Along with sunscreen and a swimsuit, a growing number of local Jews are packing siddurim for vacations at the Jersey Shore.
While most vacationers travel to escape their lives at home, some area Jews want to remain connected to the Jewish community while at the beach. As a result, shore synagogues have expanded their offerings, serving as the nexus between ocean relaxation and Jewish life.
For more than a decade, Philadelphia synagogues have partnered with temples at the shore to sponsor “Devotion by the Ocean,” a Friday evening service on the beach in Ventnor. Led by rabbis from Shirat Hayam in Ventnor, the services include remarks from Philadelphia-area clergy. Past Philadelphia participants include Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, Adath Israel, Beth Sholom Congregation, Congregation Adath Jerushun and Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel.
The beach-side services typically occur three times a summer, with the next slated for July 7. Rabbi Jonathan Kremer of Shirat Hayam said the events transform services into an enjoyable part of a shore vacation.
“There’s a live band, and the visiting cantors play instruments with them. It’s relaxed and a lot of fun,” he noted.
The services tend to draw a large crowd, due in part to swollen shore town populations during summer months. Synagogues at the shore enjoy the added residents, Kremer said, noting, “attendance [at services] more than doubles during the summer.”
Beyond religious observances, shore synagogues like Shirat Hayam offer programming that takes advantage of the warm weather.
“We have a lot going on,” Kremer said. “Summer classes are here and also a lot of live music and fun events.”
Most events are open to the public, including an upcoming golf tournament and Shirat Hayam’s popular “Camp by the Bay” summer camp.
Further south, Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood is “the best kept secret in South Jersey,” according to Karen Burke, board president of the synagogue.
The only operational synagogue in Cape May County, Beth Judah embraces Jews of all religious practices in music-focused, interactive Shabbat services.
“Judaism takes many forms,” Burke explained, adding she was hesitant to categorize the synagogue as any one sect of Judaism.
Instead, Beth Judah serves those of all denominations.
“Our doors are open. We value diversity and want to bring people in,” she said, noting that short-term vacationers are included in that demographic.
Like most shore synagogues, Beth Judah notices a spike in attendance and engagement during the summer.
“In June, we did ‘Shabbat by the Water’ in North Wildwood. We had over 40 people come out,” Burke explained, which is notable because the synagogue only counts 62 members. Beth Judah will host other beach services in Wildwood July 28 and in Cape May Aug. 26.
Seaside Orthodox options include Chabad at the Shore, which operates the Chabad Ventnor Shul located at its Chai Center in Ventnor City. Also affiliated with Chabad at the Shore are Rodef Shalom Orthodox Synagogue in Atlantic City and Young Israel of Margate.
“We have no membership charge, so you can walk right in the door, and you’re family,” Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport of the Chabad Ventnor Shul said.
To encourage travelers to partake in Jewish life, Chabad at the Shore holds family friendly events throughout the summer. A recent comedy night offered a kosher meal and Jewish community to anyone wanting to attend. The highlight of Jewish family fun at the shore arrives annually with the Jewish Summer Fest, scheduled this year for Aug. 27.
The Chabad-sponsored event features amusement rides, craft tables, kosher food and live music on the beach in Ventnor.
The JCCs at the shore also provide ample entertainment offerings. In Margate, the Milton & Betty Katz JCC sponsors “Camp by the Sea” for children ages 2 through 16. Day passes to the Katz JCC are available for those looking to access exercise equipment and classes ranging from mahjong to aquatic Zumba.
On Long Beach Island, the JCC of Long Beach Island holds a free documentary screening and discussion group every month. The next viewing, scheduled for July 9, explores the connection between Broadway and Jewish life. In addition, the JCC offers Shabbat services and Sunday morning “Daven on the Beach” services, also free and open to the public.
Despite differing ideologies, all the organizations agreed Judaism can be an important part of vacation life.
Rapoport summarized this philosophy succinctly: “Summer time is a vacation time, but it shouldn’t be a vacation from Judaism.”