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Beth Israel Congregation


Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

November/December 2004
Heshvan/Kislev/Tevet 5765

President's Message
Cantor's Message
Interfaith Conference in Portland
Anne Frank Exhibit
Capital Campaign
Friday Night Speaker Series
Friday Night Service Time Change
For our Teenagers
Friday Night Childcare
Daniel's Family Returns
Hebrew School News
Handicapped Access Honors Chinka Rosenmann

President's Message

by Marilyn Weinberg

As I greeted so many friends and acquaintances during our recent series of holiday activities and programs I became re-committed to the importance of keeping our synagogue and Jewish community alive and active.

After our appeal for funds during the High Holiday services, a member came up and asked me why we were "running a deficit." They thought we had an abundance of money since we had received the very generous Minnie Brown bequest. I thought this was a legitimate concern that should be responded to publicly.

Minnie Brown's generosity allowed us to purchase our new cemetery as well as the building at 906 Washington Street that now houses our Hebrew school and serves as a function space for our congregation. These costs, along with extra capital expenses have used up more than half of the gift. If we continue to use the bequest as we have been doing, it will only last a few more years and we will be left with no savings or safety net to fall back on in case of an emergency.

To ensure our long-term sustainability, we must determine a way to augment our current income and donations. We do not want to cut back on services and programs when our Hebrew school is thriving and people are enjoying our regular services. The option of raising dues exists, but we would prefer to keep them stable and ask those who are able to make additional donations. We must find some supplementary sources of money.

Beth Israel has never had a capital campaign. Even our dues collection has been lax and contributions have diminished precipitously. We have put off repair to our beautiful building to the point where we must act. As you make your decision as to where your charitable donations will go, please put Beth Israel at the top of your list. When you are approached by a member of our fundraising committee, please say that you will give generously. The future of our congregation hangs in the balance.

Cantor's Message

by Cantor Daniel Leeman

Noah and the Generation of the Flood

Noah and his family entered the ark on the same day that the flood began...Genesis 7:14. According to the Midrash Breishit Rabba, Noah waited to enter the ark until the water reached his ankles because he did not have a full faith in G-d's word. Later in the Midrash of Devarim Rabbah the rabbis describe Noah as someone who did not try adequately to save the people of his generation who died in the flood. They characterize Noah as one who saved his "own skin" and failed to influence the evil doers for good, or cause them to cease their violence and corruption.

These insights are incredibly important for us in our time. We also live in a time of great violence and corruption. One lesson we learn is that civilizations cannot long endure if we continue to tolerate violence and corruption. If we merely recoil in horror and seek to shield ourselves, we are making the same mistake Noah made. If good people don't become involved, as distasteful as it may be, to stop the spread of violence, it will only increase and become more widespread.

If by our actions we can bring out the "human," more refined and peaceful qualities of our neighbors, then we can bring out the good, or menshlechkeit, that each human being is capable of doing. In this way we can succeed where Noah failed and repair our troubled world.

This message was reinforced at an Interfaith Conference in Portland, (see story below) I attended in October. The conference was organized by Professor Abe Peck of the University of Southern Maine. The keynote speaker at this conference, Rauf, an Imam explained that we could stem the violence among Arabs and Americans and among Arabs and Jews if we build bridges here with local Islamic groups and carry them with us throughout our lives. I believe this is a very hopeful strategy and message.

As in the story about the Anne Frank and the Portland Exhibit (see below) what can we conclude? When we see injustice, we must act. When we know of wrong doing, we must work to stop it from happening again. This lesson is the message of Noah and the generation of the flood. Sam Zaitlin and Jaap Pollock made this exhibit possible.

So may we all take the lessons of Noah's life as interpreted by our sages, Let us take the initiative to build the bridges that will encourage all forms of peaceful humanity. We mustn't shy away from our task for fear that the violence or corruption would make our task appear dangerous or overwhelming. We can shine the light of hope that will seek the good in every human being. We can never de-humanize our opponents and relegate them as hopeless adversaries to peace.

I offer my thanks to Professor Abe Peck, Sam Zaitlin and Jaap Pollack for their sacred work. May we all be privileged to also work steadily and excel in this endeavor?

Interfaith Conference in Portland

In October, our Cantor Leeman attended a hopeful meeting in Portland. It was a widely sponsored event. Funding came through both public cultural funds and local religious groups. Professor Abe Peck of the University of Southern Maine organized this event. He brought together prominent Islamic, Jewish and Christian theologians as a discussion panel. Each spoke and then had the opportunity to respond to the other as well as to questions from the audience. The keynote speaker was an Islamic Imam, named Rauf, who is known for his efforts to reach out to Jewish and Christian leaders to bridge the cultural divide that has widened in recent years. The program was entitled "Islam and the Challenge of America." Rauf, the spiritual leader of a mosque in NYC, is a proud US citizen coming from an orthodox Sufi sect.

