Friday, December 21, 2012

Reflections on Job and Sandy Hook

            As a rabbi, you are often expected to have the right words to share at the most painful and delicate times.  In times of death, sickness, and suffering, our communities look to us for words of depth, consolation, and understanding.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook killings, the internet was replete with editorials, sermons, prayers, and other words to express remorse, outrage, and deeply held beliefs.  No small number of those pieces were authored and shared by clergy and people of faith, seeking to bring clarity and comfort to a situation that defied our basic senses of decency and morality.  However, it was a moment where I chose to stay silent.  In a world where we are expected to be in touch at every moment, I felt the need before this Shabbat to explain why I did not respond immediately to this tragedy, and what I seek to convey through my initial silence.
            As the news came in about this terrible event, and the reactions began to roll in rapidly over email and facebook, I thought immediately of the story of Job.  This story came to mind not only because it was an example of senseless suffering, but also because of its role in the creation of Jewish mourning rituals.  The friends of Job provide examples of praiseworthy and troubling behavior in the face of tragedy.  One of the most beautiful and wise Jewish mourning rituals is that we do not speak to a mourner until they have chosen to speak to us.  The friends of Job sat in silence for seven days with Job after his loss, which our sages deem the only appropriate, helpful, and tasteful response in the face of suffering.  His friends make the tragic mistake later in the story when they begin to theorize and provide theological reasons for why Job suffers.  Even if it was their desire to comfort, in fact, they only brought greater misery to a man who truly did nothing wrong.
            Most, if not all of us, have an urge to provide explanations for why bad things happen.  Some of those explanations have more merit than others.  However, in my experience, “doing theology” in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is rarely therapeutic or helpful.  Rather, listening, sitting with those in pain, and allowing ourselves to feel the large complex of emotions that wash over us are better first steps.  This tragedy was caused by a wide range of factors, and it left in its wake overwhelming destruction and confusion.  In our 24 hour news cycle world, many of us feel compelled to analyze every bit of information right away, no matter how incomplete our understanding or how numerous and varied its consequences.  However, I think we are better served by following the first steps of Job’s fellows, sitting for a while in silence.  Silence is not always an expression of cowardice or confusion – it often communicates the most profound senses of understanding, humility, and compassion.
            Additionally, Beth Israel is a congregation that is profoundly ideologically diverse.  Our community has members that fall on all points on the political spectrum by circumstance and by design.  As a rabbi, I am deeply proud of the fact that people from so many different backgrounds come together to learn, pray, and celebrate.  It is one of my primary goals as a rabbi to ensure that no one feels as though there is a political line or litmus test to be a member at Beth Israel.  We are a rural congregation, and as a result, we have many more members who are gun owners than at your average urban or suburban synagogue.  I do not believe that there is one ethical or uniquely Jewish approach to public policy when it comes to gun ownership.  As with most topics in Jewish literature and law, we can find a wide variety of conflicting opinions and values within our tradition that can be applied in a multiplicity of ways to contemporary political issues.  My hope and intention as a rabbi is that our congregants examine these issues through the lenses of Jewish texts and values, and use the ethical and intellectual tools of our tradition to come to well-reasoned and moral conclusions.
            Yes, tragedies can bring certain issues to the foreground that need to be discussed more thoroughly and thoughtfully. Yes, dark moments remind us to hug our kids a little tighter and be more vigilant about their safety.  However, it is my hope and prayer that as a faith community we are not moved primarily by acts of egregious aggression, violence, and selfishness, but through mitzvot, learning, and love.  When we allow the acts of murderous and narcissistic individuals to set the agenda, we are partially fulfilling their deepest desires.  Let us set our own agenda, and speak and sing out when we are inspired by the growth, joy, curiosity, and commitment of our holy community.

May the memories of the righteous souls that were lost serve as eternal blessings, and may all who mourn them find comfort.  Zichronam L’vracha.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Online Talmud Class 2: When a Fetus Wants Pork

Our next Talmud class will be tomorrow night at 7:30 pm.

