Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maine Conference for Jewish Life: June 3-5, 2014 in Waterville, Maine



The Maine Conference for Jewish Life will be held June 3-5, 2014! This three-day conference will bring together Jews from across the region to celebrate Jewish culture, learning and history. If you are interested in attending, you can register online at and you can like us on Facebook at

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blessing the Maine State Senate

 I was honored today to bestow blessing upon the Maine State Senate.  I also was honored by the State Senate for my recognition in the Jewish Daily Forward.  Thank you Senator Lachowicz for the official sentiment.

 Here was the text of my invocation:

Thank you for the great honor of bestowing blessing upon you today.  May the wisdom of our past and the noble aspirations for our future guide your actions today.  May the great responsibility that you all share guide you in making decisions that strengthen the weak, satiate the needy, educate those thirsting for knowledge, and heal all those who are ill.  May you use the power with which you have been entrusted to create a society that not only fulfills its basic obligations, but also inspires us to be deeply proud and thankful of the space we share -- a space that makes manifest our most cherished values: equality, justice, and compassion.

May we all heed the warning of Prophet Isaiah:

"Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice, and to rob the poor of my people of their right." (Is. 10:1-3)

And instead fulfill the words laid out in the Book of Amos,

“Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate (Amos 5:14-15)

As we approach the festivals of Passover and Easter, let us remember that justice and redemption can be achieved, and that we must be partners in freeing those bound by hunger, illness, and desperation.  

May God bless you and keep you, May God shine the Divine Countenance Upon you, and may you be blessed with peace.  May this day, a day created for our sake, be worthy of celebration.  And let us say, “Amen.”

Monday, March 31, 2014

Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World during the Holocaust–and Its Aftereffects and Echoes in Recent Years

The Berger Holocaust Lecture
Jeffrey Herf, University of Maryland
Thursday, April 3 / 7:00 pm / Ostrove Auditorium, Diamond
A Perspectives on Israel event

Herf explores the intellectual, political, and cultural context in which German and European radical anti-Semitism was found to resonate with similar views rooted in a selective appropriation of the traditions of Islam. Importantly, he also shows how the anti-Semitism promoted by the Nazi propaganda effort contributed to the anti-Semitism exhibited by adherents of radical forms of Islam in the Middle East today.
Sponsored by Drs. Robert and Patricia (’62 P’96) Berger.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Passover Volunteers Needed! RSVPs for Seder are as well!

It's that time of year!  We need volunteers to kasher the kitchen and help cook the seder meal.

Please click here to sign up for a shift!

Also, RSVPs are required for seder!  The seder at Beth Israel Congregation will be on April 15th, 2013 at 6:30 pm.  $25.00 per adult and $10.00 per child.  Please send checks into Beth Israel Congregation IN ADVANCE OF THE SEDER.  Money will not be handled on the holiday.

Folks can also join in the Colby College seder on April 14th at 6:30 pm in the Alumni Center.  It costs $25.00 and checks can be made out to Colby College.

Chag Sameach!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Maine Jewish Film Festival and Railroad Square!

The Maine Film Center is honored to host a satellite of the Maine Jewish Film Festival at Railroad Square Cinema on March 22 and 23, 2014. Following is the full schedule. 

Visit for full length film listings and to buy tickets in advance.

Saturday, March 22

6:30 p.m. Opening Party

7:45 p.m. THE JEWISH CARDINAL—The amazing true story of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, who maintained his cultural identity as a Jew even after converting to Catholicism at a young age, and later joining the priesthood. Unrated. In French with English subtitles. 90 min.

Sunday, March 23

12:30 p.m. AN APARTMENT IN BERLIN—Three young Israelis embark on a journey into the past by retracing the life and refurnishing the original apartment of a Jewish family from Berlin once deported by the Nazis. Unrated. In German and Hebrew with English subtitles. 90 min.

