Created as an Orthodox synagogue, Etz Chaim has undergone many changes. It housed Portland’s first Conservative congregation in the late 1920’s at the same time as the original Orthodox founders continued to worship there. After a few years the synagogue reverted to an exclusively Orthodox congregation.
In 1985 Etz Chaim became the first home for Congregation Bet Ha’am, Maine’s first Reform synagogue. Bet Ha’am continued to worship here for a few years until the congregation outgrew the facilities and moved to a more suitable location. Congregation Bet Ha’am continued to grow, becoming Maine’s largest congregation by the beginning of 2000.
In 2004 Rabbi Harry Sky brought his group, Jews Without Borders, to worship at Etz Chaim. Rabbi Sky’s founding principles for this group included the idea that no one who wanted to worship should be excluded, regardless of affiliation or birth. Families who no longer felt comfortable in some of the traditional congregations found a home with Jews Without Borders. Although the group formally disbanded in 2009, many of the worshippers continue to attend services at Etz Chaim. Our mission (See Mission Statement) is nearly identical to the original ideals of Jews Without Borders.
Today, Etz Chaim is an unaffiliated, egalitarian, modern Jewish congregation. Men and women sit and worship together and have the same rights and responsibilities. Some services are identical to the Orthodox services that have been held since 1921, while others may be described as having both Conservative and Reform elements.