Our topic will be: What to do when a fetus wants pork?  What an interesting question...

You can access Tractate Yoma here.  We will be beginning in the middle of page 82a.

Here are the instructions on how to prepare your computer:

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 -- see above.)

4) A half 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!!

Jewish Law Class 3: Access Texts

You can get advanced access to our next text for Jewish Law here.

Our topic will be: "When can I flip the switch?: Conservative Approaches to Electricity on Shabbat."

See you all at Selah Tea Cafe at 6:30 pm this Thursday.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Living Joseph's Lessons in Waterville: Parashat Miketz

            Last night was one of the most significant and humbling experiences in my rabbinate. Four generations of Beth Israel congregants and Colby students went to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter for a hanukkah concert and mini party. The most important preparation I did with the Hebrew school students was not memorizing every word of Ma Otzur (Rock of Ages) or learning the appropriate way to light a menorah. It was guiding the several conversations we had about what to expect at the shelter. In the weeks leading up to our program, parents and I needed to field many important and frank questions: "What will they look like?" "Do they dress like us?", "How will they act?" "Should we be scared?", "Why are they homeless?" These discussions, I believe, were some of the most crucial in preparing them for Jewish adulthood. The conclusion that we came to together was that this: the greatest gifts that we can give to those in need are to act normally, be kind and attentive, and afford dignity to everyone we encounter, especially when others fail to do so.
          In parashat miketz, Joseph also encounters a world he does not know well, but succeeds in bringing light, understanding, and comfort to Pharaoh.  The Torah and our greatest commentators provide us with several hints as to why Joseph succeeds in bringing peace to Pharaoh when the greatest magicians in Egypt fail.  In Genesis 41:11, the cup bearer tells Pharaoh why Joseph was such a renowned and respected interpreter in prison: Joseph provided an interpretation that was specific and related to each individual dream.  Joseph did not come in with preconceived notions of what each dream would be, or use the same tired tools to explain each dream in a generic fashion.  He encountered each individual anew and without prejudice.  With the help of God, a clear mind, and good listening skills, he could provide true peace to those who struggled with spiritual pain.
         This theme is repeated in Genesis 41:15 when Pharaoh pulls Joseph out of jail to interpret his dream:

15. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it, but I have heard it said of you [that] you understand a dream, to interpret it."

This is how Rashi interprets this verse:
טו. וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם חָלַמְתִּי וּפֹתֵר אֵין אֹתוֹ וַאֲנִי שָׁמַעְתִּי עָלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר תִּשְׁמַע חֲלוֹם לִפְתֹּר אֹתוֹ:
you understand a dream, to interpret it: Heb. תִּשְׁמַע. You listen to and understand a dream, to interpret it.תשמע חלום לפתור אותו: תאזין ותבין חלום 

The Hebrew word tishma is often mistranslated into English as "you understand," but in fact means, "you listen."  Whether it was due to hubris, fear, or lack of practice, the Egyptian magicians failed to listen.  Certainly God's help and Joseph's talent played a part in his success, but the most important factor in Joseph's ability to help was his commitment to listening.  Not magic, not preconceived notions of what ailed others, not a false certainty about how to help.  It was Joseph's listening that distinguished him and made him useful to others.
        Finally, the Kli Yakar gives us some powerful and unique insight into Joseph's success.  In Genesis 41:8, if we read the verse carefully, it tells us something significant about the magicians.  It says that they did not interpret the dream for pharaoh. According to the Kli Yakar, they did know what the dream meant, but, "they did not want to deliver this bad news.  That is why it says "for pharaoh" -- they did not share the truth with him, but they did with each other."  The magicians were not willing to be real and honest with pharaoh because they perceived him as "other" and someone to fear.  They delivered niceties and false versions of themselves instead of interacting with him as a real person in spiritual distress.  Even though Joseph was a lowly Hebrew prisoner, or maybe even because of it, he chose to treat Pharaoh like any other man struggling with nightmares.  He brought the wisdom and direction of God to their encounter, and delivered the message with courage and clarity.  Joseph afforded Pharaoh true dignity by presenting an honest, truthful, and authentic version of himself.
        The greatest moments last night did not occur while we were singing mi yimalel, or dancing to sivivon, or passing out doughnuts.  They transpired when the presentation was over and all of the Beth Israel Hebrew school kids, their parents, and a couple of Colby students got down on the floor to play dreidel with the kids at the homeless shelter. They happened during the spontaneous conversations that we had with the families about the meaning of hanukkah, what life was like at the shelter, and listening to their stories.  What truly brought light to that night was a group of folks in Waterville being real with one another, and sharing a few moments of authentic, natural joy.

