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Beth Israel Congregation

   
 
 
 

Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

May/June 2003
Nisan/Iyar/Sivan 5763


President's Column
A Goodbye to the Congregation
Would You Like to Be an Editor?
Buy a Window!
Keeper of the Calendar
We Need Your Money
Synagogue Gift Shop
Save the Date

President's Column

It is with great pleasure that I announce that the Beth Israel Congregation Board of Directors has accepted the majority recommendation of the Rabbi Search Committee to offer the congregation leadership position to Cantor Daniel Leeman. In addition to having much better qualifications than any other candidate, Cantor Leeman also has a prior connection, and great affection, for our Bath synagogue.

Cantor Leeman received his bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College concurrent with Judaica studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College. Between 1985-88, he served as the Cantor at Temple Beth El in Portland. Subsequently, Cantor Leeman completed studies at Midreshet Yerushalayim and the Cantors Training Institute including the Belz School of Jewish Music. He was the Cantor at a large congregation in Delaware for six years and, immediately prior to returning to Maine, served as the Cantor/Educator/Spiritual Leader at Beth Tikvah Centre in British Columbia.

In his application cover letter, Daniel wrote "as a 16 year old boy, I won a scholarship to study the cello at the Downeast Chamber Music Center in Castine, Maine. I fell in love with the magnificent coast and decided I would never leave this place." On the way home from camp, his family stopped off in Bath, wandered into Povich's store where they met Don, and first heard of our beautiful synagogue. As a result of setting off the alarm when they went to see the building, Daniel's father was invited to lead High Holiday Services. Declining, he volunteered his teenage children and, for the next several years, Daniel and siblings traveled to Maine every fall to lead High Holiday services in our synagogue in Bath.

Describing this experience, Daniel wrote that he "was overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of the members" and remembers hoping that, someday, he would "marry and raise a family in a setting and community like Bath."

When Daniel, his wife Barbara, and their three children join our community this summer, it is imperative that all the members of our community remain involved. During the hiring process, the Board and Committee have grappled with the fact that Cantor Leeman is more "conservative" than most of the congregation. He has responded to this concern directly and promised to defer to the decisions of the congregation on matters of both ritual and education.

Ironically, by contracting with Cantor Daniel Leeman on these terms, we will be functioning much more as a Reconstructionist congregation. In order to require that Cantor Leeman defer to congregation-based decisions, it is essential that we establish much stronger ritual and curriculum committees to work closely with him and the Board.

Please join me in welcoming Daniel, Barbara and their children to our community. Please also contact me, or any other member of the Board, to participate in the process of decision-making for our community as we embark on this new chapter.

Nonny

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A Goodbye to the Congregation

This is my goodbye letter, one I have been writing in my head for months. Good-byes, and transitions in general, are important because they force us to put experience into words. Satisfying goodbyes allow us to reflect on and make meaning of what might otherwise be a series of events. Goodbyes are a way of putting scattered snap shots into a nice neat album, a complete package, that we can carry with us.

Jewish tradition gives us Havdalah, the ending of Shabbat, as a model on endings in general. Havdalah means separation. Positive and forward moving separation happens when, like in the Havdalah ritual, three things happen. The first is to remember the experience, (breathe in the moment) which in Havdalah is done through touching all the senses with Shabbat flavors. The second is to actually say goodbye. In Havdalah, this is to extinguish the candle. The last step is to look to the future, in Havdalah, to sing Eleyahu HaNavi, a song praying for the peace and wholeness that Elijah is to bring.

What has the experience of my being in relationship with you meant? I hope that you will ask this question of yourself. As with the end of any experience, the only thing that matters is that your answer is honest. What has the experience been for better and for worse (because in all things there are both), how does the bitter and the sweet move you to your own wholeness and peace?

Two years ago, when I came to the board having decided it was time to go, I knew it was the right thing, but I didn't completely understand it. Now I have the 20/20 of hindsight to see how it all fits together.

Don Povich's death had a profound impact on Larry and I. It was impossible to understand how someone so vital, loving and giving, could be gone. Larry and I reaffirmed that we had to live intentionally. For us, this meant to be closer to parents and siblings.

