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Beth Israel Congregation


Beth Israel Congregation Newsletter

January/February 2011
Tevet/Shevat/Adar I 5771

A Festival of Trees after the Carmel Fires
President's Message
Beth Israel Tu B'Shvat Community Seder
Our New Sign
Dine Around
Book Sale
Special Thank You
News from the Hebrew School
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Welcome to New Members

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

A Festival of Trees after the Carmel Fires

by Daniel Leeman

This year we are observing our annual Seder, in honor of the Festival of Trees and Fruit, on Friday, January 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm at the Minnie Brown Center. This holiday originated during Temple times, when the priests needed to set a fiscal date for fruit tithing. The fifteenth day in the Hebrew month of Shevat is nearly two full moons prior to springtime, and was the beginning of the blossoming of trees in much of the Middle East and other Sephardic countries.

Throughout the Diaspora and after the destruction of the Temple, eating fruit from the land of Israel was a tangible observance meant to help maintain a healthy connection between Jewish people around the world and the land of Israel. The custom of a seder, a formal meal similar to that of Passover, was established by Kabbalists in medieval Safed. They made a spiritual connection between our proper appreciation and respect for trees and the environment.

Today, Jewish people have linked this holiday with a variety of customs and traditions designed to increase our awareness of threats to our world. In fact, many Jewish environmental groups, citing sources in the Bible and rabbinic writings, have formed to protect not only trees and forests, but also our natural world in general.

Many of us have chosen to live in Maine because of its natural beauty. We've developed a keen awareness of the fragility of our forests, farms and coastal waters. With the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico last spring and summer, and the disastrous fires in the Carmel woods near Haifa last week, this year's Tu B'Shvat observance will take on special poignancy and significance for us.

Let's join in prayer and song and thank G-d for our marvelous trees and forests, plants and animals, oceans, rivers and streams that make up our beautiful State of Maine and natural world. Come to our celebration of Tu B'Shvat this year and bring a song, a poem, an idea, a story, or a special fruit to share with our group that evening.

President's Message

by Robert Gersh

Greetings! I was glad to see many of you during our Community Hanukkah Party on December 5th. Thank you to everyone who organized, participated in, and attended the event; it was great fun!

Our congregation is sponsoring or hosting many events in the coming months. I encourage you to read through this newsletter and look over the calendars located at the end of the newsletter to identify events you would like to attend. One of the reasons why our Community Hanukkah Party was such a success was because people like you chose to join in and participate. As I have said in my previous messages, our congregation is what you make of it!

In addition to attending our Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, I encourage you to participate in events such as, but not limited to, our Book Club, our food pantry assistance, our musical kumsitz evenings (from the Yiddish phrase "come, sit"), our Medical Ethics Seminar, our Purim Carnival (March 20th), our Community Passover Seder (April 19th), and our Community Tu B'Shvat Seder (January 21st). You can find all of these events on our outstanding Beth Israel Congregation website (, maintained by Fred Weinberg.

If you have an idea for a new event that you would like to see, or feedback about an existing event, please contact me, one of the other board members, or a member of the Chai committee to provide us with your comments and recommendations. Contact information for board members is provided in the newsletter. We look forward to hearing from you soon, and we hope to see you at our events!

Beth Israel Tu B'Shvat Community Seder

by Marilyn Weinberg

Minnie Brown Center
January 21, 2011
6:00 pm

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

Come to Beth Israel's Tu B'Shvat Seder to be followed by a potluck dinner (no meat, but fish is OK).

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

Contact Marilyn Weinberg ( to reserve your space by January 16th. There will be a fee of $5.00 per person or $10.00 per family to cover our costs.

Our New Sign

by Marilyn Weinberg and Daniel Leeman

If you have a chance to visit the synagogue you will notice a beautiful new sign over the front door. The original sign was badly deteriorated. Peggy Brown put in countless hours finding a way to duplicate the original. With hours of research, the people from Carrot Sign Company, along with money from the Ada Y. Greenblatt trust, helped make this vision come true. Because the bottom sign had originally been hand painted, Chris Boyd took it upon himself to redo the original. Thanks to all of you.