This Hanukkah let us remember the legacy of our father Joseph, and the wise words of A.D. Gordon, "There will never be a victory of light over darkness as long as we don't express the simple truth. We cannot fight the darkness. Rather it is incumbent upon us to increase the light." 

Chag Sameach.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Great New Hanukkah Video!

From NOAM, the Israeli Conservative Youth Group!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hanukkah Happenings at Beth Israel Congregation!

Beth Israel Congregation Hanukkah Party will be at 4:30 pm -6:30 pm this Sunday afternoon (December 9, 2012).  There will be games, crafts, sufganiot, and lots of latkes!  If you want to help set up or cook, email Rabbi Isaacs!  It will be a dairy, potluck event!

 Beth Israel Congregation will be performing a small Hanukkah concert at the Mid-Maine Shelter on Thursday, December 13th, 2012 at 7 pm. We'll light the menorah, bring treats, tell the story of Hanukkah, and sing! If you'd like to spread the light with us, please let me know! Anyone can join.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Truly Living: Parashat Vayishlach

     What does it mean to have truly lived?  This question is one of the most central in the history of philosophy, but often elicits trite and unfulfilling responses.  However, in the week’s portion, Vayishlach, Rashi provides a very moving and instructive response to this question.  In Genesis 32:5, Jacob claims that he lived with Laban for several years.  In the typical Jewish fashion, this seemingly straightforward and factual assertion leads to in-depth and surprising interpretations.  In Hebrew, the term “garti,” can mean that Jacob lived in the place, or it can mean that Jacob was a ger, a stranger.  No matter how long Jacob lived in that house with his relatives, he was never fully integrated into the family, and his status was never elevated above that of a stranger.  This statement tells us a great deal about the alienation that Jacob felt, and how vicious of a host Laban was.  We can be strangers anywhere, even in our own homes and in the context of our own families.
     The other interesting insight that Rashi makes is that the term garti, in Gematria(an accounting of the numerical values of each letter of the word) adds up to 613 – the number of mitzvot that are said to be contained in the Torah.  Even though Jacob lived in a place devoid of Torah values, he managed to stay true to all of the commandments of his tradition.  Jacob’s moral standing in our tradition is open to debate, but in this context, he managed to stay true to his upbringing and to Divine Law, even when it was excruciatingly difficult.
     What does it mean to have lived?  It means to maintain your sense of integrity – to be the same person with the same values in every locale.  In this context, Jacob does not live a fragmented life – being a Jew in one context, and someone else in another.  Rather, he stays true to his values in all places and times.  Jacob lives most of his life as a wanderer and a refugee, but he dwells in the stable territory of his unchanging values. 
       Our lives are such precious gifts.  Our most important obligation as Jews is to love life and live truly as moral humans and committed Jews.  This does not mean taking the path of greatest pleasure, but rather living a life of integrity, consistency, and righteousness. 

B’vrachot (with blessings),

Rabbi Isaacs    

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jewish Law Class 1: The Need for Jewish Law

Tomorrow we will have our first Jewish Law Class.  It will be at Selah Tea Cafe at 6:30 pm.

If you'd like to see the text in advance, click here.

Our first topic will be, "Why Isn't Faith Enough?  The Need for Jewish Law."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reminiscences and Recipes is Out!

Barbara Jolovitz, Beth Israel Congregation member, has been published!