3:00 p.m. MY AUSTRALIA—When 10-year-old Tadek and his brother are arrested for anti-Semitic gang activities in 1960s Poland, their mother, a Holocaust survivor, has no choice but to reveal that though raised as Catholics, they are in fact Jews. Telling the younger boy they are going to Australia, the land of his fantasies, the family boards a ship to Israel. Unrated. In Polish and Hebrew with English subtitles. 97 min. [Free admission for those 18 and younger. Recommended for ages 13+.]

5:30 p.m. EPILOGUE—An elderly Israeli couple bravely faces the disillusionment that comes with old age in this telling portrait of a now-marginalized generation whose hopes, beliefs and ideas for the country they helped build have, over the years, revealed themselves to be mostly pipe dreams. Unrated. In Hebrew with English subtitles. 96 min.

7:30 p.m. AWAKE ZION (with filmmaker Monica Haim in attendance) – This documentary unites Jewish and Jamaican musicians, scholars and historians as they explore shared histories and common beliefs going back to the Old Testament, helping us to recognize the foolishness of prejudice and acknowledge our universal human experience—a jammin’ spirit of oneness. Unrated. In English and Patois with English subtitles. 65 min.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Vashti vs. Lady Gaga: A Modern Day Purim Battle

    Since moving to Maine, I have spent a great deal of time with 92 Moose.  Listening to high energy pop songs keeps me awake and alert on the road, and helps me (at least somewhat) connect with the our Hebrew school and Hillel students.  While I grew up with various CDs with the "Parental Advisory" label on them, I was still shocked to hear the latest song from an artist whose music I usually love, Lady Gaga, "Do what you want /What you want with my body/ What you want with my body/  You can't have my heart /And you won't use my mind but /Do what you want (with my body)."  I clearly remember hearing this song for the first time while sitting outside of the synagogue a few minutes early to a board meeting.  As catchy as the music was, I needed to turn the song off. I was just too disgusted.
     How far have we come since the Book of Esther? The book begins with the saga of King Achashverosh demanding that his wife, Queen Vashti, come and strip before his friends.  Deeply insulted, she refused, and was willing to give up her title, status, and life instead of degrading herself.  While the rabbinic tradition does not view Vashti in a positive light, when we read the Biblical text itself, she clearly acts in a laudatory fashion. She is a role model for women and girls who are asked by society to surrender their agency for the approval of others.  Regardless of a) how badly a woman feels about herself or b) what can be gained socially or financially, she should not allow herself to be fundamentally degraded for the pleasure of others.
      Esther acts with bravery and cunning throughout the book named in her honor, but she is not our only hero or role model.  Vashti is not the villain or the shrew she is often depicted to be in our traditional Purim schpiels; she is a woman who knows her own worth and is not willing to devalue herself for the comfort, profit, or enjoyment of others.  We live in a world that is not only often hostile to Jews, but also to our Torah values: self-respect, modesty, restraint, and iconoclasm.   This Purim, let us do more than have fun and recall our physical preservation from the evil machinations of Haman.  Let us recall the values embodied by Vashti, role model them for our community, and support our children in adopting those values daily in their lives.

Chag Purim Sameach!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Talmud Class tonight at 7 pm. Vashti: Feminist Hero or Vain Villain?

Join us tonight on Google + for an online Talmud class.  We will be discussing the role of Vashti in the Biblical and Talmudic Traditions.  

You can read the first chapter of Esther here and download Tractate Megillah here.  We will be reading folio 12b (page 45 on the pdf) on the Talmud.


1) Go to and click on "Install voice and video chat". It will take a few minutes, so let it finish its installation. Depending on your computer, you may have to restart before it will work.
2) Go to and sign in with your gmail account if you have one (if not, click on 'sign up' at the top)
a. It will ask you to sign up for Google+...make sure you do this!
3) When it asks you to 'add people', search for "Rachel Isaacs" and add me! (it's the one with a picture of me in a black robe and red academic scarf)
4) An hour before the class, I will send out an email to everyone of my google+ friends with a link to the class. Click on the link and wait to see me!