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Beth Israel Congregation


Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

March/April 2004
Adar/Nissan/Iyar 5764

President's Message
Cantor's Corner
Shabbat Services
Torah Message
Interfaith Family Program
Brunswick Area Interfaith Council
News from the Hebrew School
Jews and the Environment
Welcome New and Returning Members!
Come dance With Us!

President's Message

Many years ago we called ourselves the "all volunteer synagogue" because everything was done by our members. When we first hired a rabbi many of us thought that those days were over. Yet, in fact, we have learned that not only can our "spiritual leader" not take care of everything, but having volunteers makes sure all of us have a voice in our Beth Israel community. The wonderful thing is that so many people are still willing to come forward and help out.

You will see in this newsletter that our little synagogue is bursting with activities. We have the Purim carnival coming up in March and the community Passover Seder in April. We have speakers coming and Shabbat services to attend. The Chai committee is bringing in a special speaker from the Interfaith Family Resource Center to discuss topics on the raising of a Jewish child in an interfaith marriage. If this goes well there is a plan to bring in other speakers who will discuss topics of interest to our community.

Our newest endeavor is to have some of our members "give a little talk" during the "sermon time" of our Friday night services. In January, Rachel Connolly shared with us lots of interesting information about the Jews of China. Peter Felsenthal's "talk" is included in this newsletter. More people have come forward to volunteer and we are all so pleased. The talk does not have to be related to the torah portion. It can be about a project in which you are involved or an experience you have had that you would like to share with others. If you are interested in participating in this Shabbat project, please contact Reggie Hanaford or Diane Gilman.

I send out a very special "thank you" to all of you who are serving on committees, putting together the newsletter, setting up programs and giving life to our congregation. We could not do it without you.


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Cantor's Corner

I hope everyone is doing well and bearing up under the harsh winter conditions. With Purim around the corner and a month later Pesach we know spring is coming with its promise of new growth and reprieve from the cold.

Sabbath Services and Sermon

I want to say how much I've enjoyed the warmth and fellowship of our Friday eve and Saturday morning services. I enjoy the participation of the children and the friendly conversation at the Oneg and Kiddush. It is always a pleasure to hear the buzz of bright and vital interaction after services. Shabbat is meant as a way for people to connect outside their homes or offices, and cast off their burdens and cares for a full day. Synagogue services are meant for YOU! Enjoy your friends and fellow Jews by joining together for the discussion and study of ethics and values. Bring a song of prayer to sing. Enjoy a fun conversation to get an update on how your neighbors are progressing in their lives.

Whether you come to bring some food for an Oneg or Kiddush, whether you read a psalm for us in English, or whether you take a turn delivering a Bible message or D'var Torah, you can find a way to participate.

I realize that my Torah message doesn't touch everyone every week. I try to glean the most important lessons for our congregation at our time of life. Please remember though that this is your service. Join the ritual committee, bring in some new plans, some new ideas. Everyone can contribute to make our synagogue service more beautiful and a source of inspiration for all of us and our loved ones.

Jewish Chaplaincy at Mid-Coast Hospital

I've recently been appointed to represent our synagogue membership as the Jewish Chaplain of the Advisory Committee for the Chaplain's Office at Midcoast Hospital. It is a committee designed to act in a support role for the staff and administration to serve patients of all faiths.

So now, if you or a loved one should G-d forbid, need to be admitted to the hospital, please feel free to identify yourself upon admission as a Jewish patient. Then, I or another trained volunteer may make a point of stopping in to see you and pay you a Bikkur Holim visit. This is designed to serve our membership in time of need, as well as any other Jewish person or their family member who wants a visit from a Jewish chaplain or volunteer.

Adult Hebrew Education

A course of study is now underway at noon-time in Brunswick at the Ft. Andros Building. A group of people who have attended religious services have requested a course to learn the Hebrew of the Sabbath Service. We have set a goal to learn some of the core prayers. We learn to read, translate and chant the prayers, as well as discuss some basics of the structure of the Siddur and the synagogue symbols and service. We touch on the differences in the main movements in the United States (Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform), between Ashkenazi and Sefardi communities. Discussion ranges from Hasidic customs to Israeli religious life. In some cases we look at commentaries that may mention the origin, composition and poetic message of individual prayers.

The Siddur represents the stirrings of the heart of Jews throughout the ages. This is one way to develop a basic fluency to participate more fully in Beth Israel's Sabbath worship service. The group meets every Tuesday from 12:00-1:00 pm. Enrollment is limited, yet new students are welcome. There are no prerequisites.

