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Beth Israel Congregation

Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

May/June 2008
Nisan/Iyar/Sivan 5768

Shavuot is Coming
Community Fund Raising Dinner
Annual Meeting
Give and Go
Purim Carnival
Phone Tree
News from the Hebrew School
Letter to the Editor

NOTE: It is our policy that no personal telephone numbers, email addresses or mailing addresses be contained in the web version of our newsletter. If you need to get in touch with one of our members please email us at

Shavuot is Coming

by Daniel Leeman

I hope everyone is enjoying our glorious spring weather, after our long snowy winter. I also trust each of you enjoyed a wonderful Pesach holiday with your friends and family.

On the second night of Passover, we began the custom of counting the Omer. The word Omer is translated as a bundle of barley. Bundles of barley were brought to the Temple daily for a period of seven weeks. They culminate at the festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks.

Shavuot is one of three Pilgrimage festivals, known as Regalim. Regel means "leg" in Hebrew referring to the pilgrimage made to Jerusalem, often made on foot. The faithful traveled from around the globe to and from Jerusalem before and after each of the Regalim: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

The Torah says that it is a time to rejoice together with your family. Biblically, Shavuot is described with verses adjacent to passages about leaving bundles that drop on the corners of our fields for the poor. One of the ways we acknowledge this juxtaposition is by helping those less fortunate with gifts. In the prayer book we include the holiday liturgy translated as "a festival of joy, a time and season for rejoicing." One of the ways we express our joy for living is through charitable giving. Because this festival is towards the end of spring, this joy is further expressed by the bringing of the first fruits from our ancient harvests, known as the Bikkurim. So if you like, you can bring produce from your Maine garden to shul for our observance.

These agricultural symbols were later enriched by the rabbis to include a concept for Shavuot not included explicitly in the bible. This was the idea that the timing of Sinai can be traced to seven weeks after the original exodus. So Shavuot was designated by the rabbis as the time of the giving of the Torah. The midrashic literature include many lovely nuances of interpretation about this Jewish concept of revelation. For example, the midrash explains, a desert location was chosen by G-d, because it was a land barren of people. By choosing this one remote location at Sinai, no one nation could claim the gift of the Decalogue from G-d. This was G-d's way, according to the midrash, to assure that Divine law was fairly given. It would later be universally accepted as belonging to the whole world. Isn't this a lovely notion?

So just as on Passover we are asked by the rabbis to perform a Seder, where we are expected to envision ourselves as experiencing the miracle of going from slavery to freedom; so too, on Shavuot, we are asked by the rabbis to envision our souls at Sinai, experiencing the divine gift of Torah. One of the ways we can experience this even today is by studying the bible as part of our observance of this festival. Some have the custom of reading Torah all night long. This is a custom known as Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, a nighttime examination of the Torah. Some recite all 613 commandments. Others read selections from each Parashah, or weekly Torah portion. We'll be reading and discussing the Ten Commandments at our observance.

Today, we maintain the custom of eating dairy products, like blintzes, to remind us of Sinai, when the Kashrut laws were yet to be established, and the ritual slaughter of animals was yet to be interpreted by the rabbis. So bring your wonderful lukshen kugels, and all manners of dairy delights, like home-made Maine ice cream! I would commend to each of you to observe the ancient custom of decorating your homes with flowers and greenery from our gardens and fields on Shavuot, to remind us of the spring bounty from 2500 years ago! We light candles and make Kiddush for a festival, just as we ordinarily do for Shabbos, but with some slight variation.

The last beautiful custom I would like to share about Shavuot is the dramatic recitation of the priestly benediction. Kohanim rise to the bimah after removing their shoes and washing their hands. They cover their heads, arms, and upper bodies with a large Talit, and bless the congregation. "May the Lord Bless you and guard you...etc." from the book of Numbers. So in every future generation, those who happen to be Aaron's descendants transform themselves from friends and neighbors who share a pew next to us to those who perform the drama of the priesthood, just as those that stood and served in Jerusalem in Temple times. So I need all our Kohanim and Levi'im to come out to bless our congregation. You can bring your own special Talit, if you have one, and we'll observe this wonderful ceremony.

Our hour-long service will take place Sunday evening, June 8th, at 7:00 pm at the synagogue.