He believes that the US has a great history of religious tolerance, and that it is to our credit that minority groups, like Catholics and subsequently Jews have grown to a type of successful co-existence in America with the dominant Protestant groups. He believes that this historical growth to equality was nurtured by the founding fathers' vision of the future of our country. He believes that as the Islamic American society grows and becomes accepted as equals in the US, US citizens of each of the three faiths could set an example to the world for peaceful co-existence and harmony. He believes that US Jews and Catholics have developed an authority among world Jewry and world Catholics based on our successful struggle for equality and respect in the strongest nation on earth. Once Islamic Americans establish their place in America, the Islamic world will realize that our relationships could set an example for world cooperation.

His message is that we could stem the violence among Arabs and Americans and among Arabs and Jews if we build bridges here with local Islamic groups and carry them with us throughout our lives.

Anne Frank Exhibit

Sam Zaitlin, master of ceremonies, brought the exhibit to Portland based on his personal relationship with the late Sam L. Cohen, whose foundation funded some of the exhibit, and based on his business relationship with Jaap Polak, and Ina Soep Polak who have summered in Ogunquit, Maine for 48 years. Jaap "Jack" Polak, the Chairman Emeritus of the Anne Frank Center, USA and a survivor of the Holocaust, was a Dutch businessman who was moved by Anne's life, and wanted to perpetuate her memory, to help others learn important lessons from the Holocaust. Nathan Smith, the Mayor of Portland, Charlie Miller, president of the JCA and other dignitaries also spoke on behalf of the exhibit.

Cantor Daniel Leeman performed on Saturday evening, October 16th at the opening of the Anne Frank exhibit. Works included Bach Suites for unaccompanied Cello #1 & #3, compositions from the Vilna ghetto and other melodies from the camps, as well as the Faure Elegy. The first set, representing Frank's childhood, and happiness during her peaceful life with her parents, the second, the somber, mournful times of the ghetto and Holocaust, and the third set, showing the hope for the future, and a thank you to Anne for her hope and creativity in the face of degradation. Daniel studied with Ardith Alton from New York City, and was trained in ensemble work at the Downeast Chamber Music Center in Castine, Maine. His elegant playing set the mood for the appreciation of the exhibit.

The exhibit Anne Frank in the World is on display at Portland City Hall until the Friday, November 12. The traveling museum has visited over 100 cities nationwide, and drawn millions of visitors. It contains over 700 photographs, as well as objects and films. Admission to the exhibit is free. City Hall is open from 9-5, Monday through Friday, and 10-4 on Sunday as well. It is well worth the visit.

Beth Israel Announces Capital Campaign To Raise $250,000

Jeff Cohen and Sharon Drake, Co-chairs

Currently, we have raised $33,000.

For the first time in its history, Beth Israel Congregation is embarking on a major fund raising campaign. This effort will be as ambitious as it is unprecedented: we need to raise $250,000 to pay for a number of critical capital improvements to the synagogue and the Minnie Brown Center at 906 Washington Avenue; we also need to boost our existing endowment. To reach this goal will require the active and generous participation of every member of the Congregation.

We all cherish our beautiful sanctuary. Built in 1922 to house a small but devoted Orthodox community, for nine decades the Beth Israel synagogue has served Jewish families from mid-coast Maine and summer visitors from around the country. For generations, Beth Israel has been a welcoming, eclectic congregation embracing Jews across the religious spectrum. In the process, we have fostered a true sense of community, cohesiveness, and Jewish identity.

We have also grown. Beth Israel now numbers 85 members (families and individuals). That's an increase of nearly 100% from 15-20 years ago. We have a nearly full-time spiritual leader in Cantor Daniel Leeman. And, thanks to a generous bequest from long-time member Minnie Brown, we now have a separate building just a few doors down from the synagogue, housing our Hebrew School, cantor's study, meeting space and function hall. We are fortunate to have these resources available to us.

However, Beth Israel is now facing a number of major financial pressures that must be dealt with quickly and decisively if we are to survive and thrive as an institution. First and foremost, our building at 862 Washington Street is showing its age and needs many critical repairs and renovations. The front steps are beginning to crumble and need to be replaced. To accommodate our elderly and infirm members, we have installed a motorized lift chair to make the sanctuary accessible to the handicapped from street level. Both interior and exterior painting is also required. The roof is old and must be replaced.