When I leave, Larry and I will have been here 7 years, a nice biblical number. We came as newlyweds, and we leave with two four year olds in tow. But we leave with much more. We leave with the friendship and love of both the Beth Israel, and the larger Mid-Coast religious community. It has been a very rewarding 7 years.

As you might expect, I have been thinking about my place in the history of the Beth Israel Congregation. When I was about to graduate from rabbinical school I spoke to the president of the school about my fears of going out into the field as a rabbi. He said, "just love them, and you'll be fine."

Now I understand what he meant. My warmth and my acceptance of you, as a community and as families and individuals, were what the congregation needed when I came. It helped to push you over your fear of rabbinic leadership. At the time I was hired, the congregation knew that they needed some professional guidance, but were concerned that a rabbi would try to mold the congregation into something it was not. I fit the bill as someone who could love you as you are.

But sometimes love is not enough. Through my affiliation with the Reconstructionist movement, the Board acquired the Reconstructionist Guide to Congregational/Rabbi Relationship. The Alban institute, an educational institute dedicated to the success of ministry of all faiths, has called this the best guide available. The Board began to seriously conduct an evaluation of the state of the community. Holes were found in the fabric of the congregation. Some of them were administrative and some were with about leadership. Had I been interested in staying, the guide's advise would have been to figure out how to use the available resources of rabbi and congregation to fill those holes. The guide acknowledges that the rabbi can not be responsible for everything, but a situation must be worked out in which everything is covered. Since I had already decided to leave, the Board put its energy in finding a new rabbi.

Several years ago, with the Minnie Brown bequest, the Board decided it was important to know what the congregation wanted to do with the money. It was then that we had our "spiritual retreat", through which you wrote your mission statement and identified areas of priority. While you set yourselves an even larger agenda with regard to programming that was eventually dropped, you did follow through on your highest priority: synagogue space. This led to the purchase of the Minnie Brown Center and the Beth Israel Cemetery.

Equally as important to your physical legacy is the mission statement that you developed in which you affirmed who you are. You said, "Beth Israel is a diverse and inclusive Jewish community which fosters the intellectual and spiritual growth of its members." This legacy of yours can guide you to your future. You know who you are and what matters to you. You struggle with what it means to be diverse and inclusive. How is it that everyone, from those with traditional leanings to those who are less conventional in their practice, can create community? How is it that people who start in different places can grow together spiritually and intellectually?

I believe that Reconstructionism has answers to these questions. I hope that my own limitations don't get in your way of considering how my movement can help you be yourselves. Reconstructionism teaches that all of us start with tradition, but that we can all end up in different ways. Reconstructionism doesn't give guidance on outcomes, but helps to frame the questions, which is an important aspect of leadership. I am excited for you and your future. Daniel is an excellent service leader and has much more experience in congregational life than I do. I hope that you will learn from my movement that the issue is a relationship between the leader and the congregation in which all of the work gets done. This means that because you have hired someone, you are not "done." You need to work together to make sure that the holes are filled. You must talk to each other to be sure that everyone is along.

I would like to leave you with the words of Hillel: "Do not separate yourself from the community." A congregation can give you things that you cannot get on your own. Individually and communally, I hope that you will take what you have learned through me, and bring it with vigor and with energy to this new phase of the congregation's life.

He shouldn't be asked to do everything, but he should be able to help you know what exactly needs to be done, and I hope that all of you will respond to these needs willingly. However, to be true to yourselves as a community, you cannot rest because you have filled a job description. It is a difficult challenge but it is who you are.

Lately we have been struggling with that.

I have loved and accepted you both as families and as a community. I think that love has made a difference for you. As families I have supported your efforts to bring Judaism into your houses in whatever way was right for your family. This is based on Mordechai Kaplan's opening words of his tome, Judaism as a Civilization, for some Judaism has been a burden, but it must be a treasure. What I have preached is that as Jews we must know enough about Judaism to see how it can be a treasure for us. That treasure will give us eternal life (if you know what I mean).

I have also loved you as a congregation. But, the fact is, that in this case love is not enough. I was the right person to be your rabbi at first, when you were skeptical of how a rabbi would change you. You knew, without having the words for it, that you were set on being a "diverse and inclusive Jewish congregation," and you rightly, I believe, saw that a rabbi had the power to ruin that for you. I did not. I think that I helped nurture that special quality, that legacy that Don left us, that every member was important, and that we had to make them all feel welcome. Together, I think we have succeeded in doing this.

