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The Delet Program

Opening the Door to Greater Understanding

Free to all Maine middle and high schools


“Delet” is the Hebrew word for “door,” and the mission of the Delet Program is to share our experiences and open a door to greater understanding of Jews and Judaism among diverse Maine middle and high school students. With the United States arguably more polarized than at any time in history, antisemitism increasing at an alarming rate, and brazen and hateful divisions playing out in almost every aspect of American life, this kind of bridge-building is more important now than ever …particularly among our youth, in whose hands our future lies.


The seeds for the Delet Program were sown in 2009, when then-Executive Director Rabbi Gary Berenson sought to fill an unmet need: many individuals in Maine knew little or nothing about Judaism, and some had never even met someone Jewish. To address this issue, Rabbi Berenson reached out to the community, inviting interested individuals and groups to come to the Maine Jewish Museum to learn about Judaism. His presentations, which continue today, demystify Judaism and expose participants to the richness and vitality of Maine’s small but mighty Jewish community.

With generous grants from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation and the Glickman-Lauder Foundation in 2022, along with a major donation from MJM friends and supporters Robert Wills and Nancy Winslow, we have expanded upon Rabbi Berenson’s critical work with a focus on youth, including the onboarding of a part-time Scholar in Residence and part-time Delet Program Director, the development of culturally responsive interactive teaching materials, the procurement of advisors, consultants, and presenters, and the ability to “take the show on the road” and bring the Museum to diverse Maine middle and high schools as well as bring diverse Maine middle and high schools to the Museum.

What We Do

Delet is a free program for all Maine middle and high schools. We designed our culturally responsive curriculum and interactive lesson plans in alignment with Common Core and Maine Learning Results standards to introduce students to Jews and Judaism. Our Scholar in Residence, Rabbi David Sandmel, and Program Director, Dawn LaRochelle, work with educators to customize our lesson plans to their specific learning objectives, then take over their classrooms for the day (or multiple days) — all the work is done for them!

Participating students are provided valuable background-building and context for Holocaust and World Religion and Culture units, among others. They learn what Jews are (and are not), the history of Maine’s Jews, the roots of antisemitism, and how to spot and debunk antisemitic conspiracy myths. We also bring Jewish poetry, literature, art, music, and artifacts to the classroom to enhance interest and engagement. Additionally, we can help with the logistics and costs of bringing middle and high school classes to the Maine Jewish Museum, where students can experience a century-old working synagogue and contemporary Maine Jewish art exhibitions in the same space.


After growing up in Portland and attending Portland Hebrew Day School and Deering High School, Delet Founder Rabbi Gary S. Berenson began his college studies at Northeastern University in Boston. He transferred two years later to the University of Maine to be able to help with his father's business.

Gary began volunteering in synagogue positions at an early age. He was a Vice President at Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue in 1975 and President of their brotherhood in 1977. He moved to California and served as Vice President of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, CA in 1979. After returning to his family's business in Maine, Gary became the lay leader of all services at Etz Chaim Synagogue in 1986. He was elected President of Etz Chaim Synagogue in 2002.

In 2009, Gary and a few talented community leaders came together to found the Maine Jewish Museum. He became the first Executive Director of the museum and served in that capacity until 2014, while working at the same time to earn Rabbinic Ordination from Rabbinic Seminary International in New York.

Gary has served as President of the Southern Maine Jewish Cemetery Association, President of the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Rotary Club, Vice President of the Brotherhood Masonic Lodge, Vice President of the Royal Guards at Kora Shrine, Managing Director of Mt. Sinai Cemetery, and Funeral Director and Administrator at the Portland Jewish Funeral Home. Gary has two children and two grandchildren and lives in Cape Elizabeth with his wife, Sindee.

