Why did Jews come to America?
To travel for weeks on a rolling and rocking boat across the Atlantic Ocean was not a pleasant experience. Regardless, European Jews were willing to leave everything behind and make the trip. What would drive them to journey across an ocean in search of a new life?
- Economic Factors: Jews had always faced hardships, and over the course of the 19th century economic challenges became more severe. As poverty rose in the Old Country, the United States appeared as a beacon of hope. European Jews came by the millions to take advantage of new opportunities in America.
- Marginalization: Jews were often segregated from the rest of the European population, with limits on where they could live and how they could earn a living. Many Christians believed that Jews would cheat them, curse them, and harm them. Mobs, sometimes with governmental support, attacked Jews and destroyed Jewish property, shaking the stability of the religious community. The United States offered hope of acceptance and escape from persecution.
What drew Jews to Maine?
European Jews did not step off the boat and find their feet on Maine’s rocky shores. Immigrants and their descendants have chosen Maine over larger Jewish communities in places like Boston and New York. Why?
- Jobs: Most Jews came to Maine in search of employment. When Maine’s lumber and textile mills bustled with activity, Jewish immigrants found opportunities to sell goods and services to the state’s laborers. Some joined family members who had already gained an economic foothold. Today, most of Maine’s Jews have jobs that require higher education.
- Quality of Life: Maine offers a different lifestyle from America’s big cities and their suburbs. Immigrants chose to escape crowded neighborhoods in the cities and heard that the weather in Maine resembles what they were used to in Poland and Lithuania. Maine’s quality of life and natural beauty continue to attract Jews from across the United States.
Maine’s Jewish history shows that all Mainers have their own stories about how they came to Maine and why they’ve chosen to stay. What’s yours?