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Third Thursday Thoughts: Reflections from the Executive Director

There from Here

May 16, 2024 | Third Thursday Thoughts
Dawn LaRochelle, Executive Director

Fun fact: Maine is one of only 19 states in the USA that doesn’t have an official language. Unofficially, over 90% of Mainers speak English, but as anyone who has spent more than a nanosecond in the Pine Tree State knows, English is a relative term. Mainers have their own lingo, rich with regional dialects and sayings that generate blank stares from newcomers and tourists. Take that beloved Maine expression, “you can’t get there from here.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this turn of phrase, according to, it is used main(e)ly by folks in, well, Maine when asked for directions to a far-away location that can’t be accessed without an extensive, complicated explanation. Ergo, “you can’t get there from here.” And if you don’t say it with a dyed-in-the-wool Maine accent, it doesn’t count!

As a new Mainer, I have been thinking a lot about getting there from here. We are more divided as a society now, both politically and generationally, than we have been at any time in recent memory. The terrorist attack of October 7 and ongoing devastation in Gaza are tearing us apart, and we who believe it is possible to be heartbroken for more than one group of people at the same time have to fight for oxygen. Meanwhile, the hostility, rage, and destruction on display at college campuses across the country this past month have underscored the danger of polarization and dehumanization. How do we get to our destination of “there,” where we can build a collaborative community grounded in tolerance and caring, from “here,” where screaming, shaming, and tunnel vision are increasingly taking the place of dialogue across differences? I may be biased, but I believe the Maine Jewish Museum’s mission, vision, and values provide a good roadmap.

At MJM, we are committed to drawing lessons from the Maine Jewish experience to create a kinder, more compassionate, and equitable society. Through art exhibitions, historical displays, and diverse programming, we seek to foster appreciation and understanding among people of all backgrounds. And while we connect people to the Maine Jewish experience and Jewish Mainers to their roots, our Jewish core is also a springboard for broader outreach. These are the underpinnings (pun absolutely intended!) of Fashion, Food, and Fun(d)raiser: A Celebration of Our Diverse Community, back by popular demand for the second year in a row on Thursday, August 8, 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM. This cultural extravaganza is inspired by the stories we wear – stories that are individual and authentic and connect us at the most fundamental level, communicating messages across history, time, culture, and language. This year’s runway show, spotlighting Maine Jewish, immigrant, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and differently abled fashion designers and models, will be amplified by an internationally inspired cocktail and small plates hour, live music by the multinational and multigenerational Bondeko, an exciting live auction, and a decadent dessert display for a grand finale and sweet ending. Our inaugural Fashion Show in 2023 sold out quickly, so don’t wait to purchase your tickets!

Music, too, has the power to transcend cultural, linguistic, and societal boundaries. We are therefore thrilled to be partnering with the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine to bring Molly Bajgot to perform in concert at MJM on Thursday, June 6, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM. A queer Jewish singer, songwriter, and community prayer leader, Molly writes and performs melodies for Jewish liturgy that draw from a place of yearning and reclamation. Accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Matt Goldfield and drummer Richie Barshay (dubbed “a major rhythm voice on the rise” by Downbeat Magazine), Molly will share music from her first full-length album, Revelry, featuring original songs that bridge the realms of Jewish, folk, and devotional music. Join us to revel in our aliveness, our grief, our welcoming, and our work for collective liberation through song… and stay after the performance for a meet-and-greet with the musicians and light refreshments.

The very next week, on Thursday, June 13, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM, local trailblazing composer Emily Isaacson will take the Portland Bach Experience to the Museum to present Eudaimonia: Harmonizing Two Worlds. Composers of the Jewish Italian Renaissance had to navigate between cultures, classes, and languages. Salomone Rossi (1570 – 1630)’s seminal work, “Songs of Solomon,” is the first published collection to set polyphonic music to a Hebrew text. Come explore how Rossi and other Jewish composers of the Italian Renaissance challenged notions of cultural identity and used music to create understanding between two segregated cultures. What was possible over five hundred years ago is possible today!

Contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter famously described art as “the highest form of hope,” a testament to its ability to unify disparate individuals and groups by connecting us to something greater than ourselves. Our current Art Exhibition cycle is a case in point. Whitney River’s On Belonging offers meditative compositions that evoke the universality of the human experience. Andy Rosen’s Don’t Get Too Precious probes psychological interiority, the engagement with one’s inner world for the purpose of personal growth and maturity. Steve Horowitz’s The Center of the World: In Memoriam honors the victims and first responders of 9/11, a stark reminder in these gut-wrenching days that “never again is now.” And As He Saw It … Then is a posthumous tribute to MJM’s beloved friend and multi-talented artist Ted Arnold, whose whimsical works bring us together through smiles and laughter. These exhibitions will be on display through June 21. Come see them, and check our Programs And Events page for upcoming Artist Talks. Bring a friend, connect with a stranger, and immerse yourself in our creative and welcoming space.

In times of extremis, connection is the antidote to division, hatred, and violence…which is why now more than ever, MJM is leaning hard into a mission, vision, and values that center connection. History provides context, the arts provide inspiration, and together they help fight injustice and unite divergent peoples in celebration of our shared humanity. With all due respect to my fellow Mainers, together we can get there from here.



Dawn LaRochelle

Executive Director