Gibson's 'Passion' without Sensitivity

During this season our Christians neighbors will be inspired by the re-enactment of the "Passion" in the form of a new film release. These "passion play" productions or skits have been done for years and have been a source of joy for the faithful Christian. Yet preliminary reports are showing that Mel Gibson's upcoming production abandons Vatican II and may re-ignite the millennium old "blood-libel" claims. In the last few decades, great care has been taken by Christians and Jews alike to provide authentic guidelines for these plays, so as to prevent any misinterpretation that could incite hostility towards Jews. Most Christians are sensitive to our age-old plight in this regard, especially after the Holocaust, and have been careful about avoiding these ancient spurious attacks.

Nevertheless it is our obligation to be aware of its implications. I highly commend the United Synagogue at and the Lutheran Interfaith dialogue at for its thoughtful and peaceful handling of this potentially volatile subject. They provide talking points and strategies for framing the issues with our neighbors.

Cantor Daniel J. Leeman

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Shabbat Services

We have some wonderful speakers lined up for Friday night services for the months of March and April. On Friday March 5th Irwin Brodsky, a local physician, will be discussing medical ethics and Judaism. On Friday March 26th Susan Levey will talk about her 35 years in education and the changes she has seen. And on Friday, April 16, David Sargent, a teacher at Mt. Ararat Middle school, will talk about his two week visit to Germany and Poland with the Holocaust Human Rights Education Program. Please mark your calendar so that you won't miss any of these interesting presentations.

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Torah Message

Last Shabbat we read the Parsha of Yitro, which included the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. Many through the ages have asked the question: Why are they being revealed in the wilderness? It could have been in Egypt or in Israel. It could have been in any developed society during our early history. Why the wilderness of Sinai?

The rabbis answer that it is was open territory, free from the influences of culture and society. It was a fertile place in which we could ponder our new gift of Torah. It was an open place where we could fulfill our covenant to serve Hashem and the mitzvot with our own personal faith and style. We observed from our own free will and conviction absent the noise of a busy external culture.

As I pondered this explanation, I realize we experience many of these advantages in Maine. Yes we have some of pop culture around us, but for many of us, our purpose in coming here was to enjoy the vast natural beauty. We've come to Maine because of the simplicity of the town government, because we can be free here to express our own brand of Judaism, distinct from the gigantic and sometimes overwhelming variety of urban or suburban Jewish centers.

We can enjoy the religious freedom that the Puritans sought in our country's nascent years, right here in 21st century Maine. We have the privilege to worship our G-d with all the faith and love and devotion our hearts can muster. We have our wonderful chapel and school and library to expand our knowledge of morals and ethics and help our wider community grow and prosper in peace. As we re-read this passage annually the rabbis urge us to renew our Covenant today to educate ourselves about Jewish law, customs, holidays, culture and history and to practice faithfully.

Purim is rapidly approaching. It took place in ancient Persia near what is now Iran/Iraq. It tells the story of a brutal Haman, a tyrant and a bigot who sought to destroy the Jews merely because we were different. Mordecai refused to bow to a human figure and this infuriated Haman. Whether it was Pharoah in biblical Egypt, or Hitler (Yemach Sh'mo, may his name be erased in history) in our generation, we must learn that tyrants are not new. A most important lesson can be learned from Esther, the heroine, who despite her fear, stood up for her people, and stood up for what is right.

She was no warrior. She was no politician. She was a beautiful young woman living among Persians, hiding her Judaism. She realized she needed to stand up and be proud of her heritage and speak out to change the course of history.

We, in our own small way can do the same here at Beth Israel and in the Bath/Brunswick region. We can be proud of who we are. We can celebrate our miraculous history, creativity and faith, despite our few numbers. We can celebrate our freedom from tyranny in our small Maine towns where each of us can play a role in directing its future.

Cantor Daniel J. Leeman

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Interfaith Family Program

On Sunday, March 28 at 2:30 pm Elana Kling Perkins will lead a special program at the Minnie Brown Center. She is the coordinator of the Interfaith Family Resource Center at Jewish Family and Children's Service Center of Greater Boston. In this position she provides services to individuals and groups on interfaith relationships. She speaks and leads discussions with congregations throughout New England, on how to welcome and include interfaith families.

Her topics will include:

  • Raising Jewish children in an Interfaith family
  • Parents of interfaith couples
  • Dealing with holiday, life cycle and religious life in an interfaith home

This is a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and concerns, to exchange information, and to meet other interfaith couples and in-laws of interfaith couples. At this forum you will be able to discuss issues with people in similar situations and learn from their experiences.