Community Fund Raising Dinner & Silent Auction

by Marilyn Weinberg

May 17 is the date for a wonderful fund raising project we have developed.

For the small cost of $30 per person, you will have the opportunity to dine at one of the homes of some of Beth Israel's finest cooks. There will be approximately 8-10 people per home so you will be able to enjoy the company of other Beth Israel members.

After a three-course meal at different homes we will all join together at the Minnie Brown Center for a scrumptious dessert, musical entertainment and a silent auction of good and services.

We need your help to make this evening a success.

Sign up to attend the dinner by calling or writing Marilyn Weinberg or Lenore Friedland.

Donate an item for the silent auction. You can bring an item to the Minnie Brown Center. The building is open from 2:30-6:30 pm on Monday through Thursday.

We need all of you to donate an item and come to the dinner to make this a success. The expenses of this past winter have put our budget into the red. Help put the green back into the budget and have fun at the same time.

Annual Meeting

by Marilyn Weinberg

Sunday, June 1st is the date of our Beth Israel Annual Meeting. This is an opportunity for all the membership to have a role in the decision making of our congregation.

The board has been struggling with the decision to raise the membership dues. We have not had an increase in three years. The cost of snow removal and fuel this past year have put our strained budget over the edge. We are running at a deficit and do no not see how to proceed without a dues increase or some major donations.

What should we do? The answer is in your hands. Come to the Annual Meeting to have a voice in this decision.

Give and Go

by Barbara Leeman

Are you ready to volunteer for a good cause?

It's that time of year again for Bowdoin's Give and Go (formally Dump and Run).

This is the big end of the year student move-out program. For those of you who have participated before, you know it is a lot of work, but a great way to raise money for Beth Israel while also keeping a lot of usable goods out of the Brunswick landfill. It also provides great deals for people in the community during the big yard sale. It's really a win-win situation.

Each spring (June actually), Bowdoin College runs what is called a "Give and Go." As students are clearing out their dorm rooms, and returning home for the summer, they find there are many items they don't need or want. These items get donated by the students, and then collected, sorted and sold by volunteers (us), and then the whole community benefits. Depending on how many volunteer hours we provide, determines how big a percentage of the profits come back to Beth Israel. The actual date of the sale is June 7th, with a special volunteer sale day on June 6th.

Competition for non-profits to participate has become quite fierce and only the first twenty-five organizations are rewarded hours. Beth Israel put in their request only eight minutes after the schedule opened, and were number eighteen on the list. We are looking for volunteers for the following time slots below.

  • Tuesday, May 27: 1:30-5:00 pm (4 slots)
  • Wednesday, May 28: 9:00 am-12:30 pm (3 slots) / 1:30-5:00 pm (4 slots)
  • Thursday, May 29: 1:30-5:00 pm (5 slots)
  • Monday, June 2: 9:00-12:30 pm (2 slots)
  • Tuesday, June 3: 1:30-5:00 pm (2 slots)
Please call or email me if any of the above times sound like they would work for you. More details will be sent to those who sign up for shifts.

A Purim Carnival Thank You

by Susan Horowitz

Our Purim Carnival was a big success this year due in large part to all the folks willing to donate their time and energy to making sure the kids had plenty of fun. A big thank you to Lauri Gallimore for setting up with me and offering hand-holding and advice on how to run things; Fred Weinberg and his fabulous candles; Anna Boll and her terrific artistry with face painting; Marilyn Weinberg for doling out those tokens and manning the prize table; Hannah Leeman for being everywhere and subbing in for Anna; Shira Gersh for bravely manning Haman's beanbags; Sammy Leeman for going fishing; the Sister Act of Beth Pols and Karen Totman for jumping into the fish pond when it got busy; my wonderful husband Robert Gersh for nodding and smiling when I volunteered him for Esther's Crown; Donnie Boyd for the fantastic chili; Deb Hagler for manning the kitchen and feeding the hungry masses; Andy Hagler for running out for half and half; Allegra Boyd for stepping in to help out without being asked; Barbara Leeman for blowing up balloons and about 1;000;000 other things I have already forgotten; Campbell Clegg also for balloons and penny toss and about 999,999 other things he does without being asked and of course, Cantor Dan for contributing to the festive atmosphere with a spirited Megillah reading and the sharing of his wedding Schnapps!