You can learn more about her book and purchase a copy here: 

Mazal Tov to Barbara!  I cannot wait to read the work in its entirety. 

Commitment to Community Service

Dear Friends,

After our congregational meeting, we decided that our congregation needs to make a greater commitment to Tikkun Olam, repairing our world.

We have created a google document where you can sign up to volunteer and donate to those in need. The five opportunities that we have listed are:

1) Helping at the Waterville Evening Sandwich Program (ESP) on Thursdays.
2) Providing pastoral care at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter (any night)
3) Donating to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund/ Mazel Day School in Brooklyn
4) Aiding in synagogue upkeep.
5) Becoming a Beth Israel Congregation Hebrew School Aid (Thursday afternoons)

You can find more detailed information about each of these opportunities, and sign up for a shift by clicking the link below:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Link to Online Talmud Class

The link is live!  If you want to join our 7:30 pm Talmud class tonight, click this link:

If you can't make the class, it'll be on youtube when we're done!

Hope to virtually see you there!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Online Talmud Class begins this Thursday evening!

Want to learn Talmud with Rabbi Isaacs via the internet?

We'll have our first online Talmud class at 7:30 pm on Thursday evening.

If you want to read the text in advance, you can download it by clicking here.  It is a selection from the Ein Yaakov, tractate Ta'anit.

Here are the instructions on how to prepare your computer:

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 -- see above.)

4) A half 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!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Aging Folks

Are you a caregiver for someone in your family?

You should check out the website of my good friend, Rabbi Jordan Rosenberg:

Here is a little information about his site: is a resource for adult children finding themselves in the challenging role of caregiver for an aging parent. 
      Our services are all designed to support family caregivers involved with eldercare issues. Whether the help you need is advice, an expert answer, a service recommendation, a financial or legal decision, our network of independent professionals (e.g. geriatric care managers, doctors, nurses, Medicare/Medicaid specialists, financial advisors, physical therapists, lawyers, etc.) can help you thrive in your role as caregiver. is independently owned and operated. We are neither affiliated with nor accept advertising from insurance companies, residential facilities, or health-care services. You can rest assured that your selection of a professional at is a person who best matches your needs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Redefining Trauma: Learning from Parashat Noah

          There are some great songs that I simply cannot listen to. Why?  Because there have been times in my life when a song has been playing during a traumatic fight, breakup, or failure, and it hurts to listen to that song for years to come.  It is really a shame because on an objective level I know that the music is compelling and the words are moving, but it is just ruined for me.   After leaving Israel after living there for years, it was spiritually painful for me to hear Hebrew because it reminded me of how profoundly difficult it was to leave.  As a result, I refused to listen to Hebrew music for nearly a year.  Some events in our lives possess emotionally evocative markers-- places, times, smells, and sounds -- and those markers can be ruined by the painful moments we associate with them.
          According to Bereshit Rabbah (42:5), the flood that took over the earth in the time of Noah lasted for forty days.   The rabbis were well aware of how evocative the term "40 days" was in a Biblical context.  How can it be that 40 days describes both the flood and the time it took for Moses to receive the Torah?  While as moderns, we may be able to dismiss the identical time periods to coincidence, the rabbis could not do the same.  What can we learn from this parallelism?
        In the Yalkut Shimoni, we learn that though the time periods may have appeared the same, they may have been different.  In Parashat Noach (7:4-5), the Yalkut Shimoni records a dispute between two rabbis.  Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai argued that when Bereshit Rabbah claimed that the flood was 40 days, it meant that it lasted for 40 days and 40 nights.  However, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai says his colleague's assumption was wrong.  As a concept, the period of 40 days was so ruined by the flood, that God made a point to keep Moses for 40 days and 40 nights.  The blessed event of revelation needed to be distinguished from the cursed event of the flood.  These two messages from God may appear at first to come in the same form, but in fact were delivered in two distinct ways.
       The number 40 is extremely significant in the Bible and Jewish tradition.  After the flood, we could have dispensed with the number 40 altogether as a damaged number that brings back only the worst memories of God's anger and disappointment.  However, Shimoni bar Yochai teaches us something very important about reclaiming painful places and times in our lives.  We cannot dispose of them, but we cannot use them time and time again without change.  Rather, we can return to those painful markers -- the places where an accident occurred, the song that accompanied the fight, the scent of someone we once loved -- and change them in small, but significant ways.  When we make the conscious decision to revisit and revise painful memories, we gain the ability to reclaim so much in this world.  Often we are quick to dispense with people, places, songs, and times because they bring us to recall trauma.  However, if we can make small, intentional, and healing changes to those places, we can enjoy so much more of what the world has to offer and feel greater power in repairing that which is broken.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Rabbi, a Priest and a Minister…How People of Faith Support Marriage Equality

