Over 100 members of the Beth Israel synagogue congregation marched from the corner of Washington and Centre streets in Bath to the synagogue on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the synagogue’s centennial anniversary. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record.

The congregation of Beth Israel, a Bath synagogue, celebrated its centennial anniversary on Sunday by reenacting the synagogue’s dedication ceremony held in the same spot 100 years ago.

The celebration included a parade that started on the corner of Washington and Centre streets, where Nathan Povich, one of Beth Israel’s founding congregants, once owned a store. The parade of over 100 people headed north on Washington Street to the synagogue, which sits near the intersection of Washington and Summer streets.

Siblings Lon and Elaine Povich led the parade, carrying the Torah, the first five books of the Jewish bible, just as their great-grandfather, Nathan Povich, did the day the synagogue opened. Lon and Elaine Povich said they are the fifth generation of the Povich family to belong to Beth Israel synagogue.

“Today feels very special,” said Elaine Povich. “We feel like we’re honoring our ancestors and marking the centennial of a very special place. My father used to say that it was a series of miracles that kept this place going all these years. The Jews in Bath have been extremely fortunate and have persevered through thick and thin for over 100 years.”

“It’s an amazing story that, in such a small town in Maine, Jews came and were welcomed here and have continued to live here for more than 100 years,” said Lon Povich. “It’s an American story.”

Congregants Irwin Brodsky, Peggy Brown, Shira Gersh and Marty Fox carried the synagogue’s chuppah, a holy canopy couples stand under during their wedding ceremony, in the parade.


Lon and Elaine Povich, great-grandchildren of founding member Nathan Povich, hold the Torah on the steps of the synagogue. Congregants Irwin Brodsky, Peggy Brown, Shira Gersh and Marty Fox hold the synagogue’s chuppa. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record. 

Some people also waved small American flags in the parade, as the original congregation members did to show “they were so proud to be Americans,” said Marilyn Weinberg, a member of the Beth Israel congregation.

According to a Feb. 9, 1922 article from the “Bath Independent,” the original dedication ceremony garnered a crowd of 250 “local Hebrews and many out-of-town guests.” The ceremony also included a few prayers, holy readings and hymns inside the synagogue, but the centennial celebration was held entirely outdoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

David Freidenreich, chair of the Jewish Studies Department at Colby College and associate director of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, said the 1922 newspaper article calling the Beth Israel congregation “Hebrews” speaks volumes about how Jews were viewed and treated 100 years ago compared to today.

“Jews have not referred to themselves as ‘Hebrews’ for about 25 to 3,000 years, but the author of the story didn’t think to ask,” said Freidenreich. “Today, there’s much more sensitivity and interest in recognizing and respecting the identities of all sorts of minority communities.”

According to the Maine Jewish Museum, Jews have been living in Maine for 200 years. The first Jewish family arrived in Bath in 1886. By the early 1900s, the city’s Jewish population grew to include a wave of settlers, many of whom came to work as peddlers.

The Beth Israel synagogue was founded on Jan. 29, 1922 by eastern European immigrants, many of whom had fled persecution and found they were welcomed by the Bath community, according to Weinberg.


Before Beth Israel was built, Bath’s Jewish families would travel to Portland to attend religious services and find Kosher food until Bath had enough Jewish families to warrant their own house of worship, according to Dorice Povich Mensh.

Holly Morrison (left), pastor of the Phippsburg United Church of Christ, holds a sign reading “Birthday blessings to you” outside the synagogue. The signs were made by children at the church, Morrison said. “This is just our way of making love visible in the community during the pandemic,” said Morrison. “Especially now, we think it’s important for the Jewish community to feel supported.” Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record.

After gathering in borrowed spaces around town, Weinburg told the story of how Jews in Bath scraped together money, took out a loan and gathered donations from the community to buy property in Bath, then build the synagogue. Weinburg spoke of the synagogue’s first days after it opened, even though the building wasn’t entirely finished, when the congregation didn’t have chairs, and there was one small wood stove inside to keep them warm.

“Today we honor our founders for having the will and determination to create this space for us to gather as a Jewish community,” said Weinburg. “We’re also here to honor each and every one of you. You make this a place of faith, community, and love for all and we hope we’re here for another 100 years.”

Congregation member Rachel Connelly, spoke at the synagogue doors of the “chutzpah and humility” the original founders had to create the synagogue with the few resources they had.

“They had the chutzpah to walk down Washington Avenue – 250 people in 1922,” said Connelly. “Antisemitism was raging in the United States, and it was raging in Bath too despite the welcome. They did not just open the door, walk in and pretend they weren’t there. They walked down Washington and said, ‘We’re here, we’re part of you.’ That’s chutzpah.”

Connelly said the synagogue is in the midst of a $1 million centennial campaign to fund and maintain the synagogue for another 100 years, which has already raised $650,000 in pledges and donations.


Children enrolled in the Beth Israel Hebrew school closed the ceremony with a prayer. Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record.

When Beth Israel was founded in 1922, Bath had an estimated Jewish population of just under 100, according to the Maine Jewish Museum. By the early 2000s, Bath’s Jewish population had risen to about 400.

Beth Israel is one of the state’s 15 remaining Jewish congregations, though Maine used to have double that number, according to the Maine Jewish Museum. The Beth Israel congregation has about 100 members — individuals and families — scattered around the Midcoast from Yarmouth to Damariscotta, according to Weinburg.

David Freidenreich, chair of the Jewish Studies Department at Colby College and associate director of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, said he believes Beth Israel is “thriving in ways that it often wasn’t during it’s 100-year history” because it has both grown in population and integrated into the larger Maine population.

Isaac Ensel, a member of the Beth Israel Congregation, told a story of how his neighbor, who brings him homemade cookies every Saturday, began decorating cookies with blue and white candies instead of red and green during the holidays after seeing Hanukkah lights in Ensel’s windows.

“This reflects the respectful coexistence of our community,” said Ensel. “He made sure he was understanding our way of life, but it never made us different from each another. This is how our congregation was born. Although it was different, people accepted such diversity 100 years ago. This is why this community is special.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.