Back in 2005 a small group of people led by Founding President Jody Sataloff and
Founding Executive Director Rabbi Gary Berenson, got together to discuss the idea of restoring the Etz Chaim Synagogue facility to its original grand condition and creating a museum of Maine Jewish history, art and culture within its walls.
By 2005 Etz Chaim had fallen on hard times both in terms of its physical condition as well as its declining membership, which was primarily comprised of a handful of community elders. The third floor of the synagogue, formerly the Women’s Balcony had been closed and shut off by a dropped ceiling and housed more pigeons than the number of congregants who prayed in the main sanctuary during the high holidays.
Thus in April of 2006, the Tree of Life Foundation came into existence with the mission of not only restoring the building to its original condition but also improving it, by adding art galleries, an elevator, new heating system, and reopening the third floor, all with the overriding goal of housing the Maine Jewish Museum within its renovated walls and re-establishing Etz Chaim Synagogue to its former glory.
The Museum was created to Celebrate and honor the contributions and diversity of Maine’s Jewish immigrants in the context of the American experience. Through exhibits, programming, and dialogue the Museum seeks to build bridges of appreciation and understanding with people of all backgrounds.
By 2008, the Museum had opened to the public in the newly renovated synagogue and will be celebrating its Bar Mitzvah 13th birthday this year, 2021.
In 2018 the Museum established and now houses the Maine Jewish Hall of Fame whose mission is to bestow recognition on outstanding Maine Jewish leaders who have brought honor and distinction to the State of Maine or beyond. Every year the Hall of Fame, which is sponsored by Dorothy Suzi Osher in Memory of Alfred Osher, inducts a new class into the Hall of Fame as voted on by its Nominating Committee.
Etz Chaim Synagogue has flourished as well and now hosts upward of 250-300 people during high holiday services and holds weekly services on Mondays and Saturdays as well as a Friday night service once a month. All services are varied to appeal to different levels of observance and are open to all regardless of membership. Etz Chaim will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2021-2022~