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Beth Israel Congregation


Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

January/February 2005
Tevet/Shevat/Adar I 5765

Presidents Message
Cantor's Message
Fundraising Ideas
Fund Raising Campaign
New Prayer Books
News from the Hebrew School
Upcoming Events in Our Area
Speaker Series
Tsunami Relief
New Members

Presidents Message

by Marilyn Weinberg

As I write this column I am deeply involved in our Capital Campaign. It is not always comfortable to receive a phone call asking for a donation. I can tell you it is very difficult for me to make those phone calls and visits. It is not anything I have done before. My strong feelings about the survival of our synagogue, including our special building, keep me going. The good news is that many of you have been very kind and generous.

Through one of our requests we have had a member generously agree to donate the money to purchase new prayer books for us. During the last few years it has come to our attention that our present books have become a deterrent for some to attend services. Many people are uncomfortable with the language used in the old book. And for many people the absence of transliteration of many of the Hebrew prayers has been a deterrent to their participation in the service. They come to services, but feel left out.

We don't want anybody to feel as if they aren't an important member of our congregation. Our goal is to be inclusive as possible. Many of the Hebrew prayers are lovely to sing. Providing transliteration can help each member to become an active participant during the service. Please join us during the month of January to be part of the book selection process. Attending services is another way to connect with other members and feel a part of the Jewish community.

Cantor's Message

by Cantor Daniel Leeman

The most important lesson the Torah portion of Vayigash teaches us is to support Jewish learning and tradition.

Jacob sets the tone for this when he decides to uproot his family to go to Egypt. Can you imagine what a tense moment it must have been to learn about the fact that his beloved son Joseph was alive after all these years of mourning his loss? Can you imagine the excitement he must have had anticipating a re-union with Joseph, who through his successful career is going to support him and his entire family through the crisis of starvation and famine?

Yet, according to the Midrash Breishit Rabbah 95:2, Jacob's uppermost concern when deciding to save his family by moving to Egypt, was the establishment of a school for learning in this new and strange land. In Chapter 46 verse 28 we read that the patriarch sent Judah before him to "show him the way" to Goshen. The Hebrew words "L'horot l'fanav" to "show him the way" translates literally "to teach." The rabbis interpret this to mean this to mean to establish an academy of Jewish learning.

Jewish education for our children, no matter where we have lived and under what conditions, has always been a top priority. Wherever we have lived throughout the years we have taken the Torah with us.

In Pirkei Avot we learn "Eem ayn Kemach, ayn Torah." This means that if we have no flour, there is no Torah." If we don't have a self-sustaining community, where our basic needs are met, there is no learning, there is no piety. Our physical needs must be met before our spiritual needs can be addressed. Jacob realized that his only hope would be to settle in Egypt. Therefore he knew that he had no choice but to build the infrastructure of Jewish learning. He needed to find teachers and supplies, set up a program of learning for the entire community.

Whether we live in small communities or large, we've built schools for study. The Torah has proven through the ages to be a "tree of life" in that it has actually kept us alive as a people.

We Jews in America should be mindful of this central lesson of Jewish history. When we think of the priorities of our National organizations and the agenda of our philanthropically minded leaders, we think of Jewish welfare organizations on behalf of the aged or the indigent or the oppressed in foreign lands. We also think of the important work being done to support the continued survival of the State of Israel. As critical and important as this is, we must recognize that our foundation is based on a communal commitment to the study of Torah and the Jewish education of our children. Once the broad base of education is established, then all the other facets of Jewish life can be nurtured and sustained. The better job we do creating educated and well-informed Jews, the more likely our children will be involved, idealistic, and responsive to the needs of our people.

I hope everyone had a wonderful, healthy and peaceful Hannukah. I wish everyone a peaceful winter break with your families.

Fundraising Ideas

by Marilyn Weinberg

We have come to realize that even with our capital campaign there will be a regular need to augment the annual budget. We want to come up with some fun ideas to make this happen. Several people have mentioned the idea of our selling food during Bath's Heritage Days. Possibilities mentioned were falafel, hummus and even potato pancakes. Other people have mentioned a goods and services auction. If you have any ideas or experience in any of these areas, please let us know. Contact Marilyn Weinberg or Campbell Clegg.

Fund Raising Campaign

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.

So far we have received pledges of $36,000 against our goal of $250,000.

Thank you for your support.

New Prayer Books

by Marilyn Weinberg

Over the last few years there has been increased dissatisfaction with our daily prayer book. We were able to replace our High Holiday prayer books two years ago, but had difficulty finding the appropriate book to use on Friday night and Saturday morning. Three years ago we did a survey to ask what people wanted. The results were almost unanimous. Most people preferred a book with traditional prayers, lots of transliteration and gender-neutral language.

At this time we have found two books that fit those requirements. One is a newly updated version of our present book, and the other is a companion book to our new High Holiday book that a lot of people liked.

During the month of January we will be trying these books out. On the weekends of January 7th and 21st we will be using the High Holiday companion book. During the weekends of January 14th and 28th we will be using the newer version of our present book.

Please join us during the month of January. Your input will be vital in making our final selection. Without attending a service you won't be able to be part of the decision making process.

