Beth Israel Congregation on its 50th
by Dorice Povich Mensh
October 15, 1972
In the beginning there was Bath, then in came a
few Jews to settle here in this city called Bath
and this is where our story begins.
Back in the late 1880s Bath was still a
completely gentile city. Everyone here was a staid
and solid Yankee in the true sense of the word.
Then in the very last years of the 1880s and early
1890s a few Jews found the path that led into this
small city. Some came to stay, others with a pack
on their backs came to sojourn, and soon those who
came just to sojourn remained. Here they settled,
opened their own businesses, married, begat
children. Now a small step was made toward a Bath
Then came the turn of the century and slowly
other Jews began to infiltrate Bath, at least a
dozen families. And so it was until suddenly the
country was faced with the World War I. Bath, with
all of its shipbuilding yards, was hiring men by
the scores. More housing and other places to live
were in demand due to the influx of all these
people. New businesses opened to cater to the
demand, of various types and abundant merchandise.
And who better to supply this than the acumen of
our own people. And Bath Jews swelled to the
glorious number of over 30 robust families.
Prior to this time there was always the problem
of keeping kosher and of obtaining a simple place
in which to conduct services. But perseverance and
determination are some of our people's
characteristics, so in the very early days they
traveled to Portland. No three and four lane
highways did they have, not even a one-way macadam
lane, just an old dirt road over which they hooked
old dobbin to the shay with all their baggage,
their eyes seeking their port of destination to
praise the Almighty.
Then came another plateau. Enough Jews had
migrated into Bath that now they could have their
own minyon. Gone were the dusty roads, the old
horses, the bundles, the long ride, and the staying
with friends who kindly took them in. Now was just
the problem of finding a suitable place here in
which to worship. Consider the skepticism evident
by these Yankees to a new kind of people. Yet there
were a few who showed compassion to this group who
lived modestly and only wanted to pray. The YMCA
was available and that was offered but with a
stipulation, to have the services early because
there was a meeting scheduled for the same day.
Needless to say our people gratefully agreed. That
was still a small step forward. Later another place
was located: the hall of the Eagles. That was a
small place in the building that is over the shop
now occupied by Louie Couture called the Swett
Building. From there another place was found and
that was the Redmen's Hall over Joe Solovich's
Standard Dry Goods Store, now known as the
It was in this little hall that the momentum
began with the realization that it was now time for
Bath Jews to have their own home in which to
worship. In view of the knowledge that there was
strength in numbers and that now there was a
preponderance of Jewish families than ever before,
meetings were called to discuss the possibility and
the probability of having a building of our own.
There was at that time a row of small business
buildings on Front Street that was later torn down
to make the parking lot for the A&P and
Sampson's Grocery Stores. On the second floor of
one of these buildings was a small tailor shop
owned by a young man named Harry Arenstam who with
his wife and four small children were newcomers to
It was in this tailor shop that the first
meeting was called and the embryo stage was
started. This was in 1919. All was not smooth. The
house was divided. Many were the skeptics and just
as many were the optimists. Pros and cons were
battered around. Today we would call them debates
and discussions. Then they had other words for it.
Matter over mind prevailed and the aye's had
Then one day I remembered, when I was a little
girl at the time, I was sitting in the kitchen and
my mother, Mrs. Nathan Povich, suddenly exclaimed.
And when my mother exclaimed she was positive. "We
have got to have a ladies society." She immediately
called my sister Eva on the phone, told her of her
brainstorm, and then and there they proceeded to
call all the women and in a few days they all met
in the Redmen's Hall.
My mother baked, made a fancy pillow cover which
she prepared to raffle, and did. Then and there the
ladies people's society was formed with a
membership of twenty-six loyal souls. Naturally my
mother was made president and my sister Eva was
secretary. Since the hall was not always available
and not very bright, plans were made to meet in one
another's homes. The twenty-six who were the
original attendants at that very first meeting and
who therefore became charter members, were Madams
C. Arik, H. Arenstam, H. Abromson, A. Bloom, H.
Brown, M. Cohen, S. Green, B. Gediman, J.
Goldstein, M. Goldstein, S. Gordon, S. Greenblatt.
