By Catherine Share, Congregant
There are many definitions of the word vital but when applied to Bet Ha’am and to me this meaning is head and shoulders above all others: “absolutely necessary or important; essential.” As a new Jew, a neophyte in so many respects, being part of a community is essential for creating a new Jewish identity.
First, without Bet Ha’am it never would have dawned on me that I would find one of the greatest joys of my life in my discovery of Judaism. For several years, Bet Ha’am was just the place I brought my daughter Maya to on Sunday mornings. My former partner is Jewish and when we adopted Maya, we decided to raise her Jewish. When we moved to Maine, Maya was only 18 months old, and we weren’t thinking too much about Hebrew school and her Jewish education. But when she turned 5, we decided it was time to find a synagogue home for our family. As a gay couple we found much to identify with being part of a community led by a gay Rabbi. It was a no brainer. But during those years she attended Hebrew school and prepared for her Bat Mitzvah, I always felt on the periphery. Everything about Bet Ha’am and Judaism in general felt so different from my Episcopal /Christian orientation. But I had left the church many years ago as I struggled with my sexual identity. I felt like my religious community left me behind.
So, what does it mean to find a new path when the old one no longer fills an essential need? Or as it says in Psalm 137, verse 4, “How can we sing a song of the LORD in a strange land?” Well, I can tell you that finding a new religious community is a two-way street and the doors need to be wide open. I could knock all I wanted but unless someone on the other side opened the door, there is no chance for discovery. But in my case, when I was ready to begin my search, Bet Ha’am was more than ready for me.
I can name the very people who opened that door for me, and I am forever grateful. But since that day it has grown to a whole community that for the most part continues to work at welcoming the stranger and the pilgrim within its midst.