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Beth Israel Congregation


Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

January/February 2010
Tevet/Shevat/Adar 5770

President's Message
The Obligation of Health Insurance Reform in Judaism
Book Club
Tu B'Shvat Community Seder
Purim Carnival
News from the Hebrew School
Birthdays and Anniversaries

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

President's Message

by Marilyn Weinberg

Although our membership is not large, our little synagogue is alive and thriving. So many wonderful things have been going on at Beth Israel Congregation. Although I am sometimes overwhelmed by the job of president, over the past few months I have felt pride and delight with the members and accomplishments of our shul.

When we began our campaign for donations to replace our synagogue windows, our expectations were modest. We thought it would take 2-3 years to raise the required funds. As of this date all but one of the twenty windows on the main level ($700) and two of the three balcony windows ($500) has been donated. The generosity of our members and friends has been overwhelming. We hope to have all of the windows replaced this month so that we can reap some of the fuel savings this winter.

Another wonderful happening occurred on Sunday, December 13, when over seventy people came to the Minnie Brown Center to celebrate Chanukah together. We enjoyed a delicious meal with lots of yummy potato latkes. Later the "Beth Israel Players" performed hilarious skits. Even though I knew the "jokes," I laughed as hard as everybody else when I saw them come to life by our talented Beth Israel Congregation performers. As we gathered together to light our menorahs, a sense of community filled the room. With Cantor Dan playing piano and later Robert and Shira Gersh leading us in song, joy was felt by all. It was truly a group effort.

Later in the week I visited our wonderful Hebrew School on the day of their Chanukah party. So many parents stayed to help. Sitting with the children as they chanted the songs and prayers, I was filled with a sense of pride and admiration for their accomplishments. Although each child did not know every word, they sat and participated as if they did, putting their efforts into it. Their voices were sweet. Our teachers are outstanding. They put in many hours beyond the regular class time in their own study and in preparation for each class. They each bring a feeling of enthusiasm and love to the children. And finally, Barbara and Daniel Leeman have brought a sense of order and thoughtfulness to our school that is wonderful. Of course, our children are the best. But it takes all of us to help them discover it within themselves.

Thanks to all of you who make a difference to our children and to our synagogue. We have a most wonderful community.

The Obligation of Health Insurance Reform in Judaism

by Cantor Daniel J. Leeman

Heath care in the Jewish tradition is not a right or a privilegeŅit is a communal obligation.

About twenty-four hours into the launching of the health insurance reform initiative, the administration took the "single payer" plan off the table. I was devastated. Since that time, meaningful debate about a government role in the process has been doomed and chaos in Congress has ensued with a race to the bottom about who pays.

How can Judaism add to this debate? In the late 1980's, Rabbi David M. Feldman of Teaneck, New Jersey wrote a book that covers the spectrum of how Jewish tradition affects health and medicine. It's a tiny volume, around a hundred pages, that I wish were required reading for all members of Congress. It was published by the Crossroad Publishing. The name Crossroad is fitting to me, as our nation really is at a crossroads in this process.

Rabbi Feldman describes how Jewish law mandates a requirement to heal. Respect for health is a respect for life. All of us are obligated to help the sick, who are in need. One could easily infer that no one should earn a profit from this. Anyone who would impose a free market analysis on the struggle between life and death are clearly misguided.

Throughout history Jewish scholars, after having devoted a lifetime to Torah study, have adopted the healing profession of medicine to serve the public and earn a living. The medical profession was considered a spiritual vocation compatible with the career of a rabbi. In Maine, we are blessed with some of the finest Jewish surgeons and doctors in the state. Many are devoted to Jewish values as well as the healing arts.

Health concerns are considered so primary in Judaism that the laws of the Torah can largely be set aside to save a life. One can set aside the Sabbath laws and nearly all other laws to save lives. In fact, the rabbis often interpret what constitutes life-saving care very broadly. Even a severe headache may be considered life threatening, and may permit violations of Jewish law to treat. Again, health care is a serious obligation, not a right.