H. A. Isaacson, S. Levine, A. Miller, J. Mack, N.
Petlock, M.S. Povich, M. Povich, S. Povich, H.
Persky, J. Solovich, L. Small, S. Shanbausm, H.L.
Savage, and M. Weinblatt. Within a few months
others joined including Madams L. Avalon, H. Mack,
I Smith, M. Singer, J. Davis, and D. Rosen from
Brunswick. The first home to have been offered in
which to hold the meeting was that of Mrs. Sam
Levin. Shortly afterwards Bell became
The men's group forged ahead. A name was decided
upon: Base Yisroall, Beth Israel Congregation, the
house for the Jewish people. A site was located on
which to build, the present one on which Beth
Israel now stands.
Then came the big F (funds). By that time my
father Nathan was the owner of the music hall
building which had a large hall on its top floor.
The problem of a temporary home was over. Never
again did Bath Jews have to look for a place to
pray. There they continued with their meetings and
discussions and all methods of entertainment. At
that time they were a young and vigorous group. The
2 oldest men were Mr. Isaac Mikelsky and my
grandfather Mr. Simon Povich. The family men were
the Povichs, the Millers, the Petlocks, the Browns,
the Gedimans, the Greenblatts, the Weinblatts, the
Solovichs. The sires of the groups, some of whom
you see here today, had just turned 50. The others
were the younger groups who were in their early 20s
and 30s. These were the founding fathers.
A builder was then selected and fundraising was
started in earnest. Each one pledged to the fullest
extent but that was not sufficient. It was then
decided that there must be other means of
solicitation. However, it was decided that at first
no more than $2000 was needed for a start. Bath was
very fortunate at that time to have had a young man
from Boston related to Neiman Mikelsky by the name
of Harry Cohen who was the next thing to a
professional. It was through his efforts of
campaigning around Bath to the gentile population
that $2400 was raised. The largest single
contributor was Rupert Baxter of the Bath Trust
Company who personally donated $250.
Then it was suggested and followed through that
the neighboring communities were to be contacted. A
committee of 3 consisting of Morris Povich, Sam
Levin, Sam Mack, and oftentimes Morris Cohen were
appointed. Every Sunday they would ride to the
various neighboring towns to present this
situation. Success was varied. The records show
that others donated their services. Rockland and
Thomaston were solicited by Mr. Greenblatt and Mr.
Petlock who brought back the total sum of $43.
Morris Cohen and Morris Povich rode to Gardiner and
returned with $23 and so it went on every Sunday.
It was not easy; there were some refusals giving
the reason that they had their own shuls to support
as was the case of Old Orchard, even after Morris
Cohen offered to conduct one of the religious
services. Rebuffs had to be accepted with a smile.
Undaunted these pioneers pushed onward.
And now for the lighter side: we had the hall
(the music hall), we had the will, we had young
people, we had prosperous times, and we had
children, so why not fun. Entertainment was the
forte of the day. We had singers and we had
musicians. I will never forget Mr. Gediman and his
guitar, an almost unheard of instrument of that day
and especially from a European. We had dramatists,
we had a toastmaster, and we had dancing, and then
lots to eat, and we made money. Everyone had a good
time and all looked forward to the next
The congregation proceeded with their meetings.
A promissory note was made for $3300 with 6%
interest and signed by all of the members. And thus
the Slavin property with a house and extra lot was
finally in our possession. A motion was made and
passed that the house be rented and revenue
realized and so it was done. A charter was made and
again everyone's signature was attached for a price
depending upon the placement of the name. The
bidding for name placement was spirited. I remember
when my father came home with all of the details.
We all were entranced. This was big politics. He
had just paid $52 so that his father's name (Simon)
could head the list on the charter. The dickering
continued. There were forty-two members and
forty-two conflicting ideas on how to build a
building, how far back, how close to the side,
where to place the entrance, and variety of other
suggestions. It is a good thing the builder, Mr.
Tripp, was a patient man. Even the ladies, whose
society was flourishing, were interjecting their
opinion as to the contents of its interior.
