregation Etz Chaim and the mother of two teenagers in Biddeford Schools.

The Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating, preserving, sharing and teaching the culture, heritage, diversity and history of Biddeford, its people and surrounding communities