Eliot Cutler to speak in Rockland about growing up Jewish in Maine

Posted Aug. 30, 2012, at 3:26 p.m.
Eliot Cutler
Eliot Cutler

ROCKLAND, Maine — Growing up in Bangor, Eliot Cutler couldn’t attend some of the parties his friends invited him to because they were held at the Penobscot Valley Country Club.

At that time, the club did not allow Jews to join and discouraged them from coming as guests, Cutler said Thursday in an email.

“I remember being called names — kike and Jew-boy,” the former gubernatorial candidate said. “But that was rare. Even 50 years ago, Bangor was generally an open, wonderful and supportive community, as it is today.”

Cutler, who ran two years ago for governor as an independant, will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, at Adas Yoshuron, 50 Willow St., in Rockland as part of the synagogue’s 100th anniversary celebration. His talk, “21st Century Responsibilities,” will deal with what citizenship should mean in America today, according to a press release issued by Adas Yoshuron.

Cutler is the son of Dr. Lawrence and Catherine Cutler. His father was the first Jew appointed to serve on the staff of Eastern Maine General Hospital, now Eastern Maine Medical Center, Judith S. Goldstein wrote in her book, “Crossing Lines: Histories of Jews and Gentiles in Three Communities.” Dr. Cutler was the hospital’s first chief of medicine but accepted the job with the proviso that the board of trustees stop discriminating in hiring doctors, Goldstein wrote.

Growing up, Cutler and his family attended Beth Israel, Bangor’s orthodox synagogue on York Street. He and his wife Melanie now are members of Etz Chaim, a 90-year-old unaffiliated synagogue at the foot of Munjoy Hill in Portland.

Cutler graduated from Harvard University and Georgetown Law School. He worked for Sen. Edmund Muskie and in the Jimmy Carter administration as associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

During his 2010 run for governor, Cutler called Muskie his greatest role model, aside from his parents, because, “he had the ability to see seven sides to every issue.”

Cutler effectively retired from public service in the mid-1980s and spent more than two decades in the private sector as an attorney and businessman, according to a Bangor Daily News profile published nearly two years ago.

Had he been elected, Cutler would have been the state’s first Jewish governor. He said Thursday in an email that his faith has influenced his political views but not in the way the public might expect.

“I am not a religious person, but I have been profoundly influenced by the cultural and historical incidents of being a Jew,” Cutler said. “So, for example, I am deeply committed to the separation of church and state and to the principles of tolerance, justice, fairness and equal rights upon which the country was founded.

“I believe profoundly in the importance of immigration, education and equal opportunity, and I often tell the story of my own [maternal] grandfather, who fled the Czar and came to America alone and penniless when he was 12 years old,” he continued. “He was a peddler for the first seven years of his life in Bangor, but ultimately became a successful small businessman and sent all three daughters to college.”

He said he plans to talk about immigrants and education at Adas Yoshuron.

After the 2010 election, Cutler founded One Maine, an advocacy group that “provides a rallying point for people who think for themselves, who believe that our politics need to be more effective and less partisan, and who care less about parties and more about common interests and shared purpose,” according to information on its website.

For information, call 594-4523, or email yoshuron@midcoast.com.

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