It is rare that several hundred people attend Shabbat services at Beth Israel Congregation. On Friday night, Nov. 2, however, our sanctuary was packed and aglow as neighbors of all backgrounds joined us in prayer. Even though the Hebrew liturgy was foreign to many of those who joined us, folks from throughout central Maine lifted our prayers with clapping and singing, filling the room with song. That music let us mourn those we lost and find joy once again in our Shabbat worship.

There was something especially sweet about that Friday night in Waterville. While for some this past Shabbat was their first time in a synagogue, I nonetheless recognized many, many friends among the gathered — people who have offered their friendship, support, collaboration and love over the eight years that I have served as rabbi. Friday felt as much like a family reunion as it did a Shabbat of consolation and solidarity.

Beth Israel Congregation has been home to the Jewish community of Waterville for over 100 years. While there were exceptions, most of our community’s time in Waterville has been defined by positive engagement with the ethnic mosaic that makes Waterville special. We are probably the only synagogue with a water fountain donated by the Lebanese Youth Organization. Even today, our community could not maintain a kosher kitchen if were not for the dedication of Joseph’s Meat Market. Our local Christian pastors at the Congregationalist, Methodist and Episcopalian churches join us routinely, and offer us public holiday greetings and notes of allyship. Their banner support touches the hearts of my congregants regularly.

The synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh was a horrendous attack on the American Jewish community. However, the Shabbat following this tragedy revealed the depth of solidarity, friendship and kindness here in Waterville that makes this place truly home.

Rabbi Rachel M. Isaacs

Beth Israel Congregation

Dorothy “Bibby” Levine Alfond Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at Colby College


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