Rabbi Sruli Dresdner, left, and Jamie Isaacson perform the deconsecration ceremony at the Beth Abraham Synagogue on Laurel Avenue in Auburn on Sunday morning. The Torah, being held by Isaacson, was moved to Temple Shalom on Bradman Street in Auburn. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

AUBURN – Sun shone through the stained glass windows of the Beth Abraham Synagogue on Sunday, and the large, empty room that was once the main sanctuary seemed to echo the presence of past worshipers.

It was a bittersweet occasion for the Lewiston-Auburn Jewish community: the deconsecration ceremony for the 100-year-old synagogue at 35 Laurel Ave. and moving the sacred Torah scroll to Temple Shalom to 74 Bradman St.

“For many of you, it’s a sad day,” Treasurer Mike Shapiro said. “But that sadness will disappear. (This synagogue) was wonderful, and it will be wonderful again.”

Member Jamie Isaacson reminisced about “the glory days of Jewish life,” when the area had a Jewish community center, a kosher butcher, and other related facilities.

“There wasn’t a seat in the house during high holidays, Isaacson said. “In this place, we all felt a great sense of community.”

A sea of colorful yarmulkes sat atop devoted worshipers, as they listened to Rabbi Sruli Dresdner, who later welcomed the 15 remaining members of Beth Abraham into Temple Shalom.


“When we build a strong, Jewish community, that entitles us to something,” he said. “It entitles us to a wish. And that wish is (for us) to continue.”

Isaacson carried the Torah from Beth Abraham, with the other members singing and clapping, to his car, where he and the rest of the attendees were escorted by Auburn police to Temple Shalom.

The Beth Abraham Synagogue was recently sold to developer Oleg Opalnyk from Pownal, who owns OPO Custom Design & Restoration LLC. Opalnyk plans to convert it to 10 “high-end” apartments.

His brother, Andrii Opalnyk, was at the ceremony, and said it was important the Jewish community have a proper ceremony, and a proper goodbye.

“The building has so much history, and the Jewish religion is so interesting,” Opalnyk said. “We have such respect for them, we couldn’t say no. This building is so beautiful and awesome, I want to see it all.”

Barbara Shapiro, the self-proclaimed “main volunteer,” has been finding homes for the much-loved items in the synagogue, including the main ark, which was sold to the Maine State Museum in Augusta, and will be the centerpiece for one of their 2018 exhibits.


According to Shapiro, only 15 people were expected to attend the ceremony. About 50 showed up.

Adele Silverman of Auburn said her grandparents worshiped at Beth Abraham, and she’s glad the building is being put to use rather than being demolished or sitting empty.

Auburn native Zina Talis said she grew up in the synagogue, went to Hebrew school there, and had her bat mitzvah there. She loved the rabbi, Norman Geller, whom she said kept the community together, and made religion fun for the youth.

“When Rabbi Geller died, the temple died,” said Talis, who held back tears as she talked about the building’s future.

“It’s a sign of the times, I guess,” she said. “It’s an emotional day. Just so sad.”

For Elinor Wilner Goldblatt, precious memories were everywhere.

“I taught Sunday school here, right there,” Goldblatt said, pointing and looking lovingly at an empty corner of the downstairs room. “I was 14 when I started. Being here brings everything back.”

As for the renovation, Goldblatt said, “It’s time.”


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.