Steve Shaw: Bringing Jewish Wisdom & Humor to Midcoast Maine
Rabbi Steve Shaw, one of CSC’s most popular instructors, describes living in midcoast Maine as “ the fulfillment of a dream.” The forests and water of Maine evoke for him the delight and contentment of his summer childhood days exploring the natural world in upstate New York. His passion for natural history, environmental studies, ornithology, botany, and forestry continue to this day. Before moving to Maine, Steve lived and worked in predominantly urban settings, and in a very different culture; now he feels he has found where he belongs. “Raised to value modesty,” Steve says, “I find Mainers unpretentious, friendly, and genuinely helpful.”
Beginning in the 1970s, Steve was involved with Jewish organizations as a consultant, administrator, and rabbi. For example, Steve worked with Elie Wiesel and Yitz Greenberg to found the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, was Hillel director at Rutgers University, a rabbi for a congregation in Rutherford, New Jersey, founded and di¬rected the Radius Institute at CUNY Graduate Center, and spent twelve years at the Jewish Theological Seminary as Director of the Department of Community Education. Most recently, just before moving to Maine in 2011, Steve spent almost six years working with Israel’s Bedouin community in the Negev desert.
Steve discovered his affinity for Maine first while attending the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science in Bethel in the early 1970’s and later working with Steve Kress and the National Audubon Society’s Puffin Project on Hog Island in Bremen. A desire to connect with others in genuine ways and a curiosity about the world and “those culturally like him and especially those culturally different from him” continue to inform his incredibly active life.
So how did Steve, a lifelong learner, become a CSC instructor? While dividing his time among New York, Israel, and Maine, Steve discovered Coastal Senior College. “The first year I took 8 courses.” A fellow student taking a class in ornithology, a CSC board member, noticed Steve’s intellectual curiosity and his knowledgeable and respectful engagement with both the instructor and other students. She asked if he would consider teaching a class. Initially Steve was hesitant; he wondered what he would teach. “Would Mainers be interested in classes on Judaism?” The response to his first class, “Exploring Jewish Life and Wisdom,” was an enthusiastic yes; over 30 people signed up. Steve’s love of learning, his genuine desire to connect with others, to share stories, and his sense of humor coalesced; he discovered that he truly enjoyed teaching.
This spring Steve has decided to offer a course called “Exotic Jewish Communities.” As a bar mitzvah gift he received the book A Pictorial History of the Jewish People. Steve marveled at the diversity of Jewish communities in Yemen, China, India, and other countries. “I’ve always been curious about the many different ways of being Jewish. I’m going to research this and communicate this knowledge to my students.”
What can students expect from Steve’s class? In the words of one of his students, “It’s remarkable how he blends a rich and idiosyncratic educational background with his life experiences, the creative way he uses film, and the many stimulating guest lecturers he brings to his classes. But what I think is the most important, and perhaps unique thing about Steve, is his genuine interest in others and his willingness to learn from any and all.”
– by Cathy Jewitt and Shelly Swazey