Prayer for the sick is so important that even on the Sabbath, when we are not allowed to make requests of G-d directly, we do so at the highlight of the Sabbath Service when the Torah portion for the week is read in public in its entirety. Even prayer for the sick is an urgent obligation, not a right or a privilege.

Health is so critical in Jewish tradition that charity money for the indigent sick takes precedence over money to build a synagogue. Jewish law even prohibits a poor sick person from refusing charity money for his or her care when a doctor deems it necessary.

Hopefully, there will be a delay in legislation and more sober and careful minds will examine this issue for our nation without the input of those with a conflict of interest. Cost savings can be dramatic if we remove the profit incentives entirely. This should raise our overall standards for everyone. Rich citizens will still be able to pay for the best possible care. But in this instance the average citizen will get the care he or she needs. Let's all pray about this. If we all come together, and take an interest in solving this problem, with G-d's help, we can be blessed with a wonderful result for the great state of Maine and for our nation.

Book Club

by Barbara Lenox

The Beth Israel Book Club encourages all who enjoy a good book discussion to join our next meeting on January 21st, when we will be discussing Rashi's Daughters, Book 1: Joheved by Maggie Anton. We will meet at 7:00 p.m. at the Minnie Brown Center. This is the first novel in a dramatic historical trilogy set in eleventh-century France, when for a Jewish woman, knowledge was dangerous. In 1068, the scholar Salomon ben Isaac returns home to Troyes, France to take over the family winemaking business and embark on a path that will indelibly influence the Jewish world--writing the first Talmud commentary, and secretly teaching Talmud to his daughters.

Our February meeting is scheduled for February 11th, also at 7:00 p.m. at the Minnie Brown Center. We will be discussing Moses: A Memoir by Joel Cohen. This book has received five star reviews for its delightfully human touch to the sacred account of unprecedented divine action in history. It lets us rediscover the power of the drama as it moves from Exodus to Deuteronomy, and appreciate anew the Bible's view of Moses and his soaring accomplishment.

All our meetings are subject to weather conditions and you can call Barbara Lenox to confirm.

Tu B'Shvat Community Seder

Minnie Brown Center
January 29, 2010
6:00 pm

Tu B'Shvat seder followed by a potluck dinner (no meat, but fish is OK)

Celebrate the New Year of the Trees.
Sing songs and learn more about this Jewish environmental holiday!

We are supposed to eat fruits and grains grown in Israel. If you can bring something containing barley, dates, figs, grapes (or raisins), pomegranates, olives or wheat that would be great. Almonds and carob are also good options.

Contact Marilyn Weinberg to reserve your space by January 25th. There will be a fee of $5.00 per person or $10.00 per family to cover our costs.

Purim Carnival

Please join us on Sunday, February 28th for our community Purim carnival.

Come in costume.

10:00-11:00 a.m.: Megillah reading at the synagogue
11:00 a.m.: Parade of costumes to the carnival
11:15 a.m.-1:00 pm: Purim carnival at the Minnie Brown Center

Loads of games, lots of new prizes, hamantaschen, pizza, drinks and fun for kids of all ages.

Questions? Call Susan Horowitz.

Each of the children can fulfill the mitzvah of "sending portions one to another" as Mordechai instructed. Traditionally, shalach manot are delivered through a messenger and not given personally. Therefore we "send" these "bags" at the Purim carnival, for the children to exchange. These bags should contain at least two food items and other small items (gently used little toys does the trick), to exchange with one another.