Equally important, the lower level is in dire need of attention. The kitchen is completely inadequate and outdated; it requires a wholesale renovation to accommodate the need for food service for holidays, festivals, kiddushes, etc. In addition, the downstairs function room needs to be renovated to make it a welcoming and useful space.

Important capital projects at the Minnie Brown Center must be undertaken, including a new roof and interior and exterior painting. New furniture is needed as well. These upgrades will allow the Center to realize its potential as an educational center for current and future generations of Jewish children and as a wonderful resource for the Beth Israel community as a whole.

All of these capital improvements come at price at a steep one. The aggregate cost of these projects will be between $140,000-$150,000. This money is urgently needed within then next two years so that necessary work can be planned and undertaken. We have talked about the need for many of these improvements for years. We cannot delay any longer. Now it is time for action.

Beyond these capital projects, the existing Beth Israel endowment is inadequate to meet our projected future needs. Increasing the endowment by $100,000 is necessary to make sure that we go forward on a solid financial foundation.

For a congregation of our size, raising $250,000 is a daunting proposition - but it is a goal we can attain if every single member and friend of Beth Israel steps up to the plate and makes a financial commitment to the synagogue.

Over the years, Beth Israel has made only modest financial demands of its members. Most other synagogues, even in Maine, charge much more than we do in annual dues - some twice as much. Other shuls also routinely solicit large sums from their congregants for building funds, rabbis' endowments, capital campaigns, etc. We have never had to do this, until now. Now we have no choice: we must raise this money if we are to remain viable as a Congregation and meet the needs of coming generations.

We are asking every member of Beth Israel to make a major financial contribution towards our capital campaign. We are asking you to make a pledge that will be payable in installments over the next three years. We recognize that some members have a greater capacity to give than others, and we hope and expect that those with greater resources will make pledges commensurate with those resources. But we are asking every individual or family member to stretch and make a financial sacrifice for the long-term benefit of Beth Israel Congregation.

We are delighted to report that we already have commitments from several of our members that total over $33,000 towards our campaign goal. In addition, every member of the Beth Israel Board of Directors has pledged a donation to the Campaign. We are on our way, and we have made a great start.

In the coming weeks, you will be contacted by a volunteer to make a pledge to the Campaign. We hope that you will consider what Beth Israel means to you, your family, and the greater community. Please consider a generous gift to your Congregation.

Friday Night Speaker Series

We want to thank Neal Urwitz for his wonderful presentation in October.

We have some exciting speakers scheduled for the next two months. On Friday, November 5th Sandy Polster will share his thoughts on the results of the current election and the role of the media. Sandy Polster, as a reporter and a producer, has covered every presidential campaign since 1964. He worked in daily journalism in New York for more than twenty-five years. For two decades he was News Editor of the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and Senior Writer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and with Dan Rather. He currently teaches Political Journalism at Colby College.

On Friday, November 19th, Manli Ho will speak about her father, Dr. Fen Shan Ho. Dr. Ho was one of the first diplomats to help Jews by issuing them visas to escape the Holocaust. He was the Chinese Consul General in Vienna following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March of 1938. With the Nazi takeover, Austrian anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews erupted in full force. Using a policy of coerced expulsion, Nazi authorities told Jews that if they obtained visas from other countries as proof of emigration, they, as well as their relatives would be allowed to leave.

Many Austrian Jews tried to emigrate, but found almost no country willing to allow them entry. Their plight was further exacerbated by the July 13 resolution of the Evian Conference that made it evident that none of the 32 participating nations was wiling to accept Jewish refugees.

Unlike his fellow diplomats, Dr. Ho issued visas to Shanghai to all requesting them, even to those wishing to travel elsewhere but needing a visa to leave Nazi Germany. Many of those helped by Dr. Ho did indeed reach Shanghai, either by boat from Italy or overland via the Soviet Union. Many others made use of their visas to reach alternate destinations, including Palestine, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Ho is listed as one who is "Righteous Among Nations" at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Manli Ho, the daughter of Dr. Feng Shan Ho was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia. She now lives in Arrowsic, Maine with her husband John Bradley Wood.

On Friday, December 3rd, Denise Tepler will share her thoughts on the topic of religious celebrations and the public schools. Since Chanukah begins on December 7th we thought this would be a timely topic. Denise served for a number of years on the MSAD 75 school board, and was instrumental in making sure the topic was brought to the forefront.