Three Waterville area clergy will tell how their faith leads them to support issuing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples. “A rabbi, a priest and a minister…How People of Faith Support Marriage Equality” is a panel for public reflection sponsored by The Religious Coalition Against Discrimination (RCAD) and faith-based supporters of same-sex marriage throughout central Maine. The purpose of these forums, being held throughout Maine, are to encourage thought, dialogue and reflection about Question 1, for both supporters and conflicted people of faith.

It will be hosted at Beth Israel Congregation, 291 Main Street in Waterville on October 18th from 7 - 9 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

Panelists will be:

Reverend Karen Byrne - Winslow Congregationalist Church (UCC)
Father John Baliki - St. Mark's Episcopal Church of Waterville
Rabbi Rachel Isaacs - Beth Israel Congregation and Colby College

The panel moderator is  Kurt  D. Nelson, Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at Colby College.  He will facilitate a question and answer period after the panel presentations. Refreshments and informal conversation will follow.

The Religious Coalition Against Discrimination is a statewide multi-faith network of clergy and other religious leaders whose mission is to educate and publicly advocate for the human and civil rights of all people.  Further information about RCAD, is available at RCAD’s website,


For more information about the Program: Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, (207) 859-4271

Submitted by Lucky Hollander, Executive Director, RCAD, 615-6779 (cell)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Israeli Dancing with Lisa Tessler

Let's Dance!  Join us in learning Israeli dance with Lisa Tessler.

November 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Beth Israel Congregation - Kelsey Street Entrance

Fee: $5.00 admission

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beth Israel Congregational Meeting

Please join us for our annual congregational meeting.

It will be on Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 10 am.

We will be discussing the future of our synagogue, and how to make it all we want to be!

Please review the synagogue's annual report by clicking here.  Let me know what you think and what suggestions you have for Beth Israel.

See you there!

Monday, October 1, 2012


Dear All:

A reminder: *Barrels Learning Program: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm.  Potluck dinner! (COLBY COLLEGE SUKKAH)

Also an update:

In order to fully enjoy our sukkah, please come to Shabbat dinner on Friday night at 6pm at the Colby College sukkah.  Mel and I will be grilling meat, so please bring dairy-free salads, drinks, and sides!   A short service at 7 will follow. (Rain location is Hillel office in the Pugh Center.)

Also, we will have our Shabbat hike on the Colby trails off of Mayflower Hill (next to the President's house.)  Let us meet in front of the president's house at 10 am.  A small kiddush and oneg will follow in the sukkah at 11:15 am.

Chag Sameach!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yom Kippur Sermon

I thoroughly enjoyed leading High Holiday services in Waterville this year.  We had a wonderful turnout and fantastic energy.

Here is my Yom Kippur sermon for this year on the importance of supporting downtown Waterville.

I hope everyone is off to a great start this year!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kol Nidre Services Tuesday Night at 5:45 pm

Looking forward to Kol Nidre tomorrow night. 

Steve Witkin will be playing cello at the beginning of services. 

Please arrive promptly at 5:45 pm so he can begin playing on time and finish before candle lighting!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall Jewish Studies Events at Colby College

“The thinking heart: The life and loves of Etty Hillesum”
Thursday, September 27, 7:00 pm, Robinson Room (Miller Library)
A reworking of Etty Hillesum’s writings as poems by Martin Steingesser, for performance by the author, Judy Tierney, and Robin Jellis (cello). Sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, co-sponsored by the Creative Writing Program.

