Fort Kent

Fort Kent, Maine’s northernmost town, is located in Aroostook County, the largest American county by land area east of the Mississippi River. While the Jewish population was quite small, there were enough people to establish and build a synagogue by 1914.

Aroostook County Jewish Census

(estimated)

1910-1980

Fort Kent

Congregation Beth Israel

Hall Street , Fort Kent

1914 – circa 1930s

“The next building on the right side of Hall is the Jewish Synagogue, and to its right is the Etscovitz House. It’s the large house with the round turret.” – Fort Kent resident

Congregation Beth Israel

Congregational Timeline

1914

Founded.

1930s

Closed in 1930s when there was no longer a minyan.

1970

Torn down in 1970.

Congregation
Beth Israel

Religious Leadership Over the Years:

“My mother, Lena Plesset Shalek, told us of the history of the shul.  She said that Yeshiva students from New York would come to Fort Kent to provide religious training for the boys and for the High Holy Days.  Prior to the tear down of the shul, we visited Harry and Marilyn Etscovitz.  Harry said the land the building was on was owned by founding Jewish families and the best way to preserve the area was to place the plaque for long term acknowledgement of a Jewish presence in Fort Kent.  . . My mother pointed out the balcony where she worshipped as a child with her mother and sister, and the area where her father usually prayed. It was a small building, the interior was white with an old poster on the wall. It was in Yiddish.” ~ Ellen Shalek Heymann

Leo and Ida (Etscovitz) Plesset, Lena’s parents standing in
front of their Fort Kent store c 1940

“My grandmother grew up in a big house on a hill in Fort Kent, a few hundred yards from the Canadian border .The house had a porch and a turret and, in the bathroom, a Jewish ritual bath.  My grandmother’s mother was a religious fanatic.  Her father, Jake Etscovitz, was the Potato King.  Though he lived all his life at the edge of the wilderness, the Potato King dressed for Fifth Avenue.  He wore a suit in his potato fields, to his car dealership, to his music store, to his gas station, and to the tiny synagogue down the street from his house. Jake’s father Louis helped found the synagogue called Beth Israel. . .It cost $10 to join the congregation, plus an annual fee of $6.  . .The congregation didn’t last. They disbanded in the 1930s.  The few Jewish families in town were leaving, and there weren’t enough Jews for a minyan.  They left the building standing, unused, until [Jake’s son] Harry tore it down in the 1970s.” ~ Josh Nathan-Kazis

Jake Etscovitz, The Potato King

Congregation Beth Israel, Fort Kent