JUNE 9-11, 2023 at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine

The Maine Conference for Jewish Life is a pluralistic opportunity for superior Jewish learning and joyous celebration in central Maine. Living far from America’s major urban centers (and from one another), Jews in northern New England rarely gain access to the Jewish world’s finest scholars and cultural innovators, or the experience of being surrounded by a critical mass of other Jews. This conference brings Jews from across the region together in order to gain familiarity with the jewels of Jewish civilization, convene with other Jews from around the state, exchange best practices for crafting successful rural Jewish lives, experience the benefits and challenges of celebrating in a pluralistic environment, and revel in Torah learning.

2023 Conference Plans are Underway!

More information about our 2023 conference—June 9-11 at Thomas College in Waterville—will be posted regularly from now through June.  Please contact Mel Weiss at [email protected] with any questions!

Conference Schedule (subject to small changes)

Friday, June 9


3-5 pm

Check in


5-5:30 pm

Welcome Remarks and Kiddush


5:30-6:45 pm



7-8 pm

Kabbalat Shabbat Services with the Shaliach Tzibur graduates and Cantor Sheila Nesis

We are so excited to invite graduating members of our two Shlichei Tzibur cohorts to lead us in prayer, welcoming in the Shabbat together! 


Hannah Morris,Instrument Petting Zoo”

No animals, but plenty of instruments! This workshop offers your little ones (of all ages) a chance to explore the sounds, shapes, textures, and roles of all the different wind, brass, and percussion instruments. As your young musicians try each one, educator Hannah Morris will help them make exciting sounds and form new musical relationships!


8:15-9:15 pm Keynote Address


9:30-10:30 pm

Tisch with Rabbi Sruli Dresdner, Ari Snider, and Lilly Pearlman

Come together for beautiful singing with wordless melodies and haunting tunes. No previous experience needed!


Saturday,  June 10


9-11 am 


Reform Services


Conservative Services


Torah Hike with Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor

Delight in Shabbat through movement and stillness, silence and song, on a half-mile walk in the beautiful trails behind Thomas College. Wear sturdy shoes and layers, and bring water. 



Shabbat Creative Movement with Jenny Ngidi-Brown (recommended for kids aged four and under, with a grown-up)

Bring your little person and come find the groove in this creative movement class. The class will offer a loose and playful structure for both parent and child to explore concepts of Shabbat and the joy of movement in order to inspire a playful creative connection between each other. Class is geared towards families with littles eighteen months to three years. If your little one is above or below this age, feel free to join and we will modify as best we can in order to make it meaningful. 


1:15-2:15 pm

The New Israeli Siddur (prayer book),” Rabbi Erica Asch

Tfilat Ha-Adam was just published and this new Israeli siddur has some new additions that may surprise you. It includes an option to recite the names of Bilhah and Zilpah with the matriarchs, has Shabbat blessings from kibbutzim around Israel and includes writings by contemporary Israeli poets. We’ll explore some passages from this siddur, newly translated into English, and look at how they differ from American siddurim. Along the way we’ll look at bigger issues of creative liturgy. How do we decide what to include? How do we credit the writers? And how do we create siddurim that remain relevant?


Pikuach Nefesh in the Age of Narcan,” Rabbi Sam Weiss

With opioid related deaths on the rise nationwide, a growing number of Jewish communities feel called to act, but are unsure of where to start. In this session, we will turn to our sacred texts to deepen our understanding of addiction and recovery, and consider the distribution of Naloxone (widely known as Narcan) as a compassionate, communal response to this deadly crisis. We will conclude by offering guidance for how to implement a Naloxone distribution program in your synagogue.


“Embodying Blessings” Rabbi Nicole Fix

Our sages taught that one should say 100 blessings a day. For them, these blessings represented a way to fulfill our obligation to worship God. In our daily lives, blessings offer an opportunity to cultivate gratitude and grounding. In this session, we will explore some traditional blessings and make some of our own. Through techniques such as movement, sound, and gesture, we will bring our full selves to develop our personal blessings.