With such a diverse congregation, interfaith relationships affect most of us, whether we are interfaith couples or parents or in-laws of interfaith couples, or just friends of interfaith couples. This is the meeting at which members and parents of Hebrew School students can voice their opinions on how Beth Israel Congregation should support your needs.

Everyone is welcome. Remember the date, Sunday, March 28 at 2 pm at the Minnie Brown Center. There will be dessert and coffee and a chance to "schmooze."

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Brunswick Area Interfaith Council

The Brunswick Area Interfaith Council's members come from Bath, Harpswell, Durham, Freeport, Phippsburg, Woolwich and Topsham in addition to Brunswick. The organization is somewhat unique in that each member organization can have both religious leaders and "lay" members who have active roles.

This past year BAIC has garnered new energy from the vitality of its new president, the Reverend Alice Davies. Ongoing projects of BAIC include funding the transportation costs of clients at the Tedford Shelter and sponsoring an orphanage in Haiti. Its most recent accomplishment was the sponsorship of the Pastoral Care Program at Mid Coast Hospital.

Members of the organization have been very welcoming to our own Cantor Dan Leeman. Several members of Beth Israel Congregation participate in BAIC activities. The organization provides a forum for helping our area communities move toward inclusiveness, tolerance and a better understanding of shared concerns.

If you would like more information about this organization or would like to become involved, please contact me.

Ed Benedikt

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News from the Hebrew School

We have much to share regarding the Hebrew school this month. Our Hebrew school has grown to 53 students.

Welcome to our newest families!

We welcome the Maris family to our school. Our newest students, Regina (Gina) is in the Bet (2nd/3rd grade) class, and Antonina (Nina) is in the Heh (5th grade) class. Also, the Gallimore family recently moved here from Virginia. Rachel is in the Heh class, and Sarah is in Bet. They also have a son Sam who is involved with the Gan program. We are thrilled to have them all.

Teachers bring new spirit to our school!

We also are fortunate to have a few new teachers as well. Noah Lumsden, a ninth grader at Mt Ararat High School, has been helping Cantor Leeman with the Daled (4th grade) class, and has taken on a small group of his own during Hebrew. Rosalind (Rozi) Eberhart, a senior at Morse High school, has been helping Rachel Connelly run the Heh class, and has her own small group during Hebrew as well. Carl Boyd, a ninth grader at Lincoln Academy in Damariscotta, is floating between classes, and is available to help students for individual tutoring. Noah and Carl are also using their great energy to add "fun" activities and games to our regular curriculum. Both Rozi and Carl have been involved with the Jewish Youth Choir. All three bring wonderful new spirit to our school.

We welcome back our other wonderful teachers after our winter break. Many have taken trips outside of the U.S. during the break, and we are all happy for their safe return. Marina Singer has been with our Gan (Pre-K/Kindergarten) group, and is now also helping to divide out the Bet Class. Tinker Hannaford has our first grade (Aleph) class. Jill Standish is with our 2ndÐ3rd grade (Bet) class. Daniel Leeman is with 4th grade (Daled), Rachel Connelly is with 5th grade (Heh) and Neal Urwitz, a sophomore at Bowdoin, is with our 6th grade (Vav). Alina Shumsky, who we are also very lucky to have, primarily teaches Hebrew, with a mixed age group of students.

Students hear inspirational story of peace and friendship by Drs. Shumsky

On January 7, we had a very special treat. The children were introduced to Drs. Adaia and Abraham Shumsky. These are the parents of Alina Shumsky. The Shumsky's have authored many Hebrew and English books. Adaia and Abraham took the older classes, and had an opportunity to tell them about Adaia's father, a carpenter, who grew up in Israel. Stories about what "Palestine" (now Israel) was like back in 1930, before phones and electricity, were more than just a little interesting. The story that really grabbed most of us, was how Adaia found a journal of the memoirs of her father's life, most especially the time he spent doing olive wood carpentry work for King Abdullah of Jordan and of the special friendship that formed between them. "A Bridge Across the Jordan" written in Hebrew and English by the Shumsky's tells this story. Fifty years later, Adaia wrote to King Hussein of Jordan, and was invited to come as his guests to the palace. This very interesting visit was also discussed. Some students found the long lost envelop sealed with "The Private Office of His Majesty the King" hidden in one of the pages of the book. One student even suggested that they write a child's version of the book to make it more accessible to a younger audience. Overall, the message was that even though today there is war in this area of the world, in the future we hope for peace and friendship, and we all should continue to work toward that effort. Our students wrote a thank you note to our special guests.

Thanks to our Daled and Bet classes for leading Shabbat services!

