Since 2012, the Maine Jewish Museum has bestowed an annual Lifetime Achievement Award to members of the community who have made lasting contributions to our community and our state. Their legacies will become our legacy. This year instead of a Lifetime Achievement Ceremony, the Museum and Etz Chaim Synagogue have jointly decided to honor Rabbi Gary Berenson by naming the Eastern Wall of the Synagogue for him at a special Friday Night service taking place on May 13th, 2016.
There is no one more deserving of this tribute.
For decades Gary was the volunteer lay leader of the synagogue prior to becoming officially hired as its Rabbi. He also was the founding Executive Director of the Museum and continues in that capacity as a volunteer. Gary has given his life to these two institutions, and as a result, untold numbers of us have had meaningful life cycle events, attended heartwarming services, and have enjoyed sensational exhibits and programs at the Museum. In addition, Gary has become officially ordained, after many years of study, as a Rabbi.
Through this collaborative fundraising event, it is our intention to raise enough money to complete our building renovations once and for all and to embellish the Operating Endowment Fund for the Museum which was started two years ago and to help offset operating expenses at Etz Chaim. At our final Friday night service in May before the summer break, we will honor Gary by naming the Eastern Wall of Etz Chaim for him.
2015 Lifetime Achievement Award Winners
We are most excited to announce that our honorees for 2015 are Charlie and Nancy Shuman, who will be honored on Sunday June 28th at 4pm. Charlie and Nancy have a long and distinguished history of philanthropy in Maine and community service. Hope you will join us for this special event!
Honoree of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Celebration was Cantor Kurt Messerschmidt
Born in Germany in 1915, Kurt Messerschmidt grew up in Berlin, raised by his single mother, Else, at a time when poverty gripped post-World War I Germany. He developed a love of languages by age 10. Later, as his musical talent matured, Messerschmidt realized that words and music could serve a common purpose. “I wanted to combine the language of words with the international language of music to bring peace and understanding to the world,” Messerschmidt said.
Kurt Messerschmidt was a coach and teacher at a Jewish school in Berlin until 1943 when he was deported with his fiancée, Sonja, to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Within the ghetto, despite long days of forced labor, Kurt sought to be a source of comfort and leadership. Kurt and Sonja married in Theresienstadt but soon were separated when Kurt and his brother, Henry, were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and assigned to work detail at Golleschau. Kurt survived Golleschau and a death march and was liberated in 1945.
In the early post-war days, Kurt worked as a teacher and translator in Germany while searching for news of his family. After Kurt’s reunion with Sonja, they lived in Munich where Kurt was a soloist in a radio choir
broadcast across Europe. In 1950, they emigrated to the US. Kurt continued his career of connecting with people through words and music. At Temple Beth El in Portland, he led all Jewish music programs and coached generations of B’Nai Mitzvah students from 1951 to 1985. He remains cantor emeritus to this day.
Messerschmidt is known for having a generous spirit, a ready wit and a gorgeous baritone voice that transports listeners to a spiritual realm. Throughout his life, words and music have been at the center of his survival and his success, and we have been blessed that he shared his gifts so freely.
Images from our 2014 Celebration