Death Over Dessert: Jewish Edition,” Rabbi Melanie Levav of the Shomer Collective

Talking about death can better prepare us to approach life’s most challenging moments, and to articulate and affirm who we are and what we ultimately care about. Created by rabbis, theologians, wellness, and palliative care experts, Death Over Dinner: Jewish Edition provides a unique lens through which to explore and clarify our personal beliefs about life and death, guided by Jewish wisdom. Join together in a brave, healing space to talk about how we choose to live our lives, recognizing that they are finite. This structured conversation will offer a taste of Jewish text study along with opportunity for reflection and discussion. We’ll also provide tools for you to host a future gathering of your own. 


Becoming The Ancestor: A Conversation about Passing Down our Family Stories,” Rachael Cerrotti

We are all born into an inherited story—a story that marks us as an individual and as part of the collective. Sometimes that story comes in the form of left-behind diaries, worn-out documents, or through snippets of conversations at the dinner table. And sometimes the story lives in the silent spaces of memories never spoken. In this session, we will explore the responsibility of passing down family stories; what do we want to be remembered, through what perspective and why? 


Children’s Programming: Creation Time with Lily Yustein

Come hear some Jewish stories about creation, followed by an amazing Shabbat-friendly interactive art project! 


2:30-3:30 pm

The Etrog’s Journey: From China to Israel to… Maine?” Rabbi David Freidenreich with Maureen Goronson

How did a fruit that didn’t even exist in ancient Israel become a key element of Sukkot celebrations and a Jewish symbol? And what will it take to grow organic etrogs right here in Maine?


Jewish American Poetry,” Jonathan Barron

This talk explores how Jewish traditions found in the midrash, Biblical prophets, and the Book of Psalms join with an American poetic tradition. Starting with Emma Lazarus in the 19th century, continuing into the 20th century with Charles Reznikoff, Muriel Rukeyser, and Gerald Stern, and concluding in the 21st century with the poetry of Jacqueline Osherow among others, this talk will explain how two great traditions meet to create in the new world a new literature, the Jewish American poetic tradition.


Readers Theater & Creative Movement Exploration,” Bess Welden

Join us to hear volunteer actors from the MCJL community read a 15-minute excerpt from Bess Welden’s play Madeleines, winner of the 2022 National Jewish Playwriting Contest. Then participate in an easy, movement-based exploration of the play’s many themes, including Jewish family, food, and memory.


What I Learned Teaching About Antisemitism,” Rabbi Bill Siemers

This session is based on a university class produced in the wake of the Tree of Life massacre in 2018. We’ll discuss not only the topic itself, but the lessons learned from teaching about it publicly for several years.


Is it Ever OK to Lie? The Jewish Answer” Robin Asch

We are often told that lying is always wrong. But what does Judaism say about that? In this talk and interactive session, we will explore Jewish texts to see if we can figure out the answer. Note: This teen-taught session is open to all, but is specifically geared toward 10- to 15-year-olds.


6:30-7:30 pm

When Manischewitz was Treyf,” Avery Robinson

Are four cups enough? Come join this discussion of the values we hold around food, through a case study of kosher wine history and practice, to find out. We will learn some laws around kosher wine and then jump into the 20th century to understand our modern food system, the evolution of Manischewitz (and other) kosher wine companies in America, Prohibition, and a surprise visit by the Pope.


Jewish Feminist Poetry,” Rabbi Madeline Cooper

Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” — Audre Lorde, On Poetry. In this session, we will read and discuss select poems from poet, transgender theologian, and literary scholar Dr. Joy Ladin new book Shekhina Speaks. We will explore the ways in which her poetry might help us give name to the nameless in our own lives and experiences, and allow us to gain a deeper understanding of Jewish texts. 