According to Cantor Daniel the sign reads Beit Yisrael Cong. 5682. The first two words on the right are translated as "The House of Israel." Bayit is "house," and Beit is possessive, indicating the "house of." Yisrael is Hebrew of course for "Israel." The word "Congregation" is abbreviated to "Cong." Kuf, Alef, Nun, Gimel. The period indicates the abbreviation.

The last four letters are the Hebrew representation of the date 5682. Taf is the number 400. Resh is the number 200. Peh is 80. And Bet is 2. The 5000 is dropped as one assumes you know the millennium we are occupying.

Today's Hebrew date is 5771. So if you subtract 5682 from 5771, you get the number 89, which is the age of our wonderful synagogue.

Dine Around

by Barbara Lenox

Since the Book Club is on hiatus until spring, we are creating a new opportunity to get together, talk about whatever we are reading, share a meal, and enjoy the long winter months. We are calling it "Dine Around." Our first meeting will be Thursday, January 20th at 6:30 pm at Henry & Marty's Restaurant, 61 Maine Street, Brunswick. We will need to make a reservation; so please e-mail Barbara Lenox at by January 13th to reserve your spot. This is open to anyone interested in sharing a meal and having a good time. We plan to meet as a group at least once a month. Join us for some fun and help pick our next restaurant!

For more information or questions, please call Barbara Lenox.

Book Sale

by Barbara Lenox

The Book Club is planning a book sale on Sunday, May 1st to help support the Hebrew School Scholarship Fund. Please help us by putting aside your books that you would be willing to donate to this good cause. We are looking for mysteries, nonfiction, children's books, puzzles, cookbooks and movies or whatever you might be willing to donate. We will be collecting the donated items at the Minnie Brown Center. Please drop off your donations in bags or boxes labeled BOOK SALE. Thank you for your support!

Special Thank You

by Leonore Friedland

Beth Israel Congregation would like to thank Marilyn Weinberg for organizing the best Hanukkah party ever! Thank you also to Donnie Speigelman and Susan Horowitz for all of the delicious latkes that they fried in the kitchen. In addition, thanks to all who participated in the skits, jokes, and music portion of the festivities.

News from the Hebrew School

by Barbara Leeman

Hanukkah Fun at Hebrew School

In December, not only did our students study and continue their Hebrew education, they also had some Hanukkah fun. The entire Gersh family quietly came in the week prior to Hanukkah, and miraculously set up the Minnie Brown center for a day of fun. There were many activities, including the favorite sweet activity of Hanukkah cookie decorating (thank you to our expert bakers, Deb Hagler and Susan Horowitz), craft-making (Susan Horowitz really outdid herself, and we couldn't have done it without Carrie Feinberg and Anna Boll), and the famous, very popular dreidel game (as Shira put it, "Gamble with Campbell"). We had a wonderful break from our normal classroom activities.

Hanukkah at the Blaine House

A number of our Hebrew school families attended the annual Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Blaine House. They had the opportunity to meet and greet Governor Baldacci and his staff, as well as greet Jewish leaders from several other Maine congregations for a candle lighting ceremony on the 6th night of Hanukkah. It was very gracious of the Governor to continue this tradition, started just a few years ago by Governor Angus King and his wife Mary Herman, thereby bringing the Jewish communities of Maine together.

Classroom News - Just a Few Notables

The Aleph, Bet and Gimmel classes have been busy learning the Hebrew alphabet, practicing prayers, decorating the Minnie Brown Center with their art creations, and studying Torah stories. The Heh and Vav classes spent some time this month preparing a special version of the Shehecheyanu for our Community Hanukkah Party, as well as following their regular curriculum.

