A few Philadelphia-area synagogues have taken advantage of the summery location of these synagogues and formed partnerships to hold services together as congregations, bringing their shuls to the shore.
The soothing sound of waves crashing onto the shore. Delicate sand castles rising from the surface. Seagulls squawking “Mine!” as they search the sand for scraps (what the seagulls say in Finding Nemo is factual, right?).
This might sound like the backdrop of a family day at the beach, but it’s also the setting of a popular spot for Shabbat services during the summer.
Well, at least it is for synagogues already housed in popular beach towns such as Ventnor and Margate, N.J.
A few Philadelphia-area synagogues have taken advantage of the summery location of these synagogues and formed partnerships to hold services together as congregations. These relationships have allowed synagogues to bring their shul to the shore.
Starting in July, Congregation Beth Judah (though by press time is now called Shirat Hayam as a result of a merger with Margate synagogue Temple Emeth Shalom) will hold its first of three sets of Devotion by the Ocean, Kabbalat Shabbat services that are co-sponsored by Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Philadelphia.
“We have the beach right here. We have the ocean right here, When we have good weather, it’s fabulous,” said Rabbi Jonathan Kremer of Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor.
While this will only be his third year participating in Devotion by the Ocean (his first was actually on his very first Friday as rabbi at the synagogue), he is looking forward to sharing in the Shabbat experience with others.
“Bringing services and that time of day of nature together is just unbeatable,” he said.
And it has benefits for congregants of both synagogues, aside from the chance to maybe get a little more tan.
“What it does for both congregations is it reenergizes and reinvigorates,” he said. “Each [of the congregations] has a new batch of people to come up with ideas and implement them. We have the option of checking out a different kind of service and we have more people to learn with, learn from, and as with anywhere or most places, there’s strength in numbers.”
The idyllic backdrop sets it apart from other Shabbat services each congregation holds. That might be why people are inclined to come out for Devotion by the Ocean.
“Any service is purely voluntary, and this one people look forward to,” he said. “There’s a six-or-more piece band leading the musical part, it’s various rabbis offering meditations or explanations or Torah teachings that touch on where we are, the beauty of the beach of the shore and the endless waves — just being out in God’s world.”
This isn’t the first time Devotion by the Ocean is taking place, but the synagogue has partnered with several other area synagogues before, as well. While he isn’t sure exactly when it started, he does know it was “long before” he started there.
But the notion of Devotion by the Ocean and teaming with different synagogues provides a unique experience for all those participating. It’s what Kremer looks forward to for each service.
“The camaraderie of other people who share the same spiritual values or stride for the same spiritual fulfillment, and this is one of the ways to seek it. And it’s when more people are singing and participating, it’s that much more rich,” he said.
“There’s a diversity in melody,” he continued. “Many of the melodies will be familiar, but there are some that will be new to a lot of people and to me that’s also exciting. You get to hear and learn something other than what you’re used to.”
They will hold three Devotion by the Ocean services during the summer, July 8, July 29 and Aug. 26. Provided the weather holds out, services are held right on the beach. If not, they’ll be held inside of Beth Judah/Shirat Hayam.
Meanwhile, Beth Judah’s new counterpart Temple Emeth Shalom in Margate has teamed up with Main Line Reform Temple for the past four years. Rabbi David Straus can’t remember if he called Temple Emeth Shalom’s Rabbi Stuart Geller or if Geller called him to get the shul Shabbat sharing started.
“What we’ve done is once a year during the summer, we gather at their synagogue and then walk to the beach,” Straus said.
The 45-minute service is conducted on the beach, though last year was the first time they were actually able to do that because previous years brought lots of summer rain. Not so great for standing in the sand.
But 2015’s weather made up for it from what Straus recalled of the “magical” evening.
“Last year, it was a gorgeous summer day and, as we were concluding services, there were dolphins jumping out of the water,” he remembered.
About 70 or so people show up for services, he said, and they’ve gone back to the synagogue afterward to enjoy a Shabbat dinner together, which is cooked at Emeth Shalom’s facilities.
The appeal is that it’s a way for congregants to still enjoy Shabbat, even if they — like many Philadelphians — have crossed the bridge and headed to the shore for the weekend, or even the whole summer.
“If they can’t come to the synagogue, we can bring the synagogue to them,” Straus said. “It’s a way to celebrate Shabbat and connect with each other.”
The connection is an important one for Straus, as Shabbat embodies that idea.
“It’s about consciously creating community and connections,” he said, “so this is a way to create community and connection among the congregation and their families who spend some, if not all, of their summer at the shore.”
Another plus, he said, is sharing a Shabbat dinner together in a synagogue.
“I don’t know many people with a home big enough to accommodate 70 to 80 people,” he joked. “This is a nicer setting.”
He is looking forward to their services on July 8 and continuing the tradition and hoping for good weather — maybe even some dolphins.
“Shabbat services can always be fun,” he said, “but [the beach] is a place, in terms of the setting, it’s a gorgeous place to be together and watch the sunset and hear the waves. And it’s nice to be able to be with other Jews and partner with a fellow Reform congregation.
“It’s fun to spend a day at the beach.”
Contact: email@example.com; 215-832-0740