Low and behold one day someone came by
Washington Street to find my father out on the site
with a couple of carpenters and some wood. When
asked what he was doing he replied, "They are
talking too much and not doing anything and we'll
never get anywhere so I decided to go ahead and
build" and he did and here we are. If he had not
maybe we as decendents would have inherited the
indecisions and not be seated here today to
celebrate our 50th year.
A very detailed building contract was drawn up.
Soon the frame was up. We had a building. Only
money enough to finish the downstairs was available
but we were happy. To us it looked like a palace.
Then came the great day of the move to our
permanent home. No march, no parade has ever
excelled that day. Our good Lord must have been
very happy for us for on that winter day of January
29, 1922 he smiled on us and gave us a sunny,
clear, warm afternoon on which to conduct our all
important, highly eventful ceremonies. Invitations
were sent out all over the State and together with
our own population, 250 people gathered there at
the home of Mr. Charles Arik, our spiritual leader,
to begin the march from the music hall and there on
to the shul.
The festivities started with an auction at the
hall. The key to the new synagogue was bid on and
given to Samuel Povich who gained the honor of
opening the door for the exercises. The right to
have the honor to carry the Torah from the music
hall to the synagogue was bought by Nathan Povich
and at 5:00 o'clock pm, the processions started up
Washington Street led by military veterans Samuel
Povich, Henry Gediman and Solomon Greenblatt. The
Holy Bible was carried at the head of the
procession by Max Singer of Brunswick under a
canopy carried by Joseph Solovich. The holy ark was
carried by 4 men, one of whom was Max Kutz. A large
American flag was carried by some of the men from
the congregation and followed by the women with
lighted candles. How impressive, how thrilling, at
that time to have been able to hold our heads so
proud without the status that the Jews enjoy today.
The door was opened and all assembled inside.
Morris Cohen sang the 30th psalm. Mr. Arik followed
with a prayer and a chapter from the Torah was
translated into English by Bessy Brown. The 91st
psalm was read by Mr. B. Gediman and the national
anthym was sung led by Henry Gediman. Three rabbis
attended and spoke and a fine banquet was served by
the ladies. The interior was beautiful. The feeling
was ethereal and we were home. Monday morning the
Hallow was read. Minyons were held every night and
we had made our giant leap for Bath Jews. This was
the beginning of our very first year.
If anything was ever started on shoestring, this
was it. The men's group of the congregation managed
the financial, religious, and cultural aspects
while the Hebrew ladies society planned and
executed the money-making activities. At first
folding chairs had to be borrowed then later
purchased. There was no heat except for a wood
stove that stood in the corner and fed when the
occasion arose. Many a cold morning one of the men
had to come real early in the morning to start the
fire so that it would be warm when the men for the
minyon began to arrive. The kitchen was small and
very inadequate: no hot water, no dishes of any
kind. I remember one winter night when each family
brought their own dishes to serve on for an affair,
and late at night my brother Shirley and I dragged
them home on a little cart so that we could wash
them. We walked in those days for only three or
four people had cars and they had them stored for
The ladies met twice a month. After the business
meeting and the collection of about anywhere from
about $4 to $8 for dues and raffles, once in awhile
my mother would give a reading in Jewish. Then they
would make and execute a plan for the next
money-making event. One of the very first was the
hanging of drapes for the mantle for the Torah.
This was to take place for purity. The records show
that the honor of hanging each drape was sold for
$1 to the following: Morris S. Povich, Morris
Petlock, Morris E. Povich and hung by Nathan
Povich, also to Morris Cohen, Samuel Povich,
Horatio Mikelsky, Jacob Petlock, and Samuel Levin
and hung by Mr. Arik. The winding and setting of
the new clock brought $1.75. Mr. Abromson gave $1,
Mrs. Sam. Levin 50 cents, and Jacob Petlock 25
cents. Then Mrs. Petlock wound and set the clock.
Mrs. Nathan Petlock and Mrs. Morris Cohen made and
donated the blue satin mantle. The honor of hanging
this mantle on the Torah was purchased by Morris S.
Povich for $10 and hung by Mrs. Povich. I remember
how proud everyone was on that day.
