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!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jewish Theology Series at Thai Bisto: Starting this Thursday Evening!

Jewish Theology Class at Thai Bistro: 
March 6, April 24, May 15 
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm. 

Come and explore some of the greatest minds of Jewish Theology: Hermann Cohen, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the brightest thinkers of the three major denominations, during this three part series. 

Our first session we will focus on one of the greatest thinkers of the Reform movement, Hermann Cohen.  Please print our our first text in advance of our class.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Call for Support for our Synagogue

February 18, 2014/18 Adar I 5774 

 Psalms 27:4 ד אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה-- אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ: שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה, כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי; לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-יְהוָה, וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in God’s temple

 Dear Beth Israel Congregants and Friends:

 As some of you may be aware, our synagogue has sustained major damage over the past month and a half. There were several floods in the shul caused by sewer pipes that no longer worked properly, causing significant damage to our flooring and our bathrooms. As a result, we have had the basement cleaned three times, our sewer pipes have been replaced, and a sump pump has been installed in our boiler room. Due to the large amounts of ice covering the ground, this work was quite expensive. So far, repairs and cleanings have cost approximately $20,000.00. After an initial inquiry the synagogue was informed that the policy would not provide coverage. This issue is being reviewed further but it appears unlikely that our insurance will cover the damage. In addition, we are considering replacing our ruined carpet downstairs, which would cost about $9,000.00. In all, we are looking to raise $30,000.00 Beth Israel synagogue is our home.

In Hebrew, the term for synagogue is beit knesset, a house or home of gathering. Our current building, constructed in 1957, has been our home for learning, celebrating, and mourning together for decades. The social hall is where we celebrate the miracle of Chanukkah together, where we rejoice in the seder meal, where we come together to mark significant moments in our lives, where our children crawl and play, it is our home away from home. It is also the public face of the Jewish community in Waterville. Our building is the physical representation of our values and character presented to the greater community, family, and friends. As our community continues to grow and gain strength, our home should represent our vigor and pride. We cannot rely exclusively on our endowment to pay for repairs and renovations. I believe that our congregation has a bright future ahead of us, and we need to plan for that future and use those funds judiciously.

All of us need to contribute in the ways we can to sustain and fortify our congregation. We will need significant financial support, and we ask those who can afford to give generously to do so. However, there are also other ways to help us recover from this damage. Please contact me if you are interested in volunteering with the variety of projects necessary to repair and beautify our building. What makes our congregation so special are the gifts of the heart that we all offer to keep our synagogue going. All types of help are greatly appreciated.

Donations can be sent to our mailing address:

291 Maine Street
P.O. Box 1882
Waterville, ME 04903

With deep thanks, Rabbi Isaacs