Siblings Lon and Elaine Povich, center, followed in the footsteps of their great grandfather Nathan Povich by carrying the Torah at the 100th anniversary celebration of Beth Israel in Bath last weekend. John Terhune / The Forecaster

On Jan. 29, 1922, 250 singing Bath residents and guests marched up Washington Street to celebrate the dedication of their new synagogue. The event, described in an account in the Bath Independent newspaper, marked the start of a new era for the town’s burgeoning Jewish population.

Last Sunday afternoon, members of the Beth Israel Congregation celebrated their centennial by retracing the same route their forefathers walked generations ago, ending the march at their historic synagogue.

“This was not a wealthy group of people,” event organizer Marilyn Weinberg said of the group’s founders upon the procession’s arrival at the temple shortly after 1 p.m. “This community was built on shared responsibilities and shared goals.”

Congregation members carried flags commemorating the 100th anniversary of the synagogue’s dedication. John Terhune / The Forecaster

That community was on display during Sunday’s event, which drew roughly 100 masked individuals despite below-freezing temperatures. Members of the congregation, as well as Jewish leaders and politicians from around the region, sang as they marched to the synagogue.

Siblings Lon and Elaine Povich carried the Torah along the route, as their great-grandfather Nathan Povich had 100 years prior.

“We’re the fifth generation,” said Lon Povich, a Boston attorney who traveled to Bath for the celebration. “Obviously it’s very special.”


Jewish immigrants began arriving in Bath from Germany and Lithuania in the 19th century, according to Fred Weinberg, who created a website detailing the congregation’s history. Though they were generally welcomed into the town, the group had no house of worship; instead, they practiced their faith in an assortment of temporary locations, including the local YMCA and the homes of individual members.

Despite limited means, the group decided in 1919 to build a synagogue, Marilyn Weinberg said. After over two years of saving pocket change and fundraising, Beth Israel Congregation opened its temple.

High school senior Isaac Ensel spoke about growing up as a member of the congregation. John Terhune / The Forecaster

“None of them were rich, but they all decided to contribute,” Marilyn Weinberg said. “They committed themselves to doing it.”

The event was a rare in-person meeting for Beth Israel members after nearly two years of mostly remote services, said Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor. Yet the community has remained strong throughout.

“I’ve been so impressed with people’s continued dedication,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

That dedication has defined the congregation since long before COVID, according to congregation President Peggy Brown, who noted the group rarely employed a professional rabbi before Vinikoor’s arrival in 2017.  Instead, it fell on individual members to lead services and teach the congregation’s children at Hebrew school.


“There was usually someone in the community that was knowledgeable enough to lead the prayers,” Brown said. “Everybody helps out.”

The group is raising money to renovate a second building that it uses for gatherings, as well as to establish a fund that will ensure the group can continue to employ a professional religious leader, Brown said. So far, the group has raised $670,000 toward its $1 million goal.

Sunday’s celebration ended with Vinikoor and children of the Hebrew school leading attendees in song, a fitting end for a group committed to celebrating its past even while it looks toward the future.

“We’re obviously very different than we were a hundred years ago, and I think that’s a good thing,” Vinikoor said. “But nonetheless, we can pay tribute to our ancestors by doing the re-enactment, honoring them, and then also thinking about, with real hope and vision, the next hundred years of this congregation.”

Speakers at Sunday’s event included Brown, Bath City Manager Marc Meyers and City Council Chairperson Aaron Park, and Bowdoin College economics professor Rachel Connelly. State Reps. Denise Tepler and Allison Hepler and Sen. Eloise Vitelli presented the congregation with an official expression of sentiment on behalf of the Legislature.

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