This is the first in an annual series on the power of faith, with additional stories coming this month.

WATERVILLE — Every single morning, March through August, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, her wife, Melanie Weiss, and toddler-aged daughters Nitzan and Hadas sang the Modeh Ani prayer.

Modeh Ani, translated from Hebrew to “I give thanks,” is supposed to be the first words recited when one wakes up in the morning.

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs stands on the steps of her home Friday in Waterville. Isaacs, the rabbi at Waterville’s Beth Israel Congregation, is also the Dorothy “Bibby” Levine Alfond chair in Jewish Studies at Colby College, where she teaches Hebrew, Jewish theology and Jewish humor courses. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

It’s about thanking God for giving one his or her soul back in the morning. For this family, it was a new tradition.

“I don’t know if my girls will remember the experience, but it was every single morning, a part of our routine,” Isaacs said. “I think that the more vulnerable we are, the more we need community and we need God, and I’ve been really impressed — whether it’s through Beth Israel in Waterville or statewide through the Center for Small Town Jewish Life — how people want to connect so much more to faith and community now more than ever.”

Isaacs, the rabbi at Waterville’s Beth Israel Congregation, is also the Dorothy “Bibby” Levine Alfond chair in Jewish Studies at Colby College, where she teaches Hebrew, Jewish theology and Jewish humor courses.

The family sang the Modeh Ani to the tune created by Nefesh Mountain, a Jewish Bluegrass band, and sent a video of the girls singing it to the band. While they’ve gotten a little “lax” on the daily recitation, the family also has a daily mitzvah time, where children draw pictures to send to some of the homebound people in the Beth Israel Congregation.

When her Colby students went home in March at the outset of the pandemic and her daughters’ preschool was canceled, Isaacs remembers teaching and interacting with some of her students virtually, seeing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jewish holiday Hanukkah began Thursday, Dec. 10, and ends at sundown Friday, Dec. 18. The eight-day holiday, the Festival of Lights, is a celebration of the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. According to the Talmud, Judah Maccabee contemporaries believed they only had enough oil to light a flame for one day, but it lasted eight nights — a miracle.

“When everybody’s healthy and the world is operating more or less normally, you’re less inclined to remember how grateful you are for just being alive, healthy and safe,” Isaacs said. “I think that COVID-19 has taken away our ability to believe that we’re OK and we’ll always be OK. As we’re sort of stripped of that illusion, we turn more to God and to each other.”

Beth Israel holds in-person, outdoor hiking Shabbat services, a time when the community physically comes together. The congregation also holds virtual services over Zoom.

“I’m just so grateful that I’m surrounded by these individuals who I am bonded to by faith and tradition that support me as much as I support them, and that I’m not going through this life by myself. I’m going through it with a community of shared tradition and faith,” Isaacs said.

“On the one hand, this period of time has been dark, depressing and horrendous, but on the other hand, it’s provided a kind of solitude and sharpening of my focus about what really matters and how grateful I am both for God and also for my Jewish community.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: