I’ve been coming to Bet Ha’am since I was in second grade, and I’ve had some quite fun and memorable experiences since. I arrived in my second grade class, and I can vividly remember walking in and knowing nobody but getting into a good few conversations on my first day. I remember that we were learning how to read Hebrew, and it was very interesting, because this was the first language other than English and assorted Tamil words that I had ever learned any words of. Several of my classmates and I developed friendships over the following years. Then, we were all in seventh grade and all preparing for each of our own Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. There were many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs between the start of seventh grade and my Bar Mitzvah, and lots of fun spent at the services, parties and with my classmates. July arrived, and I was frantically trying to finish learning all of the blessings and Torah and Haftarah. I had my Bar Mitzvah, a day filled with happiness and I don’t remember a day where I have smiled as much as that day. However, I was feeling a distinct responsibility to keep going in my Jewish education. I felt that I had to really figure out what my belief in G-d is, and I would say I am still not really sure. I thought and still do think that delving more into my Jewish identity and figuring out who I am and my belief in God through more Jewish learning was a good way to answer those two crucial questions. After the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, our class declined in numbers significantly, but I gained new and strengthened old friendships. And now, even though our class is only four people, I have continued to enjoy the time I spend with my classmates. But I also began to pursue topics that were interesting and some also challenged my mind to analyze complex passages. I think that the most challenging of any of these classes was the Confirmation class which was taught by Rabbi Saks. In his class, we discussed several topics requested by our class and I felt like I was getting to the bottom of what it meant to me and my community to be Jewish. It made me realize that any person with Jewish ancestry can say they are Jewish, but it takes engagement and careful soul-searching to figure out your place in the Jewish community. My Jewish journey has been a unique and complex one, which has tested both my belief in G-d and my understanding of who I am as a person. I think that whether it’s Passover at my nana’s house or a service at the synagogue, I have always found that my Jewish journey was really defining me not only as a Jew but as a human being. I would say that I still need to figure out who I am as a person and my belief in G-d, but the Confirmation class brought this firmly to my attention. I would also say that every Jew needs to figure out his or her place in the community and their identity as a Jew, but it is a long journey and whatever happens next in my Jewish journey, I know I will always find community in Bet Ha’am. ~Deven Abrams
To be human is to ask questions. To look out at the cosmos and recognize that our knowledge is but a tiny piece of the whole, and to say that it is not enough, advancing further and further with each generation. As Jews, we are charged to be a light unto the nations, to spearhead this innate human desire for knowledge and progress through careful thought and discussion. I am proud to say that I am a Jew, and that I will so remain until the stars burn out and the earth is swallowed up by the darkness between them. ~Gordon Fisher
These last several weeks have been one of the most trying experiences we have all encountered. Life, work, and general human interaction have all been greatly altered. We have all been isolated physically and spiritually, and yet even in this “darkness,” we have continued to find ways to persevere our traditions like having zoom services with the Rabbi.
Keeping the Sabbath sacred and holy during these difficult times is one of our constant bright spots in a week potentially filled with darkness. The best thing we can do, as the Ten Commandments indicate in the verses that I chanted, is to maintain our rituals and routines of the Sabbath. We must light the candles to brighten our way spiritually and physically through this difficult time.
Some of you may not be familiar with the fact that there are actually two times in the Torah that the Ten Commandments are outlined. The first time it is presented in Exodus and later it is described again in Deuteronomy. What is highly unique is that all of the Commandments are explained in the same way, except for the Commandment about keeping the Sabbath holy.
The version I read from Exodus commands the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath holy because G-d rested on that day and sanctified it as a holy day of rest. However, when it is described in Deuteronomy, God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy because “you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt” and even your servants must rest as well on this day. This difference is significant because we must not only help ourselves we should also be selfless.
The Sabbath is a holy time because of these reasons are crucial components of being Jewish. Even G-d rests and after a difficult week faced with the uncertainties of our world today, so must we take a step back and try to take comfort in the gifts God has given us. And while we must remember the tragedy that our ancestors faced in Egypt, we too will find a way to overcome the horrors presented before us be it COVID-19 or other tragedies like despair, job loss, or isolation.
I hold dear my fond memories of keeping the Sabbath when my family and our friends in Brunswick got together once a month to celebrate Shabbat. Monthly we would have a simple Shabbat service at a different friend’s house, light the Shabbat candles, and sing a few prayers. I loved those evenings running around a friends’ backyard, playing tag or hide-and-go-seek. We were together as a community and that is what mattered most. These fond memories of being together are what I miss most about being Jewish in a small town in Maine. And keeping a smaller, family Shabbat at home during the time of COVID-19 helps bridge my connection to the larger Jewish community: in Brunswick, in Maine and throughout the world. ~Nathan Levy
I have been coming to Congregation Bet Ha’am since seventh grade. I’d like to just say I wish more people had stayed all the way through confirmation. They missed out on all the fun lessons and teachings that Rabbi Saks arranged for us and they missed out on spending time with their Jewish community. Through my years at Bet Ha’am, I have grown to become the Jewish teen that I am today. I have had many amazing experiences that have made me who I am today. My all-time favorite part about Hebrew school was going on the annual Shabbaton. I have been to four in total. I will always have fond memories from the Shabbatons. I loved having an intimate Shabbat with my friends and playing tons of games. I was exposed to new topics such as issues on immigration, consent, and Jewish identity. I learned about my fellow classmates and teachers and played lots of cards and gaga. Something about putting away all electronics and actually having to play games and talk to people can be super fun sometimes. Another experience that I had was being able to go on the L’Taken trip last year. I got to meet other Jewish teens from all around the country and learn about important issues I cared about through the lens of Judaism. I became much closer to the people who went on the trip with me and I had an amazing time. Plus I got to meet Susan Collins and actually read my persuasive lobbying speech on climate change to someone who was important in the government! My Judaism only grows stronger with my experiences and I’m so glad that I was able to continue my journey as a Jewish teen in Hebrew school and become the person who I am today! ~Hannelore Sanokklis