I also brought tradition to the community. We are, of course, a Jewish community. My mission was to bring Judaism. While being open to diversity, and being loving of all of the paths Jews of our congregation have taken, I helped to make tradition meaningful. I am proud of how many people said that they felt that I had made High Holidays more relevant to them. I was able to make b'nai Mitzvah ceremonies meaningful for the families, and that is something that touches my heart.

However, while I have made Judaism accessible, and have nurtured your vision of who you are, there is a second part of your mission statement that I have not been as successful with: "to nurture the intellectual and spiritual growth of our members." For whatever reason, people did come to services. There is no way that intellectual and spiritual growth of a community can be nurtured without people coming to services. Judaism is a communal religion, we need each other, our relationships with each other, our shared insights, our caring to help us when things are tough. We need to be together on a regular basis. I could not make that happen. The other thing that became clear from the rabbi evaluation was that my administrative disabilities were actually having a negative impact on the congregation. Love was not enough. I am proud, that despite my temporary time out last year at this time, I have been able to give you the time you needed to figure out the process of finding a new rabbi. There will be an unbroken chain; you will have someone else in my position when I leave. The challenge will be to live up to your own vision of yourselves: a diverse and inclusive Jewish community that fosters the intellectual and spiritual growth of its membership. Diverse and inclusive is not a question any more. No rabbi or anyone else will be able to sway you on the fact that you value your diversity and that you depend on inclusiveness in order achieve your diversity. At the same time, you want this to be a Jewish community, not a Jewish social club. Somehow, come hell or high water, you are going to live your vision of diversity while maintaining the connection to Jewish tradition. I spent all High Holidays the year after the "spiritual retreat" telling you how difficult this was going to be. However, it is the struggle that you must maintain if you are to find a way to be inclusive both of those who are loosely tied to Jewish tradition and to those who live strongly connected to jots and tittles of the way. Just as we know that there is something "easy" about orthodoxy in that it is all laid out, so to it is extremely difficult to find a way to make the tradition stay a Jewish tradition while bending to the needs contemporary American reality. Our most traditional members have needed to find their spiritual centers elsewhere, while maintaining their strong emotional ties to this community. That is one reality. I think we all understand this, and love them for still staying connected to us as people and as a community. Now the rest of us have to figure out how maintain our Jewish community -- our diversity and our sense of connection to our deep spiritual, intellectual tradition.

I think the current set up can give us the opportunity to find that incredibly difficult place that you need to find. It is a place to which I could not bring you. It is a place you must find on your own. The truth is, it is better for you to have to do this on your own. I gave you some breathing room, I gave you time to find some new members who can give of themselves. But now you are ready. I could compare myself to a parent that holds the bike and then as the child is actually pedaling, doesn't notice that the parent is no longer holding the bike. I could, but I won't, because I have learned that I am not the all-knowing parent. I really didn't know how to get you to the next step. I could not have done it by staying. I needed to leave for this possibility to be there for you.

Here is how I believe you can fulfill both parts of the vision: 1) remain steadfast, as you do, that you are on the one hand, diverse and inclusive and on the other, you are still a Jewish community. In other words, in making decisions, you must still consult and understand Jewish tradition. If you choose to differ from Jewish tradition, it must be from a place of principle, that for whatever reason, the tradition does not apply. It cannot be from a place of convenience, we don't want to do it that way, because we don't want to change. For example, the tradition says women are not members of the minyan. From a place of principle we can say that we do not agree with this point. On the other hand the tradition also says that services should be on Saturday. We can not bend to the fact that so many children play soccer to not have Saturday services. Soccer is not principle. It is a fact of contemporary American life, but we should not have services on Sunday in order to accommodate to that reality. As someone said, few of our children will make their livings playing soccer, but all of our children will have questions about the nature of God and the essence of reality.