“The S.S. St. Louis and the Refugee Crisis”
Diane Afoumado, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Thursday, October 25, 7:00 pm, Lovejoy 215
Sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

“A Jewish curse of Christians?”
Ruth Langer, Boston College
Tuesday, October 30, 7:00 pm, Pugh Center
Sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program

“Is Reality Overrated? Talk and Reading with Israeli Writer Etgar Keret”
Monday, November 12, 7:00 pm, Pugh Center
The annual Lipman Lecture in Jewish Studies

Great Jewish Studies/ Theater Event at Colby tomorrow.

Rosh HaShanah Sermons

Couldn't make it to Rosh HaShanah services or want to read the sermons again?  You can read my online.

Click here to read my Erev Rosh HaShanah sermon, "We're Not Throwing it Away."

Click here to read my first day Rosh HaShanah sermon about Jewish Values and Marriage Equality.

Shanah Tovah and G'mar Hatimah Tovah!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Barbara Jolovitz Book Talk at Beth Israel

Mark your calendars for a special Beth Israel event.  

Congregant Barbara Jolovitz will be speaking about her new book, Reminiscences and Recipes on
Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 10 am.   

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Join Us for Rosh HaShannah Lunch!

If you'd like to join us for Rosh HaShannah lunch after first day services, please RSVP to Rabbi Isaacs at your earliest convenience.

The meal costs $18.00 for adults and is free for children.  Accommodations can be made for cost upon request.

Vegetarian and meat options will be available.

Shannah Tovah!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Beth Israel Adult Educational and Cultural Event Calendar

Our Beth Israel Congregation Adult Education and Cultural Event Calendar is out!

We've got a book talk with Barbara Jolovitz, Israeli dancing with Lisa Tessler, a Sukkot program with David Gulak of Barrels Community market, an Introduction
 to Judaism class, a Jewish law series, a Jewish poetry discussion group, a three-part series on the Holocaust in Israeli literature, and more!

Also, if you are a friend of Beth Israel that lives far away, you can join Rav Rachel Isaacs in online learning through Google +. We'll be continuing our Talmud and Midrash learning via the internet.

Check out the list of events by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Eliot Cutler to Speak at Rockland Synagogue

As part of Adas Yoshuron Synagogue's 100th anniversary celebration, Eliot Cutler, a leading figure on the Maine political and business scene, will speak at the synagogue, located at 50 Willow Street in Rockland, on Thursday, September 6 at 7 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.

Cutler's talk, "21st Century Responsibilities," will deal with what citizenship should mean in America today. Cutler's message in this election year is that with the nation's voters split down the middle and subjected to unprecedented partisan rhetoric, it is important to remember what unites us and what we all need to respect.

Two years ago, Eliot Cutler came within two percentage points and 9,000 votes of becoming Maine's first Jewish governor. If he had won, it's a pretty safe bet that Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert wouldn't be relying on him these days as a frequent target of ridicule. It's also a reasonable assumption that the political divisions in the state wouldn't be as rancorous as they currently are.

In his campaign in 2010 Cutler, who ran as an Independent, appealed across party lines to what he considers the large "middle" that makes up Maine's voters. He believes that many Mainers see things from both sides of the aisle and are both fiscally conservative and socially progressive. That's a vast number of voters who don't necessarily see the issues as a Republican or a Democrat, and seek alternative candidates who reflect their position. 

"People are tired of the drivel that's been put out by both political parties," he told a newspaper reporter back then. "I set out to be the candidate with ideas, not rhetoric."

And the political stalemate in Congress and across America has only worsened since Cutler's gubernatorial run. Apart from the ideologues, concerned and frustrated citizens want government to work and actually get things done, and they don't see that happening. Cutler's friend and former Maine governor Angus King is running as an Independent for senator this fall, and is using the same message in his campaign that Cutler did two years ago.