On Friday night, January 9th, we were treated to a special service lead by the Daled class (4th grade). Those who were able to participate included: Hannah Leeman, Sammy Leeman, Rebecca Lewis, Sarah Neuren, Rachel Schoenberg, Liza Simmons and Kaela Winneg. We are so very proud as we see each of our students' rise to the occasion and shine with knowledge and excitement. Cantor Leeman is the teacher in this class.

On February 13th, our Bet Class (2nd and 3rd grade) also brought wonderment to our Shabbat service. Those who were able to participate were: Quin Boyd, William Connelly, Caroline Friedland, Sarah Gallimore, Regina Maris, Zachary Miller, Jamie Ross, and Sarah Winneg. Jill Standish is the teacher in this class and Marina Singer is also assisting.

Each of the class Shabbat services have included a potluck dinner prior, where the children and parents alike, make the brachot (blessings) over washing hands, blessing the children, singing zmirot (Shabbat melodies), and then benching (grace) following our meal. Attendance has been excellent, with very few students missing their opportunity to participate.

Fun outside of school!

A family fun day was scheduled for Febreuary 17 at the Pine Haven Winter Park. This was an opportunity for the kids to socialize outside of school, during Febreuary break. Snow tubing was the excitement for the day, and fun was had by all. Stay tuned in future issues to find out where photos can be found.

Celebrate Purim hear the Megillah reading, come to the carnival, make hamantashen!

Our next upcoming special celebration will be the Megillah reading and our annual Purim carnival on Sunnday, March 7. Chris Schoenberg has graciously accepted the leadership role on this. Each of the children will exchange shalach manos boxes with one another (gifts of food and/or little toys), and will make hamantashen during school on March 3. More details to come on this under separate article.

Aleph class to lead Shabbat services!

Also coming, the Aleph class is scheduled to lead our Shabbat service on March 19, not March 12 as originally printed. This will be an especially nice time to join the class for services, as our youngest group takes over the bima. Please consider joining the class for a child friendly service.

Special thanks!

Special thanks are noted for Michael Connelly who recently spent time at the school doing some needed repairs. We appreciate his expertise and are grateful. Many thanks to Dick Gerrity for the juice/food donation he has made to the school. The juice has been keeping our children hydrated for months, and some of the food has been used during our class Shabbat services. Also many thanks to Terry Winneg who has been coming early every single week to get the snacks ready for the kids, and helps them request it in Hebrew. Last but certainly not least, Marilyn Weinberg made sufganyiot (doughnuts) for the whole school in December in honor of Hanukkah, and it was so delicious, we are hoping to book her for next year. There were many parents who stayed to help during our Hanukkah celebration, and we couldn't have done it without your help. Our many thanks.

Join our parent group!

For anyone who is interested, there is a parent group that meets at 4:30 pm during Hebrew school, the first Wed. of each month. The next meeting will be March 3, and anyone is welcome to join in, at any time.

Barbara Leeman

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Jews and the Environment

(This short note covers the essence of what Peter Felsenthal would have said on Friday evening February 6 had nature not intervened with freezing rain on top of snow.)

Our ancestors lived in close relation to nature, as did all of ancient man. Our texts are ripe with references to nature and to our living next to and within it. As we are told in Genesis " God created heaven and earth and all therein." In Genesis I humans as created in the image of God are given dominion over nature, while in Genesis 2 and 3 humans are humbled and separated and told/made to struggle for subsistence from nature. In both cases nature is God's creation, not an inert objectified object to destroy. " YHWH God took the human and set him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to watch it" (Genesis 2-15) "The Holy One took the first human, and passing before all the tees of the Garden of Eden, said," See my works, how fine and excellent they are! All that I created, I created for you. Reflect on this, and do not corrupt or desolate my world: for if you do, there will be no one to repair it for you. And what is worse you will bring death even to the righteous people in the future" (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)

There are continuous references to nature and to respect it in the Torah, From the commandment not to destroy fruit tress in time of war (Deuteronomy 20:19-20) to the mention of the rainbow as the symbol of the covenant between God and every living creature (Genesis 9:12) to the commandment not to destroy a mother bird on her nest (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). Just as fundamental are the series of commandments to honor the Sabbath and to make a sabbatical year for the fields and vineyards. Leviticus 25 which includes these commandments in regard to the fields and vineyards also includes (25:23) "But the land is not to be sold in harness for the land is mine; for you are sojourners and resident settlers with me, ---."

