Bath

Located on the Kennebec River, Bath has been known for its shipbuilding industry since the mid-1800s. The first Jewish family arrived in the town in 1886, and by the early 1900s, the town’s Jewish population had grown to include a wave of settlers, many of whom came to work as peddlers.

Bath Jewish Census

1910-2007

Bath

Beth Israel Congregation

1921-present

Beth Israel Congregation
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Beth Israel Congregation

Affiliation

Rabbi

Location

Website

Phone

Reform (2016)

Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor

862 Washington Street, Bath

www.BethIsraelBath.org

(207)443-4606

Beth Israel Congregation

Congregational Timeline

1912

Ahavath Achim was formed, the predecessor of Beth Israel Congregation.

1919

Pledge was signed by 42 community members to build a synagogue, to be called Base Isroall (Beth Israel).

1922

Rabbi Samuel Rosenberg served the congregation following Rabbi Arik’s departure.

1932

Mortgage burned with bar mitzvah event celebrating the successful result of the 1919 pledge.

1939

Rabbi Abraham May served the congregation.

Circa 1968-1986

Stanley Sperber, the cantor, served the congregation during the high holidays.

1997

75th-anniversary celebration held.

2016

The congregation made the decision to affiliate with the Reform Movement.

1914

Morris Cohen, trained in Lithuania as a cantor, served the congregation as a spiritual leader for many years.

1920

Base Isroall Congregation incorporated, with a mortgage deed for $3,300 signed in 1921.

1927

Rabbi H. Berman served the congregation following Rabbi Arik’s departure. In addition, the synagogue’s Aron Kodesh was dedicated.

1935

Bar mitzvah event held to celebrate 13th year of Beth Israel.

1940s

The congregation could no longer afford a rabbi. Abe Kramer, a lay leader, and synagogue president stepped in to conduct services, a role he continued for the next 40 years.

1983

Hebrew school restarted, beginning an influx of young Jewish families to the area.

Dan Leeman

Dan Leeman, the cantor, served the congregation and worked in the Hebrew school from 2002-2015 following the departure of Rabbi Smith.

2017

Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor hired and continues to serve the congregation.

1916

Rabbi Charles Arik was chosen as Beth Israel Congregation’s first rabbi.

January 29, 1922

Synagogue dedicated with a celebratory parade, the carrying of the Torah, and with founding members marching to and opening the synagogue doors.

1928-1931

Rabbi Samuel Pinsky served the congregation following Rabbi Berman’s departure.

1936-1937

Rabbi Max Klatskin served the congregation.

1962

40th-anniversary celebration.

1996

Rabbi Ruth Smith hired the congregation’s first rabbi in over 45 years.

2002

Congregation purchased a separate building at 906 Washington Street with funds from the Minnie Brown estate and renamed the Minnie Brown Center. The building is used for Hebrew school, Rabbi’s office, and other synagogue events.

Beth Israel Congregation

Clergy Leadership Over the Years:

Beth Israel Congregation

Intra-Jewish events

  • Beth Israel organized joint services with Temple Beth El in Augusta to give congregants of similar congregations the opportunity to make connections.
  • The congregation has participated in and partnered with the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, an organization that works to enrich Jewish life throughout Maine through creative collaboration.
  • Rabbi Vinikoor serves as rabbi for Bowdoin College, creating a connection between the congregation and the Hillel through services and events.

Rabbi Vinikoor

Rabbi Vinikoor joined Beth Israel Congregation as its spiritual leader in 2017. She decided to pursue rabbinic work after a 14-year career as a public-school educator and social justice community organizer in Massachusetts. As an organizer, she was privileged to organize alongside hundreds of clergy and lay leaders from churches and synagogues to carry out meaningful social justice campaigns. Her teaching and justice work inspired her to seek a career as a rabbi, where she continues to teach and to act for social justice change from a Jewish lens.

Born and raised in a small Jewish community in Vermont, Rabbi Vinikoor earned her undergraduate degree in History at Smith College and her master’s degree in Education from the University of Massachusetts. She received rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. In addition to serving the Beth Israel Congregation, Rabbi Vinikoor also serves as the rabbi for Jewish students at Bowdoin College.

Morris Cohen

“Morris Cohen was born in 1890 and arrived in Bath from Lithuania in 1914 at the outset of WWI. In Germany, he had taught Hebrew and took advanced cantorial work. At the German draft board, he heard: “Go back to Lithuania or join the Army.”  So he emigrated with thousands of others to America in 1914. Trained at the Shavel yeshiva, he was an educated cantor, Hebrew teacher, shochet, speaker of four languages, and incipient businessman.

“He served both as the first cantor of Beth Israel Congregation and its spiritual leader for 30 years. He ran the Commercial Market which he started in 1914, and played serious pinochle for 30 years with Morris Povich, Max Kutz, and Sammy Levine.

“In 1930, after 16 years in Bath, Morris and his wife Dora Petlock Cohen were able to take a major summer tour of Lithuania to visit the family they’d left behind.”

~ Nathan Cogan, son of Morris Cohen

Abraham Kramer

“No history of the Beth Israel Congregation, however brief, is complete without the mention of Abraham Kramer. Mr. Kramer came to Bath in 1942, to operate a grocery store. Shortly after, he became president of Beth Israel and he remained so until his death in the mid-1980s. Overall those years he was as close to a rabbi as a layperson can be. He conducted all the major services, led all the minor holiday services, was a representative to the community at large, and conducted all the funerals.”  ~Donald Povich

Stanley Sperber

In the mid-1960s, Stanley Sperber was a graduate student in music, working at a summer camp in New Hampshire. He saw an ad in a Jewish newspaper for a cantor at the Beth Israel Congregation in Bath. Despite the fact that he had no experience, he was hired on the spot. That first year he quickly captured the hearts of the congregation. This “adorable hick from the city!” as he was called by one congregant, returned for the next 15 years to act as rabbi, cantor and narrator during the High Holidays. Even as he grew in stature in the international music community, he continued to return to the Bath synagogue to conduct services. A native of New York and a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, he immigrated to Israel in 1972 and made his debut with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1973. A prominent expert in choral music and conducting, Stanley Sperber was the Music Director of the Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir and later spent 16 years as the Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Israel National Choir of Israel– Rinat.

Marilyn Weinberg

In 1983 Marilyn Weinberg started a Hebrew School at Beth Israel after years of families traveling to Auburn for their Jewish Education. From that gathering, a small group of families began celebrating holidays together and planning Jewish activities. The program grew, more families joined, and additional volunteers assisted at the Hebrew School. Eventually, the congregation was able to hire a rabbi. Forty years later Marilyn continues to volunteer and organize programs and activities.