I look forward to next year, with new and better prizes and even more games than before!!!! Thanks to all who came, and my apologies to anyone I forgot. Please feel free to get in touch and scold me if necessary!

Phone Tree

by Irwin Brodsky

We need to be there for each other. There are many life events that Jewish tradition dictates are best experienced with the community at your side-the birth of a baby, the passing of a family member, and others.

To be sure that we can assemble the required community for prayer and visitation at these times (i.e. a Minyan), the Congregation is creating a phone tree of members who agree to be called to attend the life event of another member of the Congregation or a member of the local Jewish community who is in need. We will be calling to ask if you would be willing to be "on call" for such events. We understand that not all who agree to be on the phone list will be available on every occasion that he or she is called, but the list will allow us to find quickly those who are receptive to making themselves available on most occasions.

We thank in advance all the members of the congregation who would consider performing this mitzvah. We will be calling you soon.

News from the Hebrew School

by Barbara Leeman

Another great year at Hebrew school is starting to wind down. Time goes by so quickly, and we try to make every school minute count. We have had a busy year, and we are already looking forward to next year. If you know of any families in the area that have Hebrew school age children, please encourage them to join our school. There are many unaffiliated Jewish families that would not only benefit from our school and our Jewish community, but we would also benefit from meeting them, and including them. Our current members need to help us grow. It is to everyone's benefit. Don't let this task fall upon one membership chair position. It is something that each and every one of us can help with. It is our goal to help our Hebrew school continuously improve each year. Any comments or suggestions you may have are always welcome.

Purim Carnival filled with good energy

Each year I listen, and enjoy the Megillah reading. I listen, and reacquaint myself with the story of Esther as I watch our Hebrew school students join in the fun of making as much noise as possible whenever Haman's name is called. Cantor Daniel read chapters of the Megillah in both English and Hebrew, engaged everyone in questions, and enthusiastically led us in joyful singing. The spirit and enthusiasm which our students show, invigorates all who come.

The carnival following was great fun. The kids paraded in costume around the shul, and marched down Washington Street to the Minnie Brown Center, where they had games, face painting, crafts, and refreshments. The kids also had a shaloch manot exchange. Many thanks go to Susan Horowitz who planned and organized the carnival and got many members involved. The Wednesday right before the carnival, the kids also made their own hamentashen at Hebrew School. Everyone enjoyed tasting their efforts. We thank all involved. It was a wonderful community effort.

Class Shabbat services

March and April turned out to be busy class Shabbat months, since our winter storms rearranged our schedule a few times. The Vav/Heh class enthusiastically led our congregation on March 7th. Each of the students led Hebrew parts, and an English part as well. The members of the Vav class are Quin Boyd and William Connelly and Heh Class are Shira Gersh, Jacob Hagler, Julian Ireland, and Sophie Sreden. As always, we enjoyed a wonderful Shabbat meal prior to the service, with zmirot (Shabbat melodies). Our Vav and Heh class teachers are Alina Shumsky and Cantor Daniel. Our student teachers are Jane Martell and Michael Brodsky. Mazel Tov to everyone!

Our Aleph and Bet classes led us for Shabbat services on March 28th. This was also a combined class service. Those in the Aleph class are Nadia Leiner, Julia Pols, Abigail and Zoe Sreden. Those in the Bet class are Tobyn Blatt, Avi Gersh, Nicholas Hagler, Isabella Pols, and Leah Totman. There was much enthusiasm in this group. Our Aleph and Bet teachers are Marina Singer and Susan Horowitz. Our student teacher is Hannah Leeman. Thank you to all for a fun evening of our youngest students.

Our Gimmel (3rd grade) class service was April 11th. This class consists of Sullivan Boyd, Zelda Clegg, Arielle Leeman, Emma Miller, Henry Raker, and Noa Sreden. These students were well prepared and led many prayers that our parents are still learning. Also teaching this group is Alina and Cantor Daniel. Yashacoah (good job) to you all.

Tot Shabbat on April 18th

We just finished our schedule of Tot Shabbats for this calendar year. We have had this program running for several years, and schedule about five Tot Shabbat services a year. We will continue to offer programs for our youngest members (tots), but are looking to possibly change the format a bit. If you have young kids, and have suggestions of other things, perhaps you have seen in other cities, please send an email or call Barbara Leeman or Marilyn Weinberg.