America’s Whitest State? Migration to Maine, Yesterday & Today,” Chris Asch

This session will explore the history of migration to Maine, from English and Irish farmers in the early 1800s to French Canadian and Lebanese mill workers at the turn of the 20th century to Somali and Syrian refugees in the early 21st century. We will discuss Jewish responses to current immigration in Maine and examine the challenges that immigrants and refugees in Maine face today. 


“Israel’s Divided Society: Can it Continue to Survive and Flourish?” Laurence Wolff

Israel’s four major ethnic/religious groups (“secular,” religious, and ultra-orthodox Jews, and Arabs) have radically different values and beliefs about the state, which are reflected and reinforced in its divided school system. In the past few months these divisions have become increasingly stark. During this talk followed by discussion, Laurence Wolff will address the difficult challenges currently facing Israel.


7:30-8:30 pm


Roots of Earth-Based Judaism,” Lorin Troderman

Does Judaism embrace an earth-based approach at its core? Does our Jewishness imply a connection to the holiness of the land we walk upon? Is “holy land” abstract and mythical, somewhere over there or something that is interwoven with every step we take? In this session we will dip into Sefer Yetzirah, one of the earliest works of Jewish mysticism, to see how some of our ancestors located sanctity in the physical universe we inhabit and what role it might play in both our contemplative practices and activism on behalf of the planet.


A Practice For All: Jewish Mindfulness and Meditation,” Cantor Sheila Nesis

Are you feeling drained and burned out? Do you often feel that you are not fully present with the people and in the moments that matter the most to you? In this session, we will explore Judaism as a spiritual practice that can allow us to show up and be more fully present in our lives. In this highly participatory session we will sing together, study together, and engage in three short mindfulness practices (a prayer practice, a meditation practice, and an eating practice) that you can take with you to continue practicing at home. No previous meditation experience required!


“Hebrew Poetry and the Modern World,” Arielle Stein

Join rabbinical student Arielle Stein to read, explore, and discuss Hebrew poetry written in the 20th and 21st centuries. The session will focus on material reckoning with Judaism and contemporary life.


“The Jew in the Pow Wow: What Two Maine Tribes Can Learn from Each Other,” Michele Kriegman
You probably know that about 2 percent of the U.S. is Jewish. But did you know that 2 percent of the U.S. is also Native, with similar and dissimilar innovations for cultural transmission and connection? You are invited to participate in a thoughtful conversation about exile and indigeneity in Jewish life, kicked off by a presentation comparing both of the “two-percenters.” Michele Kriegman was adopted into an interfaith family, explored her Jewish tribe in her 20’s and 30’s, and discovered that her paternal heritage is Indigenous, which launched her on a two-year journey to learn about her other tribe, write a memoirish novel exploring these themes, and meet her lost Native family.

Sunday June 11, 2023

9:15-10:15 am


“Midrash Mishlei” Rabbi Carolyn Braun
Some of us are familiar with the tragic death of Rabbi Akiva as told in the Martyrology on Yom Kippur.  He was the Sage that was tortured to death while saying the Shema; dying while prolonging the word, echad, one.  Yet there is another version of Akiva’s death that is found in Midrash Mishlei, Midrash in the book of Proverbs. This version contains no violence.  Akiva dies silently in prison, while all the jailers are asleep.  In fact, it is Elijah the Prophet who finds him and tells others.  Our study and discussion of this midrash will deepen our experience around death and mourning.


“Story Maps of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” Lauren Cohen Fisher

Explore Israeli and Palestinian national narratives by doing a close reading of historical and contemporary maps of the region. Through this, we will discuss relationships to land, peoplehood, and power—and how map making is, in many ways, an art of story telling. This session is designed to examine multiple narratives of the region and present competing perspectives on a foundational conflict. All are welcome.


“What Matters: Caring Conversations about End of Life” Rabbi Melanie Levav of the Shomer Collective

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, “Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure, unless reflected upon in the face of death.” This session is an opportunity to learn more about the importance of advance care planning, supported by Jewish values. What Matters is a person-centered approach to helping individuals and families identify and express their goals and wishes around healthcare decision-making. Designed for adults at all stages of life, What Matters guides you through the process of selecting a healthcare proxy, clarifying your values as they relate to healthcare decisions, and to consider these issues in light of Jewish wisdom and practice.