One more long quote, this from a contemporary, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch head of the conservative Jewish Theological Seminary. "We must dare to examine our long standing preference for history over nature. The celebration of " historical monotheism" is a legacy of nineteenth century Christian Jewish polemics, a fierce attempt by Jewish thinkers to distance Judaism from the world of paganism. But the disclaimer has its downside by casting Judaism into an adversarial relationship with the natural world. Nature is faulted for the primitiveness and decadence of pagan religion, and the modern Jew is saddled with a reading of the tradition which is one-dimensional. Judaism had been made to dull our sensitivity to the awe-inspiring power of nature. Preoccupied with the ghosts of paganism it appears indifferent and unresponsive to the supreme challenge of our age: humanity's degradation of the environment. Our planet is under siege and we as Jews are transfixed in silence. What a monumental disservice to Judaism and human kind! For properly understood Judaism pulsates with reverence for God's handiwork."

I am no Jewish scholar; a good deal of the above has been taken from publications of the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life ( This is a coalition of Jewish organizations that spans the gamut from the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations of America, to Conservative, to Reform, to Reconstruction and Renewal organizations. In other words whatever your take on Judaism there are others within your group who care for the environment, want to take action and have taken action. If you are interested I suggest you go to the web site and explore for yourself.

My own interests in the environment have not come from text study but from reverence for nature and the knowledge of what we as a species, as a country are doing to change the world. This coupled with the Jewish value of tikkun olam have caused me to take action not only in changes to our family's lifestyle but also to actively participate in an interfaith group dedicated to consciousness raising and action around the issues of global climate change and the generation and use of electric power.

I would be glad to speak with any congregation member about Maine Interfaith Power and Light ( or any of the topics in the above summary.

Peter Felsenthal

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Purim is coming!

There are three Mitzvot of Purim:

  1. Shalach Manot: sending of gifts (of food) to friends
  2. Maot L'inuim: giving of coins to the poor
  3. Simcha: to be happy: to have a special meal at which you get so drunk that you don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai.

The Hebrew School will do these mitzvot in a little different way.

  1. We will be having a family basket exchange at the carnival. Every family who brings a basket will be able to take one home. These baskets must have at least two different foods in them so one can say two blessings over the food. We also are putting a $15 maximum on the baskets.
  2. The giving of a coin took place in a time when you knew the poor person, most of us don't know who is poor, and anyway, anonymous giving is said to be a higher form of tzadakah. The school will be doing a drive for unopened toiletries and personal items to give to the Tetford shelter. Please bring these to school or the carnival.
  3. Simcha: Our way to do this is to attend the carnival, especially in costume. We will have a prize for all those who come in costume
  4. We are also doing a children's exchange with the bags coming home from Hebrew School on March 3. These are meant to be filled with some small trinket your child is willing to part with. An old toy from Burger King is perfect. For those who are not enrolled in school and would like to participate in this swap then decorate a brown lunch bag and put in a couple of those little toys that are constantly underfoot.

However to really fulfill the mitzvot one wants to celebrate on Purim. So on Sunday, March 7, We will be having a Megilla reading at the synagogue from 10am till 11am followed by a parade to the Minnie Brown Center where the carnival will be held from 11:15 am till 1:15 pm. This is a time to experience a very different side of Judaism. If you think of the synagogue as a place to be thoughtful and meditative, Purim is a time to turn that notion on its head, and do things differently. The more people the more fun, so join us.

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Welcome New and Returning Members!

The new members, all with children in the Hebrew School, are:

  • Tim and Carole Maris
  • Michael and Michelle Miller
  • Brad and Lauri Gallimore
  • Lee and Margaret Silverman
  • Lillian and Paul Karass returning members.

Todah Rabbah...

The following people have donated money to Beth Israel Congregation:

  • Lynda Kelly in memory of her father, Harold Lempert
  • Anonymous
  • Lucille Hersenhart in memory of her mother, Sonia Wernick
  • Stanley Lane in memory of his mother, Janet Lane
  • Beverly Pearlman
  • Cara and Mike Davis in memory of Isear Greenblatt
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Come dance With Us!

Israeli Dancing In Maine

Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue and the Jewish Community Alliance are sponsoring Israeli Dance lessons right here in our own backyard! The very talented and enthusiastic Orly Kahn will be the instructor. It will be open to everyone in the Jewish community from ages 11Ð120+ (at no cost)! What a wonderful way to come together, enjoy and appreciate such a rich part of our culture and have lots of fun!

Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue (social hall)
76 Noyes St.

every Sunday 6:00Ð7:00 pm
beginning February 8th
(wear comfortable clothes)

Call Ann Bergman at Shaarey Tphiloh 773-0693
or Roberta Zuckerman at the JCA 772-1959.

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