AUGUSTA — Marty Weiss doesn’t know of a time when Augusta didn’t have a dedicated synagogue, but Charlotte Goos does.

Weiss and Goos stopped by Temple Beth El this week to help map out the details of the congregation’s history ahead of Temple Beth El’s 75th Anniversary Gala on Saturday.

Goos has been a member of Temple Beth El since 1952, when she moved to Augusta. At that time, the congregation was meeting for prayer and fellowship in a room above the Stride Rite Shoe store in downtown Augusta and had been for more than a decade. Before that, a handful of Jewish families had been traveling down to a Gardiner synagogue before they incorporated in Augusta in 1940.

The decision to build a synagogue came in the 1950s, Goos said, when Sumner Lipman had his bar mitzvah — a rite of passage for Jewish boys on their 13th birthdays and a family celebration — when his father said Augusta should have a synagogue of its own.

“People from all over the state contributed to the building,” Goos said. She was treasurer at that time and noted the building was completely paid for when it was built in 1956. It was dedicated in 1957, the same year Weiss was born.

A lot of the history lives in photo albums, records and memories of its members, and piecing it all together is a project that’s ongoing.

Weiss recalls the major changes — 1973, when the Beth Israel synagogue in Gardiner merged with Temple Beth El, bringing its members and Torah scrolls to Augusta; 1987, when the congregation affiliated with the Reform movement; and 1993, when the congregation hired Rabbi Susan Bulba Carvutto, its first full-time rabbi. Before that, high holidays were celebrated with visiting rabbis or student rabbis.

During all of those changes, the constants were the Hebrew school, which decades ago met in City Hall, but in 2014 moved into a renovated house next to the synagogue, meetings of Hadassah and Sisterhood (women’s organizations) and the celebrations and events that define a community. The changes often mirrored changes in society as the congregation became less conservative and attracted families from farther away.

Some of the congregation’s history is captured in “Faith Communities of Augusta, Maine Past and Present,” a book published in 1997 as part of the City Bicentennial Project, under the auspices of the Augusta Clergy Association.

It recounts the influence of the Slosbergs in securing a space downtown for the congregation, donating the first Torah and teaching at the Hebrew school. The Lipman brothers’ decision to move a poultry processing plant to Augusta drew Jewish friends and relatives to the community in the 1950s is included, as is Julius Sussman, a longtime president, who hosted meetings of B’nai B’rith, a Jewish service organization, in his home.

“One of the really wonderful things is that we’re gathering the stories and sharing them with the community,” Rabbi Erica Asch said. “We get a chance to honor history as we look at where we go in the future, with our vibrant families and religious school.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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