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Third Thursday Thoughts: Reflections from the Executive Director


February 23, 2023 | Third Thursday Thoughts
Dawn LaRochelle, Executive Director

Yup, it’s as cheesy as a four-cheese, cheesy-crust pizza topped with extra Parmesan “just because.” Yup, it’s been co-opted by Hallmark and corrupted by consumerism. Yup, it’s technically a non-Jewish holiday. But the thing is, and as uncool as it is to admit this, I LOVE Valentine’s Day (pun absolutely intended), cheese and all. Red and pink are my favorite colors, and I’m embarrassingly into flowers and individually-wrapped chocolate truffle hearts and the Valentine’s Day Bandit, and WOW, I’m realizing as I write this how much I’ve changed since my teen years! Heck, I used to wear a t-shirt that literally said “Anti-Valentine’s Day” because I was just such the pleasant teenager!

Valentine’s Day, which sorry-not-sorry I celebrated last week by nose-diving into the Lindt tin, is the official kick-off to what is often called “the love month.” And by love, we’re not just talking about Cupid. This is a time for self-love and self-care, and for appreciating all the important people in our lives.

Self-love and self-care during a time of loss are both especially important and especially challenging. No one knows this more than master potter Steven Branfman. After losing his 23-year-old son, Jared, to a malignant brain tumor in 2005, Steven retreated to his studio and found himself making a chawan — a Japanese-style tea bowl. The next day, he made seven more and went on to create one each day for a year. They were the only pots he made that year. This spontaneous grieving ritual mirrored the Jewish practice of attending synagogue each day to recite the Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer.

For nine years, those 365 chawan sat unfinished in Steven’s studio. But in 2015, on the tenth anniversary of Jared’s death, Steven decided the time had come to glaze, fire, and exhibit them. The story of how Steven used the art of pottery to work through his grief and aid in the healing process is documented in the award-winning film, A Father’s Kaddish: The Celebration of (a) Life in the Aftermath of Death. And on Thursday, March 9, from 6 – 8:30 PM, we will be partnering with the Maine Jewish Film Festival and the Parsonage Gallery on a screening of A Father’s Kaddish. The film is approximately 30 minutes long, after which there will be an q&a and interactive conversation about grieving, Jewish grief rituals, and self-love/self-care for those left behind. You can register for this FREE and impactful program here. A selection of Steven’s chawan will also be on exhibit at the Museum from March 9 – April 28.

Maintaining positive relationships ranks right up there with healthy eating (hey, research shows chocolate is heart-healthy, okay?!) and exercise when it comes to self-care. My mom and dad (z”l) were both physicians and used to say they wished they could prescribe friendship for all their patients. And for many of us, the friendships built in summer camp – created over shared experiences, inside jokes, and extended, unfettered time together – are among the deepest, most authentic, and enduring friendships in our lives. If you find yourself nodding vigorously in agreement here, you won’t want to miss S’mores, Swimming, and Shabbat: The Maine Jewish Summer Camp Experience, an educational and entertaining discussion about Maine Jewish summer camps (featuring voices from Camps Lown, Naomi, Micah, Center Day, Powhatan, and Kennebec) on Thursday, March 16, 7 – 9 PM. Brandeis professor and author Jonathan Krasner will open the event with a panoramic historical perspective. Our very own veteran ABC, CBS, and CNN producer, writer, director, and media consultant Jo Dondis will then moderate a panel of cross-generational campers who will share their multi-faceted camp experiences. A camp-themed reception, complete with historical photos, elevated “campy” comfort foods (adult Rice Krispie Treats and Bug Juice Cocktail, anyone?), and mingling will conclude a fun-filled and nostalgic evening. Camp attire encouraged! You can register for the in-person event here… and if you can’t make it in person, you can join us online by registering here.

Finally, when it comes to appreciation, let’s not forget those who have enriched our communities. The Maine Jewish Hall of Fame was established in 2018 to bestow recognition on outstanding Jewish leaders throughout the state who have brought distinction and honor to the State of Maine and beyond. On Sunday, May 21, 3 – 5:30 PM, we will be honoring eight such individuals whose outstanding accomplishments and philanthropic endeavors have made the world a better place. We invite you to celebrate with us by joining the Hall of Fame Host Committee (co-chaired by Jessica and Tom Lantos and Elizabeth and David Turetsky), availing yourself of our sponsorship and advertising opportunities, and purchasing tickets to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (both in-person and online options are available).

Love and appreciation can and should, of course, be shared generously throughout the year. The “love month,” however, reinforces this mandate and reminds us to continually put more effort into our relationships (including our relationship with ourselves). It is also of note that today is the first day of the Jewish month of Adar, proclaimed in the Talmud as the most joyous of months, and what are love and appreciation if not the purest kind of joy?

Wishing you an abundance of love, appreciation, and joy (not to mention chocolate!), whatever, however, and with whomever you choose to celebrate.


Dawn LaRochelle
Executive Director