Built in 1904, the synagogue served as a unifying force in Portland’s Jewish community. Until it was built, the Jewish community met in private houses or above stores. Women formed a sisterhood and held raffles and suppers to raise money to support both the building and troubled families. A splinter group formed Etz Chaim Synagogue at 297 Congress Street (at the head of India Street and now housing the Maine Jewish Museum) in 1921. Because it was an orthodox synagogue, women sat upstairs and the men downstairs, but women were expected to help keep the synagogue on a sound financial basis.
A representative member of the Jewish community on Munjoy Hill was Goldie Romanow Levinsky (1900-1993), the wife of Jacob “Jack” Levinsky, son of the founder of Levinsky’s store chain , whose original store location was in the shopping center at 290 Congress Street nearby. She did the bookkeeping for the store for 50 years and served as president of the Etz Chaim Sisterhood. The Young Women’s Hebrew Association, located on Wilson Street, was instrumental in the development of The Jewish Home for Aged on Eastern Promenade. Later, the Levey Pavilion, started on North Street in 1929, moved to the current location on Ocean Avenue in 1991. The Ocean Avenue campus was renamed The Cedars and today consists of a skilled care center for senior nursing and rehabilitation, assisted living and independent senior living.
The Jewish community of Portland is further represented by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine and its Holocaust Memorial on the grounds of Temple Beth El at 400 Deering Avenue, where Deering Avenue and Devonshire Street meet. The memorial was donated by Rochelle and Jerry Slivka, who the HHRC honored with a bench at the memorial “for their dedication to Holocaust education.”