Delet Scholar in Residence David S. Sandmel is the 2023 recipient of the Eternal Light Award, presented annually by the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies to a scholar who has made significant contributions to Catholic-Jewish relations. He is Chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, the consortium of Jewish organizations that is the official Jewish dialogue partner of the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox churches. From 2014-2022, he served as Senior Advisor on Interreligious Affairs at ADL (Anti-Defamation League). From 2002-2014, he held the Crown-Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He has also served as Senior Advisor on Interreligious Affairs to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

From 1998-2001, David was the Jewish Scholar at the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies in Baltimore. There, he directed the National Jewish Scholars Project, a major initiative to promote a new discussion within the Jewish community and between Jews and Christians about the differences and similarities between the two traditions. David coordinated the publication of "Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity," a groundbreaking event that generated international attention in the interfaith community and wide media coverage.

David has also been involved in Jewish-Muslim dialogue and in the tri-lateral dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. At the Catholic Theological Union, he team-taught a course on three traditions and led interfaith study trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He served on the steering committee of In Good Faith, a CTU-sponsored tri-lateral dialogue involving the wider community. He has participated in the World Forum for Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi and is a founder member of IJMA – the Inter Jewish Muslim Alliance.

David is the founding rabbi of Congregation Bet Ha’am in Portland, Maine and has served congregations in Cleveland and Chicago.

David lectures and publishes widely on contemporary issues in Jewish-Christian relations, Jewish-Muslim relations, religion in contemporary society, and the foundations of Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. He contributed the commentary on First Thessalonians to the Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2011, second edition 2017). He is the co-editor of Christianity in Jewish Terms (Westview, 2000), to which he has also contributed an essay. In addition, he is the lead editor of Irreconcilable Differences? A Learning Resource for Jews and Christians (Westview Press, 2001), a study and discussion guide that focuses on core theological issues on the boundary between Judaism and Christianity.

David completed his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied the history and literature of Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. He received his BA with honors from the Ohio State University and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Currently, he resides in Portland with his wife, Janet Raffle, and black Labrador Retriever Jamie.

A graduate of Duke University (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), Harvard Law School (cum laude), and the UMass Amherst Graduate School of Education (summa cum laude), Delet Program Director Dawn LaRochelle currently merges her extensive background in education, entrepreneurship, and corporate and nonprofit law with her passion for social equity and the arts as Executive Director of the Maine Jewish Museum.

Prior to assuming the helm at the Maine Jewish Museum, Dawn received an eighteen-month grant to launch a COVID business recovery program at the Center for Women & Enterprise – Central Massachusetts (CWE). Dawn has also worked in the litigation department of the Wall Street firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, opened two acclaimed catering companies – one of which was the first and only certified Kosher catering business in Berkshire County – and an award-winning fine-dining restaurant in Western Massachusetts, and was the English Language Learning Department Chair at the MacDuffie School (Granby, MA), where she launched the school’s first-ever graduate school internship program and won the 2016-2017 Teacher Volunteer Service Award. Dawn has served on numerous nonprofit boards. She is currently a member of the Board of Directors at Levey Day School in Portland and was Board President at Sinai Academy of the Berkshires (a nondenominational Jewish K-5 day school in Pittsfield, MA) from 2006 – 2008.

An avid linguist, Dawn speaks fluent Mandarin, Japanese, and Spanish and hopes to someday pick up Italian, Hebrew, and Yiddish. In her free time, Dawn enjoys cooking, baking, distance running, ballroom dancing, writing, traveling across the globe, renovating and decorating her 1930s Portland home, and spending time with her husband, three sons, and two miniature Rat Terriers.

Core Consultants

Marcel Polak was born in Paris, France to Holocaust survivors. He and his family immi-grated to the US when he was 4 1/2. He was raised in Brooklyn and Queens, NY. While living in NYC, he graduated from Queens College with a B.A. in History/Art History.

He has lived in Woodstock, Maine with his wife, Emily Ecker, more than 44 years. His professional career was mostly in land conservation. He was a founder and the first Ex-ecutive Director of Mahoosuc Land Trust. He received an M.S. in Natural Resources Management from Antioch New England Graduate School.

He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Maine Jewish Museum and the Woodstock Conservation Commission.

Marcel and Emily’s daughter Rachel lives in California with her husband and two kids. One of this proudest accomplishments was hiking New England’s 67 peaks over 4000’ with Emily, after his retirement.

Areas of Expertise:

  • Rescue and Resistance During the Holocaust (general and personal family narrative)
  • Jewish Immigrant History
  • Jewish Holiday Celebration Through Local Conservation

Umaru Balde is the inaugural Director of Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the City of Portland, ME. Umaru came to Maine from Iowa, where he served as first as a Civil Investigator for the Civil Rights Commission for the City of Cedar Rapids and later as the Director for the Multicultural Family Center for the City of Dubuque. He is currently a Doctoral Candidate (Ed.D.) at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, with an antic-ipated completion in 2025.

Umaru’s passion for inclusion has a long past, stemming from his experiences growing up. He moved to Egypt for school after escaping childhood slavery in Guinea-Bissau, but was targeted by the Egyptian government for refusing to partake in discriminatory activity against non-Muslims. He then fled to Israel, where he was held in an immigra-tion detention center until a Jewish-Israeli journalist helped him get out. Umaru went on to attend Hebrew University in Jerusalem and continues to maintain close ties to his adoptive Israeli family.

Umaru speaks 13 languages fluently, including Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, French, Por-tuguese, and multiple European, Arabic, and African dialects.

  • Antisemitism, Multiculturalism, and DEI
  • Jewish-Muslim Relations
  • Judaism, Civil Rights, and Human Rights
  • Allyship

Anna Wrobel is an American historian, teacher, poet, Holocaust Studies educator and daughter of Polish Jewish refugees, a rescue partisan mother and Soviet soldier father. Her poetry and essays appear in Cafe Review, Lilith, Off the Coast and Jewish Currents. Anna has two poetry collections, Marengo Street (2012) and The Arrangement of Things (2018). Her work appeared in University of Maine’s Holocaust Human Rights Center’s art and poetry exhibit, Dilemma of Memory, and she’s presented for the Puffin Foundation on Jewish resistance.

Anna is a consultant to the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation (JPEF) and an Advanced Studies Lerner Fellow of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR). Anna’s poetry and history teaching have been featured at the Maine Jewish Museum, Colby College, Thomas College, UMaine-Augusta, Jewish Community Alliance, USM’s OLLI classes and OLLI Sage Lecture series. Poems from her manuscript Sparrow Feathers: Second Generation/First Person are used by teachers in several U.S. states, Poland, Germany and Israel-Palestine. Anna co-hosted the long-running poetry series, Lowry’s Lodge, with musician/writer Jim Donnelly. Life experiences include theater; artisanal craft; Galilee kibbutz farming (daughter Corinna Shulamit born); Maine mountain homesteading (son Barak Azriel born); construction site foreman; refugee advocate; long-time president of a local teachers’ union; single mom.

Areas of Expertise:

  • American History, Civil Rights, and the Holocaust
  • Multicultural Poetry Workshops

Delet Program Testimonial

I cannot speak highly enough about the Delet programming that worked with our 9th grade students at Casco Bay High School in January 2024. In support of our study of the Holocaust and genocide, Dawn LaRochelle, Rabbi David Sandmel, and Marcel Polak came to CBHS to run a full lesson for each of my 9th grade classes. This lesson expertly captured important Maine Jewish history, engaged students in deep learning about the story of a Maine family impacted by the Holocaust, and created space for students to reflect on how we can prevent bigotry and respond to ongoing incidents of hate. This powerful lesson helped students not only deepen their academic learning, but also allowed them to reflect on the humanity of the history they have been learning. The lesson engaged not only their minds, but also their hearts.

Working with Delet in preparation for the lesson was an absolute joy. The entire team was communicative and collaborative. It was clear that this was not a stock program, but rather one that was tailored to the specific needs of our students. This was further evident from the tweaks and shifts that were made from one iteration of the lesson to the next. Despite having an already wonderful lesson, the Delet team were constantly striving to better meet the needs of the diverse learners in our 9th grade. The team was also remarkably flexible and willing to work with our school schedule, including coming in on two different days in order to be able to meet with each class period that I teach. I deeply appreciate the dedication and care that they put into planning and implementing the program. I would recommend them to anyone and I look forward to welcoming them back in the future.

Matt Bernstein
9th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Casco Bay High School
2023 Maine Teach of the Year