Eliot Cutler grew up in Bangor and attended Harvard and Georgetown Law School. He worked for Sen. Edmund Muskie and in the Carter administration as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Since then he has had a successful career in law and in business.

With his wealth of experience and clear-headed understanding of the issues facing Maine and the country, we're looking forward to having Eliot Cutler share his insights on September 6 at Adas Yoshuron. 

Adas Yoshuron, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year, is an unaffiliated, all-inclusive synagogue serving the Jewish community of midcoast Maine. For more information, please call the synagogue office, 594-4523, or email

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rosh HaShanah Lunch

Do you need a place for Rosh HaShanah Lunch?  Beth Israel will be providing lunch after first day Rosh HaShanah services.

The cost is $18.00 for adults, and kids under 12 eat free.

If you would like to celebrate and eat with us, please email your RSVP here.

Great Events on Latin American Jewry in Bangor

Both lectures are by Tel Aviv University Spanish Professor Dr. Amalia Ran, are sponsored by Bangor JCEA, and are free and open to the public.

""Nuestra Shoa (Our Holocaust): Memory and Post-Memory in Latin American Perspectives," 12:30-1:45 p.m., 
Totman Room, Memorial Union, University of Maine, Orono. This brown bag luncheon lecture is co-sponsored by the Women in the Curriculum & Women's Studies Program, the  Marxist-Socialist Interdisciplinary Minor, the Maine Peace Action Committee, the Memorial Union, the College of Liberal Arts and Science, and UMaine Hillel. This lecture is part of the weekly Socialist and Marxist Studies Lecture Series.
"If You Will It, It Is No Dream... ?  And If Not?:   Imagining Israel in Contemporary Jewish-Latin American  Culture.”  
7 PM, Congregation Beth Abraham, 145 York St., Bangor, to be followed by questions and answers and a reception for Prof. Ran. 
For further information, please contact Dr. Ann Schonberger [942-4055] or Congregation Beth Abraham [947-0876].

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Don't Return to Egypt: Parashat Shoftim

            I, like so many others in my generation, have an addiction to online TV.  Sometimes I can justify my viewing habits because I am watching something thoughtful and artsy like The Wire, and other times I simply cannot find a suitable excuse for watching the 14th video of baby sloths on youtube in one day.    Despite my inability to justify my behavior, there are days when I just continue to fall further and further down the rabbit hole because it is so comforting, easy, and passive.  With the advent of internet television, my brain created a feedback loop that releases endorphins each time I hear the theme songs of one of my favorite shows.  On one hand, my bad habit is humorous, but in reality, it is quite depressing.  It does not make me happy or fulfilled -- I indeed would rather be meeting my obligations -- but TV puts my brain to sleep; it provides momentary comfort from the stresses of life.  In many ways, Netflix is my Egypt.  I know it all too well, it continues to feed me familiar and tasty delights (the Israelites loved the watermelon and leeks found in Egypt), and it keeps me from worshiping God and fulfilling my obligations to the Divine.
         Yesterday, however, I had a breakthrough.  I got sick and tired of failing to write my sermons and went to a cardio kickboxing class.  All of a sudden, I felt my life falling back into line. When I came back home, I finished several sermons and began researching the ones that I had left to write. In the midst of my frenzied productivity, I also remembered  that I had been forgetting to blow shofar each morning for the month of Elul.  That is how out of it I had been for the past few weeks.  This morning I blew shofar, put on my tefillin, prayed, and got back to studying.  Elul is propelling my life forward, out of Egypt and toward Eden, away from TV and toward Torah.
        One of the pieces about Parashat Shoftim this morning was by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, who highlights Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's commentary on Deuteronomy 17:16:

16. Only, he may not acquire many horses for himself, so that he will not bring the people back to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, for the Lord said to you, "You shall not return that way any more."טז. רַק לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ סוּסִים וְלֹא יָשִׁיב אֶת הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס וַי־הֹוָ־ה אָמַר לָכֶם לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה עוֹד:

Why are we commanded not go to back to Egypt?  Hirsch points out that Israelites have returned to Egypt several times throughout our history.  Whenever there was a drought in the Land of Israel, our ancestors would go to the fertile shores of the Nile for sustenance.   When we were wandering in the desert, our ancestors cried out to Moses about how badly they wanted to return to the familiarity and richness of Egypt. It only took a short period of time before they forgot the horrors of slavery and lusted for the material comforts of their former home, and the sense of security they found in the familiar.  We are commanded not to return to Egypt because despite all of its challenges, it is a tempting place to return to.
         Sometimes certain places and behaviors make something click in our brain, and that click provides us with a sense of pleasure.  The click is not always a good thing.  Many times, it is the needle of our brain returning to the familiar and well-worn groove of bad habits.  This click feels good because it signals a return to a path of little resistance.  However, Elul is the time when we need to jump to a new groove, even if it is  new and bumpy. 
        One of the lines from our liturgy that  has always caught my attention and seems very apropos to the spirit of Elul is from the prayer Etz Hayim Hi.  We plead with God to "Hadesh Yameinu K'kedem."  This line can be translated in many ways -- it can either mean, "renew our days like in days of old" or "renew our days like in the East."  Where is East?  Eden -- the land of perfection toward which we always strive.  In truth, we can always go back to Egypt, and it is in our nature to always want to return.  Our lives generally do not consist of one great Exodus and one miraculous redemption/return.  Rather our lives are spent in the the desert wandering back and forth between our better and worse selves.  Elul is the time to wake up and make sure that we're heading in the right direction for the new year.  And even if we cannot live a life completely free of Egypt, this is the time to locate our Egypt, identify our best exit route, and begin the path back toward Eden.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Events this Week at Beth Israel Congregation

Thursday evening at Selah Tea Cafe 6:30 pm - Talmud Class. 

"When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up: Jewish Speech Ethics"  You can access the text in advance here.

Friday night at 7:00 pm - Shabbat Evening Services

Saturday morning at 10 am - Shabbat morning Hike at Quarry Road. (Meet at Parking Lot)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Beth Israel High Holiday Schedule

Selichot Services: Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 8:00 pm with Beth El Augusta (Held at Beth Israel)

Rosh HaShannah

•Evening service: Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm
•First Day Service: Monday September 17, 2012 at 9:30 am LUNCH to FOLLOW at 2:15 pm – RSVP to
•Tashlich (By Mesolonskee Stream): Monday, September 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm
•Second Day Service: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 10 am

Shabbat Shuva

•Friday Night Service: September 21, 2012 at 6:00 pm
•Saturday Morning Service: September 22, 2012 at 10 am

Yom Kippur

•Evening Service: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 5:45 pm
•Morning Service: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 9:30 am.
Mincha Torah Study and Service: 5:30 pm
Ma’ariv and Ne’eilah Serivces: 6:15
Break the Fast: 7:00 pm


•Sukkah Decoration and Evening Dinner: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm (crafts) and 6:00 pm (Potluck dinner!) (COLBY COLLEGE SUKKAH – RAIN LOCATION (PUGH CENTER)
•Morning Service: Monday, October 1, 2012 at 10 am (Beth Israel)
•Barrels Learning Program: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm. Potluck dinner! (COLBY COLLEGE SUKKAH)

Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

•Shmini Atzeret Services (Yizkor): Monday, October 8, 2012 at 10am
•Simchat Torah Party and Service: Monday, October 8, 2012 at Kids activity and light meal at 4:45 pm and service at 6 pm.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Next Midrash Class: How Does God Deal with Grief?

Our next midrash class will be this upcoming Monday, August 6th, at 12:00 pm at the Thai Bistro in downtown Waterville.  The topic will deal with how God deals with grief and how this reflects on our own mourning practices.  You can access the text for our next class by clicking here.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Representing Waterville in the Holy Land

Some belated pictures of Mel and I representing Barrel's Community Market in Amirim, Israel.  Amirim is a special place -- a completely vegetarian yishuv that uses local and organic produce.  The food was fantastic and we loved wearing our new tee-shirts!