However, the second part of the mission statement I think can be achieved by the current set up in a better way that I ever could. With Cantor Leeman, you will have tradition. You can learn from it, (intellectual and spiritual growth) but you can also be challenged by it (intellectual and spiritual growth), and most important, you can respond to it, and explain your position when you are challenged by it (intellectual and spiritual growth). With someone to lead the service, or at least be your cantor in a traditional way with some good melodies and good singing, (which you sorely need), you all can be the rabbis -- you can choose the readings, you can give the sermons. You can make your own Judaism. You need to make your own Judaism, or it will slip to tradition. Tradition will always be the default. The only way to make it something else is for you to make it that. When tradition angers you, you can share that anger (in the form of a sermon) with everyone else. Maybe you will have some answers to share, but most likely you will have questions that all of us need to hear. This kind of work will make the tradition your own, and will give you the opportunity to do a new way of being intellectually and spiritually challenged.

Rabbi Ruth

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Would You Like to Be an Editor?

This is a request -- it could actually be called a plea -- for someone to volunteer to take over the congregational newsletter. The editorship of the newsletter requires that someone be comfortable working in a word processor, and be able to format a newsletter as well as edit text. The editor is also responsible for collecting articles from Board members and other Congregational leaders, as well as for getting the finished copy to the printer prior to the end of the even-numbered months. There are other volunteers who deal with the addressing and mailing of the newsletter.

I am making this request so that my time can be freed up for other congregational activities that I wouldn't have time to participate in if I continue editing the newsletter.

If you are interested in doing this, please contact me.

Carolyn Turcio-Gilman
Newsletter Editor

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Buy a Window!

Beth Israel Congregation was blessed with Minnie Brown. She provided us with an endowment that allows us to afford a Hebrew School. But there are 14 problems with our new Hebrew School -- the stained glass windows of what had been a church.

While the windows are beautiful, they are not appropriate for a school of Jewish studies. So, with the approval of all the appropriate government agencies in Bath, we are installing new windows in the Minnie Brown Center.

But it is costing us a lot of money -- more than $24,000.

Beth Israel Congregation has not had a fund raising campaign in many years. Until now. Be among a select 14, and donate a new, frosted glass window for the Minnie Brown Center. Do it in memory of, in honor of, or for any reason at all. Each window costs $1,800. That's 100 times Chai.

Please help light shine on Beth Israel Congregation.

Rea Turet
Treasurer

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Keeper of the Calendar

Lenore Friedland will be keeping a calendar of all events scheduled for use of the synagogue (862 Washington St.). This has become necessary to avoid having two conflicting events happen. If you are planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, wedding or any other event using the building, please contact Lenore to make sure the building is saved for you.

Lenore Friedland

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We Need Your Money

This has been a very long winter for all of us. For Beth Israel Congregation, it has been a very expensive winter.

We have had bills for fuel, frozen pipes (insurance only covers the cost of pipes if they burst and cause damage), shoveling the front of the buildings, shoveling part of the roof of the Minnie Brown Center, plowing, rewiring of the boiler room and new door push bars to bring the Minnie Brown Center up to code.

We are a small congregation of sixty-five families where every family member is important. The other side of being an important member of Beth Israel, is that we are asking you for help cover these costs. It does not have to be a large contribution -- any sum will be greatly appreciated.

It is towards the end of our fiscal year, so if you still owe either dues or tuition, we ask that you pay us as soon as possible.

Checks for contributions, dues or tuition should be made out to Beth Israel Congregation, and sent to Rea Turet.

Thanks for your help,
Rea Turet
Treasurer

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Synagogue Gift Shop

The synagogue gift shop is now being managed by Marina Singer. Although we have some items in our gift case at the synagogue, a wide variety of things can be purchased through our gift shop. You can order a new talit or kippa for yourself or for a gift for another. All types of jewelry are available as well as lovely mezuzot and kiddush cups. You can purchase Chanukah gifts, Bar/Bat Mitzvah presents, or just a treat for yourself. Call Marina Singer for more information.

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Save the Date

We are planning a very special evening on Saturday, June 14th for a farewell to Rabbi Ruth Smith. Plans are not finalized yet, but you'll want to put the date on your calendar so that the whole family can say good-bye to Ruth. If you do not get information in the mail, please check the Beth Israel web site at http://www.bethisrael-maine.org

Lenore Friedland

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