Passover Seder

On April 16th, our school got into the Passover mood by having a model Seder. Daniel led the Seder, while our students and teachers took turns reading different parts. A huge thank you to Deb Hagler, Campbell Clegg and Susan Horowitz who set up and provided homemade treats for the kids to enjoy. Thank you all for making our school Seder a great start to the holidays.

School Pictures

School pictures were taken on April 16th. Copies will be sent to each family through email when they are available.

Yom Hashoah to be Observed

On Wednesday, April 30th, our students will have a discussion about Yom Hashoah during our normal prayer service.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Beth and Dennis Westman for donating some Hebrew educational flashcards and Hebrew fairy tale books for the school. These make a nice addition to our classroom supplies.

Israeli Dancing

In honor of Yom Ha'Azmaut (Israel Independence day) we are going to have an educational Israeli dancing session on May 21st. The kids have learned several basic Israeli dances over the last few years. Lisa Tessler will be enhancing on those while introducing more this year. This is a favorite event (not to be missed) amongst our kids.

Lag B'Omer/Last Day of School

We will celebrate Lag B'Omer on May 28th, by having our outdoor games following Hebrew school, on the Patten Free library lawn across the street. Campbell Clegg, will lead the kids again in another fun filled afternoon. We will have a potluck picnic dinner together. Festivities begin at 5:30 pm (as we are finishing up on our Hebrew school classes), and will last approximately one hour. An ice cream party will end the day, as we celebrate our end of school. If by chance we have rain, we will have indoor games that the kids will be able to have fun with.


The kids have been donating all year, and during the month of May, they will vote on the recipients of their Tzedakah dollars. Don't forget to bring in your ideas.

Graduating Student Helper

For four years, our school has been the beneficiary of an amazing student helper. Jane Martell has been coming each week, initially helping in the younger classrooms, and this year working with the older kids. Jane has been incredibly easy to work with, and always willing to step in, for any task. We have watched her grow, right alongside our students, and we will undoubtedly miss her next year as she moves onto a college campus. We wish her success, and know that her contributions to our school will continue to be appreciated by parents and students for years to come.

Parent Committee Meeting

Our last parent committee meeting for this year is on June 4th. Feel free to come and join the planning for next year.

Letter to the Editor

by Stan Lane

I want to thank the people who organized all the wonderful events during these past two months. Our little synagogue has provided us with services and programs that rival those of much larger congregations.

The Medical Ethics program was outstanding, as it has been for the two previous years it has been held. The three doctors and three rabbis certainly provided us with many thoughtful points for discussion. And the audience participation was impressive.

The documentary, From Philadelphia to the Front, produced by Judy Gelles, was excellent. It was shown last year at the Maine Jewish Film Festival. It told the stories of six WWII Jewish veterans from Philadelphia and the issues that they faced. It was a strong reminder of the anti-semitism that was prevalent in our country during the 1940's and early 50's. I saw it last year and enjoyed it even more during my second viewing. Having the filmmaker with us made it even more interesting.

A lighter note was struck with the musical "kumsitz" non-traditional Sabbath evening service held at the Minnie Brown Center. Cantor Leeman, with the help of many congregants, led us in a great service, enjoyed by all who attended. It was service that was, as they say, out of the box. The night was filled with songs, giving all of us a great time.


Many thanks to the following people for their donations to Beth Israel Congregation

Members of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Linda Silberstein and Larry Loeb in memory of her father, Dr. Joseph, father Silberstein
  • Peggy Brown and John Martell in memory of Harold Hershenhart, father
  • Rea Turet and Sandor M. Polster in memory of her father, Maurice Turet
  • Rea Turet and Sandor M. Polster in memory of Beverly Broadman, friend
  • Lenore and Jay Friedland in memory of Helen Shonberg Isaacson, George Isaacson's mother
  • Rea Turet and Sandor M. Polster in memory of Helen Shonberg Isaacson, George Isaacson's mother
  • Marilyn and Fred Weinberg in memory of Helen Shonberg Isaacson, George Isaacson's mother
  • Jill and Arnie Standish in memory of Helen Shonberg Isaacson, George Isaacson's mother

Friends of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Rachel Siegel of Ithaca, NY
  • Marilyn and John Darack of Wayland, MA
  • Overeaters Anonymous