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Third Thursday Thoughts: Reflections from the Executive Director


April 17, 2024 | Third Thursday Thoughts
Dawn LaRochelle, Executive Director

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” – Allen Saunders

“Der mentsch tracht un Gott lacht” (People plan and G-d laughs) – Yiddish proverb

The assignment: in 400 words or fewer, and assuming no limits of time or distance, describe my perfect Maine day for the Portland Press Herald’s new “My Perfect Day” column.

Talk about right up my alley! I am all about the pursuit of perfection. I have been known to re-bake a batch of new-recipe cookies over and over and over again, adjusting timing and temperature by increments until I get the perfect combo of crispy golden edges and chewy centers. It took twenty tries before I settled on the perfect shade of gray for the interior of our Portland dream house – I mean, you don’t want the wrong undertones marring the walls of the dream house! Back when I was a restaurant owner, I used to confound my waitstaff by marching around my 120-seat dining room adjusting all the cutlery to ensure that each fork, knife, and spoon was perfectly aligned one inch from the edge of the table. The jars in my spice drawer are organized in alphabetical order, with labels perfectly symmetrical and facing forward, and the books in my bookcases are arranged not just by genre and author, but also by height and color for visual perfection. So, being tasked with crafting the perfect Maine day? SQUEE!!! Here’s the published column, fyi – and no, before you ask, I cannot plan a perfect day that doesn’t revolve around food!

Much as I am itching to turn the perfect day I conjured up into a perfect reality, I know from experience my idealized 24-hour whirlwind adventure is sure to have unexpected twists and turns… and much as I am a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, I have come to realize it is these unplanned detours that add texture and color to life. Case in point: I was a Chinese and Japanese major in college with aspirations of becoming a future ambassador. I never did make it to the U.N., but I did win a Rotary Scholarship to Japan, and I did travel to Beijing, where I met and befriended a Beijing University student, Sun Jining. Jining and I became dedicated pen pals, handwriting letters to each other in Chinese and English multiple times a week in the days before email was a thing. One year later, I went back to China with my bestie Ralf Rosenfelder, who was also in Japan on a scholarship. We met up with Jining, and within a matter of a week, I became the third wheel. Jining and Ralf are now married and living in Ralf’s hometown of Breisach am Rhein, Germany. I am godmother to their oldest son, a child who crazily enough never would have been born had I not decided to major in Chinese and Japanese!

Similarly, my very odd career trajectory has snaked from Wall Street attorney to at-home Mom to restaurateur and caterer to high school teacher to COVID business recovery consultant (pretty much everything but U.N. ambassador!), which turned out to be the scenic route to the best job ever as Executive Director of the Maine Jewish Museum. While the many wrong turns I took were admittedly maddening and frustrating, I picked up a quirky combination of legal, business, education, and programming skills along the way that have proven to be invaluable in my current position.

Closer to home, MJM’s sold-out event last week, Global Charoset: A Culinary Journey with Israeli Wine Pairings, was an involved endeavor with many moving parts. Travel arrangements needed to be made for our sommelier, who was driving to Portland from Montreal. Kosher ingredients, including cheeses, that are not available locally needed to be special ordered. The MJM kitchen needed to be kashered. Food needed to be prepped. Menus needed to be designed and printed. Thanks to meticulous planning, everything was on track come event day… until Rebecca, our fabulous new Program Coordinator, knocked on my office door, her face ashen. The creative and high-end selection of kosher Passover wines our sponsor had ordered for us were supposed to have arrived at the Brighton Avenue Fed Ex days ago. At 9:00 AM, according to our tracking app, the wine was still slated for delivery before noon, so we thought we were in the clear. Now, however, the delivery was flagged as “Problem with Address.” Apparently, the wine purveyor had shipped the bottles through UPS, and Fed Ex will not accept packages from UPS.  Our wine was therefore on a truck somewhere in Portland, and we had no way of knowing exactly where it was or to which UPS branch it was headed or when it would get there. To make a short and painful story long, we were looking at running a three-hour kosher Passover wine tasting without any wine.

Flashback to one of my first events as a newbie caterer in Western MA. I had just finished prepping for a 250-person off-site wedding when the walk-in cooler died. I was a deer in headlights, and a hysterical deer at that. Staring in horror at the highly perishable menu items I had spent all day putting together, the only thing I could think to do was call my buddy Jamy, a chef at Soldier On, a home for veterans in transition. After I sobbed my way through my predicament, Jamy cheerfully declared, “This is where your friends come in.” Not ten minutes later, Jamy and five muscular veterans strode into my restaurant with pushcarts and dollies, loaded all the food onto their refrigerated truck, and drove it back to Soldier On, where they stowed it overnight for me in their walk-in. Not all heroes wear capes.

And in a déjà vu experience, as Rebecca and I were on the verge of a nervous breakdown trying to wrap our heads around a kosher Passover wine tasting without kosher Passover wine, our sponsor texted me and said not to worry, he was pulling some of his favorite wines from his personal cellar for us to use. Thanks to his extreme generosity, we went on to have a spectacular event. To repeat: not all heroes wear capes.

The cherry on top of the sundae: the misplaced wine arrived at the South Portland UPS the next day, and our sponsor wants us to sell it as a mini fundraiser for the Museum! Which is why we are now having a One-Day Kosher Pesach Wine Sale and Fundraiser and why you don’t have to be stuck serving Manischewitz next week! There are only a very limited number of bottles available, all of which are listed with pricing on the website landing page, and all of which are top-notch. You can email us at to place your order and pick it up on Monday, April 22 before your Seder – not for nothing, but this is an excellent task for that spouse who wants to be helpful but just keeps getting in your way while you are crazy in the kitchen.

No matter what kind of wine is in your four cups this Passover, as you recount the journey our ancestors made from Egypt thousands of years ago, I hope you take time to appreciate the forks in the road that have shaped your own journey. It is so often when we veer off course that we find true perfection.

Chag Pesach Sameach to those who celebrate.


Dawn LaRochelle

Executive Director