Adult Learning

Reading Yiddish Poetry in Translation

Please join Emily Mazza to explore English translations of Yiddish-language poetry. We will discuss our reactions to and interpretations of the texts; Yiddish-to-English translation practices; and the historical circumstances of the poets and events of the poems themselves. All poems will be available in English with the original Yiddish text and transliteration, as well as audio recordings, if available. We will work with themes concerning the Holocaust, Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the United States, religious interpretation, and Yiddish-English linguistics. No previous knowledge of Yiddish required, only interest and enthusiasm in the topic! Adults and teens are welcome to join us.
This will be an excellent opportunity explore our connections to our roots and to the history of our families and people. It will also present us with a chance engage with Yiddish and Yiddish-language materials in order to explore our Jewish identity or our interest in Judaism in a new or different way. Please join us to learn more about Yiddish, Jewish history, and the art of translation and interpretation. Enrollment limited to 20 people. Contact the office to register.
Emily Mazza holds a degree in Eastern European history and Jewish studies from Smith College. After college, she lived in Lithuania for a year where she taught English in a school context, and English and Hebrew one-on-one and in classes to Russian speakers at her local synagogue in Klaipeda. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in history with a specialization in Jewish studies at Central European University in Budapest and Vienna.
Four Wednesdays, 4:00-5:00 p.m. July 15, 22, 29, and August 5.

Toward a Better Understanding of Inter-Religious Dialogue

Join congregant Rabbi Leffler as he explores the differences in structure of religion between Judaism and Christianity that influence the manifestations of each religion and which frequently hinder genuine inter-religious understanding — such as the role and place of belief  in each religion, why there is Jewish cooking and not Christian, the place of the State of Israel in Judaism, and much more. In a community where inter-religious dialogue so often occurs, it is important to know where the stumbling blocks are and why they occur. We have postponed this class until later in the year.

Rabbi William Leffler is a graduate of Dartmouth College and was ordained at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, in 1959. He served pulpits in Concord, NH, and Lexington, KY, from 1960 to 1986. After he retired from being a pulpit rabbi, he became a financial planner. He has also been involved with libraries, serving as president of Friends of Kentucky Libraries and on the board of Friends of Libraries, USA. Rabbi Leffler has been a resident of Kennebunkport for 25 years.

Writing a 'Legacy Letter': Sharing Your Values & Life Lessons with Future Generations

A legacy letter is a written statement that allows you to share your life lessons, express your values, and transmit your blessings to future generations; it is an enduring gift for your loved ones. This three-session course, taught by congregant Jay Sherwin, will begin by exploring the rich Jewish tradition around legacy writing. Then, through discussion and brief writing exercises, participants will examine their life histories, explore their values, and capture important insights. Jay will offer advice and a model structure to help everyone complete their own legacy letter.

Jay Sherwin created the Life Reflections Project to educate people about legacy documents. He has practiced law, given away money for Jewish and secular charitable foundations, and served as a hospital chaplain. Read more at

Judaism and Violence

The relationship between religion and violence is a difficult subject, but exploring it leads to insights about what religion is and how it has changed over time. Ancient Israel engaged in a great deal of violence against its neighbors. By the Middle Ages though, Jews were exploring the meaning of martyrdom. We will discuss whether martyrdom is also a form of violence. The course concludes by discussing whether some of modern Israel’s actions constitute Jewish violence. When does Judaism, or any other religion, condone violence?

This class was taught by Robert Morrison, a Bet Ha’am member since 2010, and George Lincoln Skolfield Jr. Professor of Religion at Bowdoin College. A specialist in Islam, Robert also teaches courses on Judaism and on theoretical approaches to religion. His current project is a study of Jewish scholarly intermediaries between the Ottoman Empire and the Vèneto during the Renaissance.

Holy Words for Anxious Times: A Study of Psalms

For millennia, Jews have recited Tehillim (Psalms) in response to joy, stress, ennui—and every other feeling that reflects human experience and emotion. In this class, we looked closely at three Psalms and read comparative literature on three themes: fear, alienation, and hope. We explored how the Psalms may give us—as they have given others—inspiration, courage, and a sense of God’s presence in our daily lives.

This class was taught by Rabbi Alice Goldfinger, the spiritual leader of Congregation Bet Ha’am from 2000 to 2010. Before coming to Maine, she served as the associate director of the URJ Pacific Southwest Council in Los Angeles and was the associate rabbi at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. Rabbi Goldfinger was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in 1992. She holds a BA in French literature from Boston University and an MA in Hebrew literature from HUC-JIR. She resides in Falmouth, Maine.

Shabbat Book Talk

On Friday, November 22, 2019, Susan Kaplan Carlton, author of In the Neighborhood of True, joined us for Shabbat worship and a book talk. Carlton’s novel is inspired by the bombing of Atlanta’s most prominent reform synagogue in 1958. The story centers on sixteen-year-old Ruth Robb, who hides her Jewish identity so that she can fit into her school’s social scene. Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author, says, “The story may be set in the past, but it couldn’t be a more timely reminder that courage comes not from fitting in but from purposefully standing out.”

Torah Study

Join us each Saturday morning at 9:00 AM in the Adult Learning classroom to study the weekly Torah portion. Led by Rabbi Saks, this lively group engages in conversation guided by both classical and contemporary texts that help us understand the relevance of the ancient words and stories in our 21st century lives. No experience is necessary; everyone is welcome.

Ten Minutes of Torah

Bet Ha’am is proud to bring you the Union of Reform Judaism’s Ten Minutes of Torah. On the sign-up form, just let the URJ know you are a member of Congregation Bet Ha’am. If you already receive Ten Minutes of Torah, update your information by clicking on the “Manage Subscriptions and Update Profile” link in the footer of each email. There are a series of drop-down menus in the Subscription Center that will allow you to choose your state/province, then city, and then the name of our congregation.

Online Learning

In addition to in-person classes offered at Congregation Bet Ha’am, or with our Shalom Maine partners (see below), we are also pleased to recommend online learning opportunities from Rabbi Saks’s colleague and friend, Rabbi Neal Gold.

Scholar-In-Residence Program

Bet Ha’am is fortunate to enjoy an annual weekend of study with a visiting scholar, made possible through the generosity of the Rosalyne S. and Sumner T. Bernstein Memorial Scholar-In-Residence Fund.

This year, we will welcome Marc Dollinger, PhD, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair of Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University and author of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s. Over a weekend in the fall (dates to be determined), he will explore social and racial justice with us. Please see the Events section of our website for details.

Past scholars have included: Dr. Nehemia Polen, Dr. Mark Washofsky, Rachael Freed, Rabbi Wayne Dosick, Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy, Rabbi Robert M. Seltzer, Rabbi William Cutler, Rabbi Wendy I. Zierler, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Rabbi Arthur Green, and Rabbi Abi Taylor-Abt.

Shalom Maine

Additional adult learning opportunities are offered in collaboration with Shalom Maine, a consortium of Portland-area Jewish organizations and learners. Please visit Shalom Maine to read the latest course descriptions and find out how to register.

Shalom Maine was founded by Congregation Bet Ha’am, Temple Beth El, and the Jewish Community Alliance. Thank you to our community partners, Etz Chaim Synagogue of Portland, Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh,  Beth Israel Congregation of Bath, and Congregation Etz Chaim of Biddeford.

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