Maine State Museum’s newest exhibition looks at Jewish culture in Maine

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AUGUSTA — The Maine State Museum’s newest exhibition, “Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries,” opens to the public on 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, with free admission all day.

Some three years in the making, the exhibition presents the experiences of one of Maine’s most enduring communities, from 19th-century immigrants to more recent residents and summer visitors. It has been organized by guest curator Amy E. Waterman of Brunswick, supported by museum staff, an advisory committee of scholars and community members and a partnership with Colby College’s Center for Small Town Jewish Life.

The exhibit gives voice to generations of people from every corner of the state, illustrating how Jewish life has become an essential part of Maine’s rhythms and character. It looks at such subjects as: where and why Jews settled in Maine; religious traditions; obstacles to full integration in Maine and barriers overcome; working lives; Jewish summer camps and tourism; agencies that served Jewish citizens; and organizations that have made community service an essential part of Jewish life.

One of the exhibit’s most dramatic and unique artifacts is a majestic, Art Deco-style Torah ark, dating from the 1930s. The museum acquired the ark from the former Beth Abraham Synagogue in Auburn. Museum staff and contractors meticulously dismantled it, then moved, stored and finally reassembled it in the museum exhibit gallery.

In addition to the ark, the exhibit incorporates interactive audio and video presentations, thematically related works of contemporary art, and educational activities to appeal to a wide range of audiences. An exhibition handbook will be produced in conjunction with the show.

“Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries” will remain on view through Oct. 25, 2019. 

Jewish immigrants to Maine in the late 1800s often worked as peddlers or opened clothing and dry goods stores. This sign, made circa 1910, on view in the Maine State Museum’s exhibit “Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries,” advertised Joseph Solovich’s store on Front Street in Bath.  (Maine State Museum photo)

Maine State Museum objects conservator Teresa Myers makes final adjustments to the trim of the 1930s Torah ark, once in the former Beth Abraham Synagogue in Auburn. The ark was meticulously disassembled and moved to the Maine State Museum for exhibit in “Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries.”  (Maine State Museum photo)

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