Bertha Bodenheimer of Auburn said being a part of the Jewish community keeps Judaism “here and alive.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — For Bertha Bodenheimer, being Jewish means being part of a community.

“I think it’s just part of me,” said the Auburn resident and mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who turns 90 next month.

“I want to have a synagogue,” she said. “I want to get together with the Jewish people of Lewiston to celebrate holidays. We’re always there for each other. Somebody needs help, there’s usually somebody to do it. It’s so part of me that I can’t even — I don’t even think about it.”

Born in Lewiston, her family moved to Massachusetts when she was 4 years old. She grew up between the working-class neighborhoods of Lynn and Chelsea, just outside of Boston, before her family moved back to Maine in 1957.

The Jewish community has always been a center point in her life. It’s part of how she was raised.

“When I was brought up, that was the way you live,” she said. “My friends were Jewish. My parents’ friends were Jewish. Not everybody, but mostly, because there was something in common. And we weren’t accepted as easily as people are today. So, whether you wanted to say you’re Jewish or not, people knew and pointed you out as Jewish,” she said.


“Going back that many years, you can’t really imagine what it was like. It was so different than it is today,” she said.

Bodenheimer was a member of Temple Beth Abraham for many years before she moved to Stamford, Connecticut, in the early 1980s. Founded in 1902, the synagogue was for generations a stalwart of Lewiston-Auburn’s community. But dwindling membership led the remaining 15 congregants to sell the building at 35 Laurel St. in Auburn, where it stood for 83 years, to a developer in 2017.

When Bodenheimer returned to Maine in 2008, she joined Auburn’s Temple Shalom, where she serves on the board.

It is especially important to her that she is involved with her synagogue because the state has such a small Jewish population.

According to the American Jewish Population Project at Brandeis University, about 1.6% of Mainers identified as Jewish in 2020. About 3% of all Americans identified as Jewish.

Though small, Bodenheimer described the community as “close-knit.” People step up when asked. Once something is decided, everyone pitches in to make sure it happens.

“Here, I do find that we’re close,” she said. “And I think we all feel the same. We want to be part of something bigger than we are . . . keeping Judaism here and alive.”

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