On Monday, Feb. 11, Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue in Bangor, hosted a discussion about anti-Semitism as a part of a series the synagogue has created. Rabbi Bill Siemers who is also an adjunct professor of Jewish studies at the University of Maine gave the talks. This was the last event of the three part installment.
The talks were open to anyone who wished to attend, and the goal was to explore the history of anti-Semitism, from its roots in antiquity to present day.
Some of the themes explored over the three presentations were how anti-Semitism is defined, what unites it across times and cultures and how history can offer guidance to the current anti-Semitic acts we see today.
“I think it’s incredibly important to hold those conversations,” President of UMaine Hillel Michael Marcus said. “It allows us to remember how [anti-Semitism] has been portrayed in the past and discussing how it is nowadays gives us the ability to see if it has [improved].”
Hillel is a student-run organization serving UMaine’s Jewish community, according to the group’s website.
The series began on Jan. 28 and continued the following two Mondays. The first installment was titled “Judeophobia in Antiquity: From Alexandria through the Early Christian Era.”
The second discussion on Feb. 4, titled “A People Apart: Antisemitism in Medieval and Modern Europe,” aimed at exploring how anti-Semitism has changed over the course of history and how some of the this prejudice still persists today.
The talk this past Monday discussed how it all relates to the types of anti-Semitism that is currently seen today.
“Every group has its story, and we need not only to listen to each other but to be willing to share the stories that only we can tell,” Siemers said.
The series of talks that took place over the past three weeks were created as a response to the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October of 2018. Congregation Beth Israel looked for ways to respond to the tragic event.
“We reached out for support from the wider community and were overwhelmed with love,” Siemers said. “We also asked how we could make our synagogues safer and are setting out to make our buildings as secure as possible.”
As Siemers started down this path to create a safer environment, he felt that something was missing. In his opinion, there needed to be a moment taken to put the murders in Pittsburgh in the historical context of the Jewish people. That’s where the idea came to write and deliver the lectures.
There was a strong response from both within the Jewish community as well as from the community as a whole.
“It’s my hope that from the point of view of the inside — the Bangor Jewish community — we will be more assertive and confident in telling our story,” Siemers said. “I think we have had that beginning, and we were also gratified to again be surrounded by people in the wider community who care about us.”
Congregation Beth Israel will host more discussions throughout the month of February from a wide variety of topics. The next talk, “God at Earthrise — The Spiritual Legacy of the Apollo Program,” will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at Congregation Beth Israel. It will explore how the space program teaches us about God and creation.