We Urge Susan Collins to Support the Equality Act

By unanimous vote of the Board of Directors, Congregation Beth Israel urges Senator Susan Collins to provide her support for the current Equality Act.  We ask her to set aside unnecessary concerns over transgender sports participation and “religious liberty.”

As a religious institution, we see no real threat to religious liberty by affording federal workplace protections to LGBTQ+ citizens.

We recognize Senator Collins’ past commitment to LGBTQ issues, such as ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and her work against the Defense of Marriage Act, and hope that she continues to sustain her legacy of support for these fundamental rights.

Our Letter to Senator Susan Collins (PDF)

Support for LD 187 – An Act to Require Education about African-American History and the History of Genocide

The Board of Directors of Congregation Beth Israel voted unanimously to send a letter to the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs in support of this legislation.  Our community encourages the state of Maine to make both African-American History and the History of Genocide a mandatory component of public school curriculum.

Letter (PDF)

LD 55 An Act To Protect Minority Religious Groups by Eliminating the Prior Approval Requirement

Our President submitted the following testimony for LD 55:

As President of Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine’s oldest extant Jewish house of worship, and as a parent of school-aged children, I am voicing my strong support for LD 55, “An Act to Protect Minority Religious Groups by Eliminating the Prior Approval Requirement for a School Absence for a Recognized Religious Holiday.”

Being a member of a minority faith in an area that is predominantly Christian always carries with it certain impositions. One of them is experienced the most by our children. Our religious observances, just as it surely is for other minority faiths, are simply not convenient for the academic endeavors of our children.

One of the onerous burdens that this bill would absolutely relieve is the requirement that a student and parent(s) receive “prior approval” for a religious observance. First and foremost, it’s easy to forget that we must do this. For many of us who have moved from areas where there is a greater presence of religious minorities, this requirement can be quite shocking.

Secondly, it creates a sense of state-reinforced “otherness,” in that we must prevail upon a system of government for permission for us to conduct ourselves in accordance with our faith, with possible criminal penalty if we do not. This is a very significant intrusion on our rights under the Establishment Clause.

Third, that same otherness helps foster social stigmas for our children, many of whom are already uncomfortable as members of a minority faith. Finally, should we fail to obtain prior approval, our children do not receive the benefit of academic accommodation for our observances. This is egregious, and LD 55 will remedy this circumstance.

There should never be a penalty for religious observance of any kind in the United States of America and the great state of Maine. LD 55 will rectify the very damaging status quo.

Sincerely, Brian Kresge, MBA, MCSD
President Congregation Beth Israel
144 York St
Bangor, ME 0440

Justice Melville Fuller Statue

Most know that Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the auspices of “separate but equal.”  This of course promulgated Jim Crow legislation throughout the South.

Chief Justice Melville Fuller, a native of Maine, presided over Plessy v. Ferguson, voting with the majority.  Justice Fuller’s complicated judicial tenure also included Lochner v. New York, in which a Court majority determined that states could not enforce wage and hour restrictions on businesses.

A descendant of Melville Fuller donated a statue of the controversial Justice in front of the Kennebec County Courthouse.

To our Board of Directors, the long-term effects of Plessy and Justice Fuller’s nativist bent should disqualify him from a position of veneration in front of a house of justice.  We take no position on the disposition of the statue, as Justice Fuller role is clearly one of historical value to his descendants and the state of Maine, just that it has no place in front of a government institution where equality before the law is of utmost importance.

Our Board voted unanimously to send letters to Kennebec County Commissioners, urging them to relocate (not destroy) the statue.

Letter to the Kennebec County Commissioners (PDF)

“Racism is my high school experience.”

These were the shocking words of Kosi Ifeji, a student in Bangor schools.

Members of Congregation Beth Israel are no strangers to the sting of discrimination. From our earliest presence in the Bangor area through to today, we’ve felt the same sting of racism.

Our Social Action Committee lead the charge in a local effort to organize in support of these students. We drafted the letter that was ultimately undersigned by numerous members of the faith, business, and academic community. Members of our congregation helped present the letter, or find signatories.  Our Board of Directors voted unanimously to put our name to this letter, and many congregants, members of our executive committee, and Rabbi signed on.

We realize that racism and bigotry aren’t solved with a mere letter. Congregation Beth Israel considers it of significant importance to remain vigilant as an ally to and advocate for POC in the same way they’ve stood with us over the years.

An Open Letter to Our Community: A Call to Action for Our Schools (PDF)