A Short History of Temple Beth El

On a warm July evening in 1947, more than 100 men and women gathered at the Jewish Community Center in Portland, Maine to address the feasibility of organizing a Conservative congregation. Portland's Jewish community, established after the Civil War, had flourished until 1920, then experienced a gradual decline until the 1940s. The desire to establish the first Conservative congregation in a city and state with a strong Orthodox orientation was powerful. The group which met that evening was eager to act. They decided to hold High Holiday services that fall, seek a temporary home, and name the new congregation Beth El, House of God. In a borrowed hall, with a visiting rabbi, Congregation Beth El became a reality on Rosh Hashanah, September 14, 1947.

More than sixty years later Temple Beth El has become the major regional center of Conservative Judaism north of Boston. With more than 350 member families and a religious school serving over 100 children, the Temple has stood the test of time. A pioneer on issues ranging from social action to the equal participation of women, Temple Beth El made its mark under the leadership of Rabbi Harry Sky in the 1960s with its involvement in human and civil rights issues, and in the 1970's when it installed one of the first female congregational presidents in the country.

With the hiring of Rabbi Carolyn Braun in 1995, Temple Beth El became the largest Conservative synagogue in the nation to be led by a woman. Today Temple Beth El remains in the forefront of Conservative Judaism. A 2007 amendment to our Temple Constitution broke barriers by including all members of interfaith families as equal synagogue members. In 2009 we were proud to have Rabbi Braun active among the statewide coalition of clergy who stood together in support of equal marriage rights.

Temple Beth El is a member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism of America and the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts.

Temple Beth El is pleased to work in partnership with the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine (JCA) and other local synagogues and Jewish organizations. Our religious school program, Kadima Beth El, is a beneficiary of JCA funding.

Contact Us:

  • 400 Deering Ave, Portland, ME 04103
  • P: 207.774.2649 | F: 207.774.7518
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