Our History

Etz Chaim old photo

Congregation Etz Chaim was founded in 1907 and was the first
Jewish temple in Biddeford -Saco area.
(Photo courtesy of Saco Area Historical Society)

Congregation Etz Chaim was founded in 1906 in a former Episcopal church. The congregation flourished through the 1950’s when it served more than 125 families in Biddeford and Saco alone. However, by the 1970’s, membership had dwindled to about 25 families, no longer had a rabbi or offered Hebrew school.

Things started looking up at Etz Chaim around 1980 when lifetime member Arnold Shapiro of Biddeford became president of the synagogue.  He nudged the Orthodox congregation toward the less-strict Conservative movement, which attracted more people to the congregation, especially interfaith families.

Shapiro also founded the York County Jewish Community Council, which helped to reach more than 250 Jewish families from all over York County. Membership grew, and Etz Chaim began offering Hebrew school again.

Today, because of the tremendous ruach (spirit) of many people, Congregation Etz Chaim continues to thrive. Now described as non-denominational, the congregation welcomes all types of Jewish families, from orthodox to reconstructionist.  Membership includes over 100 families who lead and participate in religious and social programs.

The renaissance of the synagogue is evident in the synagogue improvements that have occurred over the last decade. For example, structural updates have included a handicapped outdoor ramp, indoor elevator, and new flooring in the social hall. These renovations show how the congregation works together to meet the varied needs of its members, whether they are senior citizens who need assistance negotiating stairs, or youngers who need a comfortable place to study Hebrew. The congregation members are dedicated to meet the needs of each other.

There is an incredible feeling of community and family at Etz Chaim. This devekut (dedication) is evident every time the congregation gets together.  Bi-monthly Shabbat services, Bar/Bat Mitzvah services, and other religious services are lead by synagogue president, Dr. David Strassler, and his wife, cantorial student Beth Strassler.  Every autumn, a cantor from Bangor comes to lead High HolidaIMG_9223(small)y services. The active Etz Chaim social community puts together monthly potluck suppers, Holiday parties, community mitzvah projects and Jewish education programs.

Learn about the us on this website, or send an email, or ask for a tour.  We invite you to join us, experience the warmth and unity of the Etz Chaim congregation.  Be part of our history and our future.