Friday Night Service Time Change

Beginning with our November 5th Friday night service, we will change our starting time from 7:30 to 7:00 pm.

For our Teenagers

Kaela Frank is hoping to organize a group of 9th to 12th graders who may be interested in joining Young Judaea and in attending a convention in Burlington, VT from December 3rd to the 5th. Transportation and supervision will be provided for all our attendees.

Young Judaea is a pluralistic movement that has brought together generations of young Jews from a rich variety of religious, cultural, and political backgrounds to embrace to diversity of American Jewish Life and develop a lasting identification with Judaism. It consists of five districts (merchavim) to facilitate club meetings, conventions, peer leadership opportunities, social action programs and inter-city events for members across the country, throughout the school year.

If you are interested in attending or in learning more about this organization, please contact Kaela Frank as soon as possible.

Friday Night Childcare Service by Allegra Boyd

Allegra Boyd will be providing free childcare on November 5th and December 3rd, during our Friday night service. The service is planned to last approximately one hour. This is a Mitzvah project that Alle decided to take on as part of her becoming a Bat Mitzvah. Please take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. You can come to enjoy services while your young children play downstairs safely, quietly, all while being supervised. You can hear the speakers scheduled during those dates as well.

Daniel's Family Returns for Thanksgiving Weekend

The Leeman family discovered Beth Israel during the summer of 1982 during one of their summer trips through Maine. That summer, when Beth Israel discovered the Leemans, they knew this was a family they would always remember. Daniel, his brother Benjamin, and sister Eve, led the High Holiday services for the next five years, through their college years, and beyond. Twenty two years later, all three of them with their parents, G-d willing, will be together again on the Beth Israel bima during our Friday night Thanksgiving weekend service. Please join us for this reunion, 7:00 pm, November 26th, and hear some of the many melodies that were sung by the Leeman trio during their years here in Maine. It's no surprise, after starting here in Bath, that Daniel has pursued a music and Cantorial career, and come back to the synagogue where this began.

Hebrew School News

by Barbara Leeman

Hebrew school began on Wed. Sept. 8th with much energy and excitement. Our schedule, as last year, includes time for Judaica: which includes Bible, Jewish Holidays, and Jewish History; and time for Hebrew language instruction: reading, writing and speaking. Before dividing out into classes, our entire school assembles for a short prayer service. Each child is becoming more and more familiar with the afternoon (mincha) service. We assemble again at the end of the school day, and gather upstairs for Jewish song, Israeli folk dancing, prayer and holiday melodies.

High Holiday Youth Services

Besides the classroom instruction, Denise Tepler led our youth service on Rosh Hashana, and Nathan Dinces led our Youth service on Yom Kippur. Both were well attended, and the kids jumped at the opportunity to participate. We thank them both for their thoughtful and interesting leadership of services, and for engaging our young people to participate. Many thanks.

Sukkot and Simchat Torah

In honor of Sukkot, the children have had an opportunity to build and decorate a beautiful sukkah. Our congregation also enjoyed having the oneg there following Friday night services. The following week, we had great participation for our Simchat Torah celebration. Everyone danced around the shul with the Torahs, singing and rejoicing. A pot-luck dinner followed, with good spirit.

Welcome to Our Newest Families

We welcome the Gersh, Jones, Manahan, Maniscalco and Osmun families to our school. We welcome back our returning families. We are thrilled to be back, learning and making new friends.

Welcome Back Teachers

We welcome back our wonderful teachers most who return from last year. Marina Singer has been with our Gan (preschool) group. Lauri Gallimore joins us this year, taking over the Aleph (kindergarten) class. Tinker Hannaford has our Bet class (2nd grade). Cantor Daniel and Alec Brodsky work with our Gimmel (3rd and 4th grade) class. Rachel Connelly, Alina Shumsky and Neal Urwitz, are with the Heh/Vav (4th-6th grade) classes.

Post Bar/Bat Mitzvah/ Hebrew School Graduates Bring A Wealth Of Knowledge

We are fortunate to have several talented student teachers this year. Alle Boyd, Alec Brodsky, Michael Brodsky, Noah Lumsden, Jane Martell and Alexis Osmun all bring wonderful spirit and knowledge to our school.

Preschool Group

Marina Singer is teaching our Gan/Pre-K class, which meets on the 2nd Sunday morning of each month. The kids enjoyed stories, crafts, games and fun. They've made their own apples/honey plates, Challah, Tzedakah boxes, and more. The next class will be on November 14th.

