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Third Thursday Thoughts: Reflections from the Executive Director


September 21, 2023 | Third Thursday Thoughts
Dawn LaRochelle, Executive Director

The dishwasher broke the day before Rosh Hashanah because OF COURSE IT DID.

A little background: those of you who know me know that cooking and baking are my passion (some would say obsession), but if my kitchen craziness is news to you, you can read all about it in this Portland Press Herald article. Anyway, the day before Rosh Hashanah, I had just started prepping an elaborate 14-dish dinner menu for a houseful of guests, and a broken dishwasher – a Bosch 300-series that came with the home we purchased eighteen months ago — was not part of the plan.

Now, I am all about Bosch dishwashers, but when a Bosch malfunctions, let’s just say that finding someone to repair it is, er, “challenging.” The first three people I called would not touch a Bosch. The place they all recommended to me wouldn’t service a Bosch they hadn’t sold, and I had zero clue where our dishwasher was acquired. And when I finally found someone who agreed to do a diagnostic for a steep fee, he was booking into the first week of October. “But that’s not until after Yom Kippur!” I wailed, to no avail.

My back against the figurative wall, I turned to that 21st century place of last resort: social media. An all-caps “DEPSERATE!” was the lead-in to my post on the Portland FB page, followed by a plea for someone – ANYONE — to help me fix my Bosch at warp speed. There were the usual wisecracks (“Are you aware that dishes can be washed by hand?”), a suggestion to take the dishes to my neighbor’s house to run through their machine because “that’s what friends are for” (my neighbors are awesome, but I would have needed a U-Haul!), and a few leads that did not pan out.  But it was this response that gave me pause:

As a kid, our whole family would cram into my grandparents’ very small mobile home for Thanksgiving and Easter. We’d eat in shifts because there was not enough room. Kids first, dads next, and moms last. After, the older girls and moms would be in the tiny kitchen, washing and drying dishes for what seemed like hours. Hated every minute of it then, but now some of my best memories. Thank you for the memory prod. Good luck, I hope you find someone, but honestly, treasure the memories. Shanah Tovah.

 So much of life, like this poster’s Thanksgiving and Easter dinners, can only be appreciated in retrospective. Which is, of course, one of the primary reasons museums exist: to preserve, reexamine, and better understand our past, for the better or for the worse. At their highest and best, museums draw from that past to connect to the here and now and make a relevant statement in the present. This is what we are aiming for here at the Maine Jewish Museum with our Fall programming and exhibitions.

Take A Song and a Prayer – Maine Cantors and Musicians in Concert, for example. Song and prayer are deeply embedded into the fabric of ancient Jewish tradition, and cantors – trained musicians and prayer leaders – have been helping sustain this tradition in Maine’s Jewish communities since 1849. This singular concert, co-sponsored by Documenting Maine Jewry and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, will unite the past and the present on Sunday, October 22, bringing together some of today’s most celebrated Maine cantors – including Dr. Morton Gold, Rabbi Sruli Dresner, Dr. Sidney Block, and Beth Strassler, as well as the Adas Yoshuron Synagogue Choir – for the very first time in the century-old Etz Chaim Synagogue sanctuary. The concert will also be the kick-off to a NEW cantorial exhibition, which will be unveiled shortly after Yontif. This exhibition will pay tribute to Maine’s cantors through biographies and photographs, recordings and film. It will also connect synagogue songs of old to modern musicians (Barbara Streisand, Leonard Bernstein, and Leonard Cohen, to name a few) who have crossed genre lines, bringing liturgical music to a broader audience.

And come November, in a first-ever collaboration between MJM and Mayo Street Arts , we will be bringing  Trio Sefardi , a Northern Virginia-based ensemble that performs traditional songs of the Sephardim (the descendants of Jews exiled from Spain in 1492), to Portland to perform two unique concerts. On Thursday, November 9, the Trio will be at Mayo Street singing songs in Judeo-Espanyol (commonly known as Ladino) that have been passed through the generations, as well as newer songs composed by Bosnian-born singer, composer, and National Heritage fellow Flory Jagoda that celebrate the memory of now-lost communities of the Balkans. And on Saturday, November 11, the Trio will perform “La Nona Kanta,” a multimedia program featuring documentary footage of Flory — who escaped the Nazis in 1941 and spent her life in the U.S. helping to preserve her musical heritage — interspersed with a live performance, archival photos, animation, and translations of Flory’s songs, which were composed in Ladino and Serbo-Croation.

These concerts will correlate with a cutting-edge, interactive MJM exhibition by Israeli-born Maine photographer Yoav Horesh, PerSlovak 2.0  (November 2 – January 5), in which visitors will have the opportunity, using spliced facial features from the photographer’s Ashkenazi and Sephardic family members, to create their own version, out of 9 million possibilities, of what it looks like to be Jewish. And MJM will also be partnering with Trio Sefardi and the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine on an educational initiative to teach diverse Maine high school students about the far-reaching personal impact of the Nazi influence before and during WWII through Flory’s story of survival, immigration, and resilience. At a time of increasing antisemitism and decreasing knowledge of the Holocaust, the importance of youth education cannot be overemphasized.

About that Bosch: my husband and I had major dishpan hands this Rosh Hashanah, but it didn’t stop us from ushering in the New Year around a table groaning with delicious food shared with people we cherish. When we look back at 5784 years from now, it won’t be a broken dishwasher that defined the holiday for us.

L’Shanah Tovah!