News from the Hebrew School

by Barbara Leeman

Hanukkah News

In December, besides continuing in their Hebrew education, our school also had a chance to celebrate Hanukkah together, and take a little break to remember the miracles of today. Our Daled (4th grade) class presented a skit describing many aspects of the customs and traditions of Hanukkah in a humorous and educational way. Special thanks to our playwright Morah Alina for her direction and creativity with this. All of the children painted their own homemade wooden Hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs). Special thanks to Campbell Clegg who prepared all the materials for this. The students played the dreidel game and decorated Hanukkah cookies. Special thanks to Deb Hagler and Susan Horowitz for all the Hanukkah cookies they pre-made for the kids. We were also lucky to have had Marilyn Weinberg come with donut dough, so that the kids could make their own sufganiyot (donuts). The smells of all the goodies must have made their way down Washington Street.

We were also so excited to celebrate Hanukkah with our congregation at our community wide Chanukah party on December 13th. Brunch was perfect; the hot sizzling latkes couldn't be beat; the skits were hilarious; and the music and singing led by Cantor Daniel was very festive. What more could someone ask for? A huge thank you to Marilyn for all her coordination to make this day special for everyone.

Class Shabbats

Our Heh (5th grade) class Shabbat was postponed to February 5th. Each service begins at 7:00 p.m. The class gathers earlier at 6:00 p.m. for a meal, when we have a chance to sing zmirot (Shabbat melodies) and learn some new blessings. We encourage members of our congregation and greater community to attend these special services. Your attendance and support inspires our students to continue their effort towards a quality Jewish education. Please mark your calendars.

Tot Shabbat Services

Tot Shabbat services are scheduled throughout the year. On December 4th we welcomed our youngest members to enjoy an abbreviated service. Some lively singing and a Shabbat story filled the air. Our next Tot Shabbat is scheduled for March 5th. Please let anyone who has small children know about this special service.

Library News

We are excited to have a lending children's library at our Hebrew school now. Many thanks again to those families who donated books to make it happen and to Sheila Lucente for making book bags so that the children can carry the books back and forth from home. The children have an opportunity to talk briefly, at our school prayer service, about the books that they borrow so that all the children will be able to share in their enthusiasm.

What's Coming Up

Purim is right around the corner. Our school always organizes a Purim carnival, which this year falls on February 28th. Come and bring friends. It's a fun time for the kids, and a wonderful opportunity to introduce others to our congregation. If there is anyone interested in getting involved and helping with the carnival, please contact Susan Horowitz.

Our next parent group meeting is at 4:30 p.m. during Hebrew school, on February 10th. All are welcome.

Birthdays and Anniversaries

Listing the birthdays and anniversaries of those in our immediate family creates a wonderful opportunity for our community/shul family to have an excuse to celebrate with each other. We have listed the few that we have. If you notice that someone in your family isn't listed, please send along all information to Barbara Leeman so that they can be included with the next newsletter issue.

January Birthdays January Anniversaries
2 Daniel Leeman   21 Diane Gilman & Arthur Davis
6 Barbara Leeman      
7 Julia Pols      
9 Mark Ireland      
15 Isaac Daniel Ensel      
17 Stacey Giulianti      
20 Eric Arthur Ensel      
25 Robert Gersh      
27 Gabriel Malseptic      


February Birthdays  
1 Virginia Van Slyck      
2 Katherine Raker      
5 David Brann      
5 Michelle Brann      
14 Ross Lewis      
15 Jim Raker      
17 Julian Ireland      
26 Sam Raker      
27 Avi Gersh      
27 Sandy Polster      
28 Christina Schoenberg      


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

Members of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Janice Povich in memory of her mother, Lillian Goldstein
  • Janice Povich in memory of her husband, Don Povich
  • Robert and Barbara Lenox in memory of her mother Freda Selig
  • Robert and Barbara Lenox in memory of his father, Fred Lenox
  • Betsy Atkins in memory of Jacob Fishkind

Friends of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Deb Silverman
  • Andrew Cohen and Dawn Kleinmman in honor of Shira Gersh's bat mitzvah
  • Ray and Sheila Lucente
  • George Schoenberg in honor of Jacob Shoenberg's bar mitzvah