Class Shabbats

Our Vav class Shabbat took place on December 10th. These students took on the task of learning many new prayers and leading our congregation with ease. This is our oldest group It is a large class with nine students: Isaac Boll, Sullivan Boyd, Zelda Clegg, Arielle Leeman, Emma Miller, Sadie Pressman, Henry Raker, Noa Sreden and Owen Zwaan. Each service begins at 7:00 pm. The class gathers earlier at 6:00 pm 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.

Tot Shabbat Services Continue

This year we have three Tot Shabbat Services scheduled, the first of which took place on December 3rd. With a nice size group we sang many Hanukkah songs, had an abbreviated service, and shared Hanukkah stories. We are very excited about keeping this as a regular option, for families with very small kids, to stimulate our schools' continued growth. We encourage all Tot Shabbat families to join us on March 4th for the next Tot Shabbat Service or any other Shabbat.

Hebrew School Library

We are the recipients of two wonderful gifts. First, the grandmother of one of our former students (Micah Pietraho) has sent a large box of books from the Jewish school, SAR Academy in Riverdale, NY. Morah Pearl Taback works at SAR, which is a Modern Orthodox Yeshiva with students in nursery through high school. She was so impressed with our school when she visited during the High Holidays, that she convinced the head rabbi at SAR to send us their old books, as they replace the books in their library. Morah Pearl Taback is even sharing the expense of mailing the used books from the Yeshiva with her rabbi. We also received a package from Joe Bornstein, who made sure that new Hanukkah books were given to each of the synagogue Hebrew schools in Maine. Thank you to you both.

We continue to collect and catalog books for our new Hebrew school library. Please remember to separate any books with Jewish content that your children may have outgrown or are ready to part with, so that we can share them with others at the school. Books can be brought to the Minnie Brown Center, or can be picked up by e-mailing

Wish List

Our students are still collecting egg crates. These are given to a local farm. Please save as many egg crates as possible, and leave them in the box at the Minnie Brown Center. If you would like someone to pick them up, please call the school at 443-4606 or email and we would be happy to assist you.

The students are also still collecting dry foods for a local food pantry. The food pantry has mentioned that the following items are most helpful: pasta (in boxes), canned pasta, canned meat, bottled juice, cereal, coffee (regular) and diapers (disposable). However, all items are accepted and appreciated. There is a box placed in the hallway of the Minnie Brown Center for the collection of the items.

What's Coming Up?

For anyone who is interested, our next parent group meeting is at 4:30 pm during Hebrew school on February 9th. This is the best way for anyone interested, to see more of what is going on during Hebrew school, and to be more involved. We are always looking for new and exciting ideas to incorporate into our Hebrew school program.

Birthdays and Anniversaries

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      
11 Lynn Frank      
14 Ross Lewis      
15 Jim Raker      
17 Julian Ireland      
26 Sam Raker      
27 Avi Gersh      
27 Sandy Polster      
28 Christina Schoenberg      

Welcome to New Members

Heather and Corey Walker and their two children, Randell and Samuel


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

Members of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Jay and Lenore Friedman in memory of his mother, Nettie Friedman
  • Janice Povich in memory of Nettie Friedland
  • Fred and Marilyn Weinberg in memory of Nettie Friedland
  • Rea Turet and Sandy Poster in memory of Nettie Friedland
  • Lynn Frank in memory of her sister Cheryl Milkes Moore
  • Robert and Barbara Lenox in memory of his father, Fred Lenox
  • Robert and Barbara Lenox in memory of her mother, Freda Selig
  • Matthew and Karen Filler in memory of his parents, Morris and Gladys Filler
  • Matthew and Karen Filler in memory of her parents, Gerald and Frances Feldman
  • Judith Weisman in memory of her father, Irving Weisman
  • Janice Povich in memory of her mother, Lillian Goldstein
  • Betsy Atkins in memory of her father, Jacob Fishkind
  • Janice Povich for new tables
  • Marilyn Weinberg for new tables

Friends of Beth Israel Congregation

  • Deb Smyth
  • Bonnie Markey
  • Stephan and Fran Silver in memory of Nettie Friedland
  • Reg and Tinker Hannaford
  • Heidi Zwaan