“Jewish Migration and Memory in Maine” Eric Trinka

Throughout the history of the United States, Maine has been a site of both immigration and emigration. This session will begin with participant’s own recollection of migration memories from their past, whether from personal experience or the most ephemeral of family memories. With these memories of movement in mind, we will proceed to engage with historic and recent patterns of the ways religious identity and religious narratives influence the migration enterprise. Particular attention will be paid to scriptures and rabbinic perspectives that have served as resources of faith and identity in contexts of migration. 


The Creative Haggadah Art Show will be showing work from Asherah Cinnamon, Ellen Freed, Jillian Impastato, Kimberly Larlee, Sarah Meyer-Waldo, and Meryl Troop throughout the Conference. This cohort worked with Rabbinical Apprentice (now Rabbi) Nicole Fix to create works inspired by the historical discussions and commentaries that developed into our Haggadah and the ritual practices of Passover. Artists chose a section from the Haggadah to re-interpret and created original artwork based on their engagement with the text. (Please note that this art will be exhibited all weekend, but the artists are only speaking during this session.)


10:30-11:30 am

MJFF Screening and Talk with Executive Director Carolyn Swarz


“Jewish Refrigerator Poetry” Meryl Troop

This writing workshop will have you reflecting on Jewish life and your Conference experience. By using provided and improvised words, glue, and decorative papers you will create your own unique expression à la refrigerator poetry. Come play!


Torah in Translation,” Sarah Rockford

Most of us engage with Torah in English translation—but which translation? There are many of them, and each has a particular style and approach. In this session, we will look at the history of translating the Bible into different vernaculars, parse how different translators have chosen to communicate challenging and archaic biblical Hebrew passages and consider how their semantic choices have impacted our fundamental understanding of and culture around Judaism’s most sacred texts.  


“Death and Dying…All you Wanted to Know about Jewish Customs of Death, Funerals, and More,” Rabbi Gary Berenson

The session covers all aspects surrounding the death of a loved one. We will answer questions such as “What do I do if my loved one dies at home, whom should I call first, how do I plan the funeral, what are our customs about mourning, how can I arrange the burial, can I make pre-arrangements beforehand, how to I have a headstone made, and more.


All Recovery Meeting with Rebecca Bass

Whether you are in recovery yourself, considering recovery, or supporting someone in recovery, you are welcome to attend this meeting to share and discuss your experiences with substance use disorder.


11:30 – 12:30 pm 



12:45 – 1:15 pm

Closing ceremony 



When is the Conference?
The Conference will be held June 9-11, 2023, in Waterville.

Who should I contact with questions?
Melanie Weiss: [email protected]

How can I get updates on the Conference?
Like us on Facebook! You can also scroll to the bottom of this page and register for our monthly newsletter for program information

Housing and Transportation

Housing Information:

Dorm rooms at Thomas College are available for the entire weekend. If you would prefer to stay off campus, please make a reservation at one of Waterville’s hotels or B&Bs.

Other Hotels Include:

If coming by bus, Concord Coach does not run to Waterville over the summer. Only Greyhound provides direct service. However, Concord Coach does stop in Augusta year-round, and one can order a taxi from Augusta to Waterville.

Local Information

Colby is located on Mayflower Hill, overlooking the small city of Waterville, Maine, just 15 minutes north of Maine’s capital, Augusta. Waterville is home to 15,000 residents and boasts a downtown district that features a municipal auditorium (the Waterville Opera House), one of America’s great independent cinemas (three screens), and many locally owned businesses including restaurants, bakeries, retail stores, and a brewery. Visitors will also find a half-dozen hotels, two hospitals, a multiplex movie theater, and nationally recognized businesses—Starbucks, Home Depot, and many fast food chains—within city limits.