Rumford

Rumford is located in Western Maine on the Androscoggin River. The falls of the river have powered many mills, most notably those affiliated with the paper industry. The earliest reference to a Jewish house of worship in Rumford dates back to 1898.

Rumford Jewish Census

(estimated)

1910-1940

Rumford

Temple Israel

Penobscot Street, Rumford

1898-1969

Temple Israel, circa 1940
Children in front of bima, circa 1952
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Temple Israel

Congregational Timeline

1898

The earliest reference to Temple Israel Congregation.

1935

Temple Israel congregation secured funding to purchase an old schoolhouse on Penobscot Street.

1952

The congregation included only five Jewish families with children and were no longer able to afford a rabbi to conduct High Holiday services.

1901

The Oxford Paper Company was founded and began producing paper, transforming the quiet town into a booming industrial community.

1936

September 17; Temple Israel opened with Rabbi Goldstein of Old Orchard Beach conducting the Rosh Hashanah services.

Circa 1960

Became difficult to gather a minyan even for High Holiday services.

1920s

Rumford Jewish community numbered 20 to 30 families, with High Holiday services held in temporary facilities and itinerant rabbis.

1939

The Jewish community began to dwindle due to the town’s hardship during the Depression.

1969

The little schoolhouse was sold, with the proceeds donated to the Jewish Home for the Aged in Portland.

Temple Israel

Clergy Leadership Over the Years:

Itinerant rabbis including:

“Even though Rumford was a small town, the public school system must have provided a very good education, since these four boys went on to become a PhD, DDS, PhD, and MD respectively.”
Joel Nathan
Nathan, Cohen, Sorofman, Oestrich Boys in front of Temple Israel  circa 1952

“Rumford is a small town …surrounded by mountains and built around a mill that eats vast pine logs and spits out paper…and when I was growing up in it, there were five churches within a quarter of a mile of my house…There was no synagogue. We were the only Jews in town. When my great-grandparents settled in Rumford and built their scrap metal business, there were as many as 30 Jewish families in town…But the year before I was born, the synagogue closed. We were the only ones left: my grandparents, my parents, my brother and me. We were six Cohens in a town full of MacDougalls and Arsenaults and Irishes and DiConzos and Gallants. My mother was a Rumford native, too. She grew up Catholic, and the Rumford I knew was mostly a Catholic town, peopled by the descendants of Irish and French and Italian immigrants who came to work the mill…Most of my relatives are Catholic… My Catholic cousins went to Sunday school… a block away from our house, whereas my brother and I went to Hebrew school…at the Congregation Beth Abraham, which was in Auburn, 45 minutes’ drive away… I was taught the blessing over the Shabbat candles, but I learned the Hail Mary by osmosis. I can trace some of my approach as a novelist to the experience of growing up Jewish in a 99.9% Christian town, where I was nevertheless related to many people. There’s a creative tension between being an insider and an outsider at once, to belonging and not belonging.” ~ Julie Cohen, novelist, from The Jewish Chronicle

“My father Harold Nelson moved as an eleven year old from Lewiston to Rumford with his family in about 1926 where his father started a one room retail furniture store, and Dad graduated Stephens High in 1931 at 16. After meeting and marrying my mother Millie Rolnick of Bangor in 1934, and moving to Rumford… they started a one person wholesale traveling furniture sales rep business called Harold Nelson Furniture Sales …[M]y grandmother Freada Nelson had worked vigorously traveling Maine to raise money in the 1920s for developing the Rumford synagogue…when the Depression finally struck Rumford in the early 30s, Oxford Paper Mill went from operating three shifts every day seven days a week to one shift every few days…many Rumford retail businesses sank.. My grandfather, whose furniture business saw its sales revenues shrink from $750 a week to $35  a week eventually closed the doors on his once thriving one-room retail furniture store, and my 21 year old parents moved to Portland as a more central locale for Dad’s four-state road salesman travels, and my grandparents moved from Rumford back to Lewiston. My grandfather, going broke and closing his once-vibrant Rumford retail furniture store was a family loss forever seared in my father‘s memory.” ~Kenny Nelson
Harold and Millie Nelson