Portland synagogue to be deconsecrated for squash center

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PORTLAND — As Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh prepares to hold its final services at 76 Noyes St. this weekend, the man leading the effort to reuse the synagogue pledged the space will continue to serve the community.

“We might not have the religious component, but our mission is to bring people together and create educational opportunities for children in the city,” Barrett Takesian said Aug. 10.

Takesian, president and founder of Portland Community Squash, said he hopes the nonprofit will open in December. On Aug. 9, his request to reuse the 60-year-old building in the Oakdale neighborhood was unanimously approved by the Planning Board.

The synagogue will be deconsecrated in a service beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, and culminate with a procession carrying the congregation’s Torahs to their new home at Temple Beth El, 400 Deering Ave.

A new synagogue will then be consecrated at Temple Beth El, since the congregations are not merging.

Dr. Natan Kahn, president of Shaarey Tphiloh, said the decision to move was difficult, but necessary.

“Given the changing demographics of the Modern Orthodox Jewish community in southern Maine, this move is necessary to remain sustainable and maintain the traditions first established in Portland over 100 years ago,” Kahn said in an Aug. 8 press release.

Kahn also spoke in support of Portland Community Squash at the Aug. 9 Planning Board meeting.

“We are very pleased with the proposed plan,” he said. “Although we had a lot of interest from real estate developers, we are pleased the structure will remain intact. … The fact it is going to be a really nice community gathering place is really a plus.”

Takesian on Aug. 10 said “having the congregation behind us reaffirms it is the right space we should be moving into.”

Portland Community Squash is a nonprofit that merges squash instruction with educational and mentoring services for at-risk youths in the city. It serves about 60 youths and Takesian hope to triple enrollment at its new home.

Portland Community Squash now shares space at the Portland YMCA on Forest Avenue and had planned to move into the expanded Bayside Bowl on Alder Street.

Takesian said the former synagogue and school building are an ideal space for recreation and instruction, and was also grateful to have support from the Woodfords-Oakdale Neighborhood Association.

“Squash just happens to be the vehicle,” Takesian said in June. “We use it as a common ground to bring together Portland’s diverse neighborhoods.”

Sketch plans show four courts will be built in the former temple and community room; tutoring and mentoring will take place in the adjoining five classrooms.

An agreement filed with Planning Board documents shows the sale price of the synagogue was $1.05 million. Takesian said he hopes to close the deal Sept. 30.

Shaarey Tphiloh was founded on Newbury Street in 1904, where the former synagogue was redeveloped for housing. Kahn said it was established as an Orthodox congregation and then became Modern Orthodox. It is the oldest such congregation north of Boston.

Kahn said Modern Orthodox teachings balance the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) with oral traditions encompassing studies of the Talmud in the modern world.

“There is room for interpretation that rabbis and sages help us understand. That is the basis for the Talmud,” Kahn said in June.

The congregation that once included hundred of families has decreased to about 30 member families, Kahn said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Edited Aug. 17, 2016, to correct the spelling of Barrett Takesian’s name.

Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue, 76 Noyes St., Portland, will be deconsecrated Aug. 21. The building will become home to Portland Community Squash.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.