Every month after that something was planned to
raise money. There were whist parties, hot dog
suppers, auctions, chicken dinners (a complete
dinner for 75 cents), and entertainment which could
have very well been the origin for the talent shows
that came on television many years later. One can
never forget the beautiful voice of Marsha Petlock,
the dramatic recitations, the dancing, the singing
and piano playing of the versatile daughters of Mr.
and Mrs. Green and of course the Gediman
True, the money made was, compared to these
days, not much. But to this little group it was
very gratifying and everyone was happy. As the
holidays rolled around it was a natural thing for
the children of the congregation to put on the
traditional Hanukkah and Purim plays. How well I
remember Bessie and Sophie Greenblatt, Minnie
Brown, Addie Gediman, Raymond Green, Louie and
Dorice Miller, Evelyn and Jake Petlock, my brother
Bernie, and me. We strung up a rope from one side
of the hall to the other, hung a big strip of
material over it, and we had a curtain. We made a
stage, improvised some props, and produced a play.
It was like playing the Palace. We were great.
In the summer picnics were planned. Thomas'
Point, where they were most often held, was at that
time admission free, but the tram charged 35 cents
for adults and 10 cents for children and you
brought your own lunch. That was high financing.
However, we had all kinds of races and prizes and
everyone enjoyed the day. How fortunate we were to
have had Morris Cohen to lead us in our religious
services. His beautiful voice was not only a gift
from the omnipotent to him but also to our little
congregation for it was soon afterwards that plans
were forging ahead to finish the upstairs. Soon the
plans were completed and we were in. Nor shall I
forget how elated Mr. Cohen was for he said when he
chanted the acoustics were so much better that he
could feel a better lilt and range to his voice.
How true were these words, for in our own way we
all felt an inner lift.
Then came the exodus. Comparatively speaking,
percentage wise, the Jews who left Egypt were not
as many as those who left Bath. Prosperity was
over. There were no jobs. Business was in a slump
and those families who rode the bandwagon in, drove
their moving vans out to from where they came. The
Jewish population dropped to about a dozen
families. Times were rough but undaunted, the
congregation carried on and so did the Hebrew
ladies society. Nothing was called off. Everything
was continued as usual. Of course the money for all
of these efforts was very little, and many times it
was the complaint from the families that the
support was coming from the same pocket, but the
group persisted and continued.
Time sure does fly and soon it was 12 years
later and a great day had arrived. Pennies for
Shabbas candles sold by the ladies, passover orders
made, suppers, parties, picnics, and entertainment
had brought in enough money to pay for the building
and on that great day of September 23, 1934, the
mortgage was burned. With the aid of the Davenport
Fund, to which we applied only for repairs, all
money was now expended for the improvement and
finishing of the edifice.
By this time some of the original members were
not here any more and memorials were given by their
families. The Ner Tamid, the eternal light, was
given by my sister Eva in memory of our father,
Nathan Povich. The center light was donated by the
Petlock family in memory of their parents, Mr. and
Mrs. Nathan Petlock. Later the Povich family gave
the memorial plaque in memory of their parents, Mr.
and Mrs. Nathan Povich and their brother Morris E.
Povich. This was given so that all could
memorialize their loved ones.
Today times have changed. No longer do our
gentile neighbors have to ask, "Do you have a
Jewish church and where is it?" Now they know it is
a synagogue and where it is. To me, as I look
inside with nostalgia, I see my father in one
corner with his boys around the table; in the other
corner Mr. Petlock and his boys; Mr. Greenblatt and
his boys; my mother standing in the back reading
aloud to some of the other women huddled around her
who could not read; Mrs. Greenblatt with another
group. I can only think this: to me it is a shul,
my shul, and coming back after so many years and
looking at this sanctuary I can only see beauty and
how it has endured. It looks like it is only one
year old instead of fifty. I am reminded of the
story of the two young Swedish men from Phippsburg
who were hired to do the painting. There was much
controversy at the time that the blue trim on the
ceiling would not last. It has. It has never been
painted and looks as fresh as when it was first
done. Perhaps that is symbolical of our history. We
have struggled, we have persevered, we have
endured, and we have been blessed.