New Hebrew Text

Alina Shumsky joined our staff last year. She is the daughter of Adaia and Abraham Shumsky, authors of many Hebrew language textbooks and learning systems. Alina is a career educator and has developed a new system for teaching the rudiments of Hebrew conversation/prayer. Alina's pilot program will surely provide her students with a basic fluency and vocabulary, and a lifetime skill of Hebrew language. Alina's work will likely develop into a text ready for publication within a short time. Alina took on this task as her own summer project, and we are very grateful for her creativity and her hardwork.

Mitzvah Club

One of the important components of any children's Jewish education is learning about the need for "tikkun olam" - repairing the world, social responsibility, and making the world a better place. At the Hebrew school, we believe the best way to do this is hands on projects, especially ones that the kids choose or are interested in. We are grateful to Chris Schoenberg for initiating and taking the leadership on this. So far the kids who have chosen to get involved, have collected boxes of empty film canisters to send to Guatemala to be used to dispense medicine. This was a joint project with our school/congregation and Orr's Island Methodist Church. They have also made and delivered Rosh Hashana cards to deliver to nursing home residents, and helped in the efforts of the Coastal cleanup. A singing group is also practicing each week, to learn special Hebrew/Yiddish songs to sing at Hanukkah time for the Jewish residents of the Hawthorne House in Freeport, and possibly other nursing homes. Some are also choosing to carry the Unicef boxes with them during their trick or treating. Each of these Mitzvah projects are all separate, and anyone interested, may join any or all of them. Please stay tuned for more Mitzvah opportunities within the next few months.

Our many thanks go to those parents who have already been so involved and helpful with so many of the extras we normally take for granted. Helping to organize classes, providing snacks weekly for the kids, building the sukkah, are just a few of the many extras we appreciate. Those parents who stay during the prayer service, or come early to hear the singing leave with nachas and joy at the excitement with which the kids begin and end their lessons. Our teachers are clearly capturing their attention and we all are grateful.

In the coming weeks and months, each of the Hebrew school classes will have a chance to demonstrate their accomplishments by leading a Friday night Shabbat service. Our Vav class will lead on November 12th. This group includes Morgan Boyd, David Brann, Michelle Brann, Patrick Connelly, Rachel Gallimore, Nina Maris, Ian Powell and Micaela Tepler. On December 10th, the Heh class will lead our Shabbat service. They are Ethan Blatt, Colin Laurence, Hannah Leeman, Sammy Leeman, Rebecca Lewis, Sarah Neuren, Dylan Osmun, Rachel Schoenberg, and Kaela Winneg. We are very excited about this. We encourage every member of our congregation and greater community to attend these special services. Your attendance and support will inspire our students to continue their effort towards a quality Jewish education. Please mark your calendars.

In December our Hebrew school, will join with the congregation to celebrate Chanukah together with a community wide Chanukah party. More information on that will be passed along as it is available.

For anyone who is interested, there is a parent group that meets at 4:30 pm during Hebrew school, the first Wednesday of each month. The next meetings will be November 3rd and December 1st. Please consider coming to join us. We look forward to a year of learning and fun.

Handicapped Access Honors Chinka Rosenmann

The Beth Israel Congregation of Bath recently received a memorial gift from the estate of Chinka Rosenmann.

Born in Poland in 1909, Chinka Widnicka, was a survivor of the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp. After World War II, she married Arthur Rosenmann and they emigrated to the United States in 1964. They moved to Brunswick after her husband's retirement in 1978. Arthur died in 1996. Chinka died in 2003 and is buried next to Arthur in the Riverside Cemetery at Pleasant Street and River Road in Brunswick. Her sister, Edith Polany lives in Israel, her stepson Georges C. Rosenmann in the US and her sister-in-law, Erica Beckwith, in Brunswick.

Her friend, Brenda Brown, who is executrix of her will, recalls one situation: "I tried to get her to go into the Highlands. We even went to visit, had an interview there - but no. Change is difficult for many of us and Chinka had probably had more than enough in her life." These changes are sadly reflected in many of the papers which Chinka left. The synagogue and the executrix consider these documents of historic significance and are requesting that they be archived at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Wash. D.C. or the Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine.

In her later years, friends recall that Chinka especially enjoyed spending time with children, listening to classical music and opera and baking Austrian desserts. She also enjoyed traveling, especially to Vienna. She was very fond of animals and adored her poodle Bambola.

The Beth Israel Congregation of Bath is very appreciative of the donation and decided that installing handicapped access to the Sanctuary was an appropriate use of the gift. The synagogue Board of Directors will be putting up a special plaque in her memory, in grateful acknowledgment.