News from the Hebrew School

by Barbara Leeman

Yad b'Yad

Tinker Hannaford and I went to the annual Maine Jewish Teachers' conference, Yad b'yad on October 31st in Portland. The keynote speaker, Steve Steinbock, gave a presentation about "A Vocabulary of Jewish life." Other sessions included information about leading discussions with students, tools of the trade for hebrew education, looking at varieties of "truth" and ways of understanding our tradition, and developing art projects for any season or any part of the curriculum.

Hanukkah News

In December our Hebrew School, joined with the congregation to celebrate Chanukah with a community-wide Chanukah party. Crafts, games, balloon creations, and plenty of latkes were available.

The Mitzvah Club, organized by Chris Schoenberg, also gave a Hanukkah concert at the Hawthorne House in Freeport for the Jewish residents to enjoy.

Class Shabbats

Our Heh class Shabbat was postponed due to weather, until January 14th. Following that will be 3rd/4th grade on February 11th with the Gimmel class. This class includes Quin Boyd, William Connelly, Sarah Gallimore, Isabella Jones, Gina Maris, Zachary Miller, Jamie Ross and Sarah Winneg. 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.

What's in store for January?

Tu B'Shevat falls on January 25th this year and will be celebrated at Hebrew School during January.

For anyone who is interested, there is a parent group that meets at 4:30 pm during Hebrew school on the first Wednesday of each month. Our next meeting will be January 5th. Tu B'Shevat will be on the agenda. Please consider coming to join us.

Upcoming Events in Our Area

by Ed Benedikt

The Beth Israel Congregation is an active member of the Brunswick Area Interfaith Council. Our representative, Ed Benedikt reports that the First Parish UCC Church in Brunswick will host a talk about anti-Semitism in Christian theology. The public is invited.

"Under Noses: From Art to Auschwitz" is a two-part presentation by Dr. Larry R. Kalajainen, Senior Pastor of the First Parish Church in Brunswick. It will be on January 16 and 23 at 11:45 am in their Fellowship Hall at 9 Cleaveland Street.

The first part on January 16 will explore the passages in the Gospels which appear to be hostile to Jews.

The second part, on January 23, will explore how later generations of Gentile readers interpreted the Gospels in an anti-Semitic manner, giving rise to centuries of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe. This will be illustrated with slides of sculptures, prints, and paintings that depict Jews in stereotypical and negative ways.

Speaker Series

by Marylin Weinberg

During November and December we heard from three outstanding and informative speakers.

On November 5th, Sandy Polster spoke to us about political polls and their effect on the outcome of the election. On November 19th, Manli Ho spoke to us about her father, Feng Sheng Ho, who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. And on December 5th, Denise Tepler talked about her involvement with setting up guidelines for the practice of celebrating religious holidays in the public schools.

Each one of these presentations was thought provoking and engendered great discussions. In fact, we are talking about the possibility of having repeat visits. Everybody who attended had very positive comments and wanted additional opportunity to discuss these topics further.

Thanks to all of you who attended and to the Chai Committee members for arranging the presentations. And special thanks to our presenters. They all took time from their busy schedules to put together thoughtful comments. We will be having more speakers at our Friday night services in the future.

Read your emails and check the newsletter for further details.

Tsunami Relief

by Ed Benedikt

Some members of the Social Action Committee have discussed the catastrophe that occurred on December 25. Holding a formal meeting has not been possible, because many members are away and others have been unreachable. Inasmuch as we will not have a chance to discuss this and the needs are long-term, we suggest the following.

For those of us who would like to make a cash contribution, I recommend it should be made to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's fund at JDC: South Asia Tsunami Relief, Box 321, 847 A Second Ave., NY, NY 10018 or call 212-885-0867. The JDC is working with agencies in the field to identify areas of greatest needs and to see that relief is delivered promptly.

For those of you who see the needs too overwhelming, I recommend you contact your US Congressional Representatives to urge greater US involvement.

For those of you who would like our children in the Hebrew school involved, I would suggest a summer clothes and blanket drive together with adopt a community program.

If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to contact Ed Benedikt and Joanne Rosenthal and we will try to meet as soon as possible.

New Members

We would like to welcome the following new members to Beth Israel Congregation.

  • David and Irene Friedman, Bowie, MD
  • Robert Gersh and Susan Horowitz, Bath, ME
  • Gregory M. Gordon and Kelly Mullins, Bath, ME
  • Lee Leiner and Lisa M. Trembley, Woolwich, ME
  • Tim and Johanna McDonough, Washington DC
  • Lee Silverman and Margaret Butler, Brunswick, ME

We also note with sorrow the passing of Arthur Levitt, a former member of our congregation.


We would like to thank the following people for their donations.

  • Jackie Alpert and Chris Leighton
  • Selma Blatt
  • Chris and Donnie Boyd
  • Rachel and Michael Connelly
  • Robert Gersh & Susan Horowitz
  • Liza and Aaron Greenwald
  • Jamie Kaplan and Suzanne Meeker
  • Janice Levitt, in memory of her mother
  • Barry Mills and Karen Gordon Mills
  • Janice Povich, in memory of her mother, Lillian Goldstein
  • Walter and Rita Rubin
  • Lisa Tessler and Mark Ireland