The Jewish Center of the Hamptons (JCOH) is a vibrant and active part of the East End Community. Hamptons.com recently spoke with Rabbi Joshua Franklin and Rabbi Debra Stein, who is the center’s cantor, about some of the ways they support the local community.
First, can you tell us something about the sanctuary, which is noted for its architecture?
Rabbi Franklin: Designed by Norman Jaffe, the sanctuary of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons was built in 1989. Even after more than three decades, the building continues to be one of the most inspirational Jewish worship spaces in the world. Jaffe had many inspirations in the design of the space, from creating a luminescent feeling of a tent softly lit by the sun, to an homage to Eastern European shtetel synagogues, to the shapes and lines of the synagogues forming the Hebrew letters for God’s name. Anyone who walks in feels the holiness inherent in the sanctuary, yet those who spend a great deal of time in the space come to discover hidden gems of symbolism embedded in the small details of the design and woodwork of the synagogue. The Jewish Center’s sanctuary has received a great deal of attention from the architecture community since being built, including winning several prestigious awards.
Since COVID started, we have retrofitted our sanctuary with a livestream system that enables people to Zoom into our services and take part in celebrating Shabbat together. Even as our building is now open once again to in-person attendance on Shabbat, many people still join us virtually along with those who have returned to the pews. A screen in the sanctuary enables those virtual participants to be seen by those physically there, as well as take part in receiving honors and leading sections of the service. Because so much of our membership may be in New York City and or Florida during the winter season, this hybrid model has allowed them to remain engaged in the community even when they are at a distance.
One of the most popular programs at the Jewish Center is our Shabbat on the Beach Service every Friday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day at Main Beach in East Hampton. Hundreds of people gather each week to celebrate, sing, dance, and be together in community. While this has been a Jewish Center staple long before COVID, it has become even more popular for families looking to enjoy a safe outdoor Jewish experience. There are families who never miss a Friday night on the beach, as it’s become such an integral ritual in their Hamptons Shabbat experience.
Over the past few years, we have expanded holding some of our High Holy Day services on the beach as well. This past Rosh HaShanah evening, our beach service drew over a thousand people to the beach for our most attended Rosh HaShanah evening service in our history.
You are very involved with supporting the community – can you tell us about some of the ways you serve the local community?
Rabbi Franklin: Members of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons have been actively involved in social action endeavors and serving our community since the inception of our community over sixty years ago. Serving our community and helping those in need is woven into the very fabric of our community. To this end, we work in partnership with many local community organizations to ensure that those who are most vulnerable among are taken care of. To share just a few of thing that’s we do: Each year, we partner with local farms (Balsam Farms and Share the Harvest Farm) for a program that we call “Gleaning,” in which our students harvest fresh produce that gets donated to local East Hampton food pantries. About a couple hundred pounds of produce are harvested and donated each time we glean.
In the past, we have harvested spinach, kale, butternut squash, and turnips. Around the Christmas holiday, our community sponsors several families at the Retreat, and fills their holiday shopping lists with presents and gift cards. All year long the food drive we run collects many tons of non-perishable food items for food pantries. Before COVID, we offered one of our community spaces as a homeless shelter in partnership with Maureen’s Haven; although we are not able to house people at the Jewish Center in recent years, our members still do volunteer at other Hamptons locations for Maureen’s Haven in cooking, cleaning, and serving at the shelter locations. Since COVID, we’ve had to adapt significantly to meet the changing demands of the community. Towards the very beginning of the pandemic, we helped start and support a program called East Hampton Eats with one of our members, Joe Rose. The program partnered with local restaurants to offer take-out meal vouchers for front-line workers and families in need. Several thousand meals from restaurants like Nick and Toni’s, 1770 House, Rowdy Hall, and Cittanova were given out and used within the first few months of the pandemic.
Rabbi Stein: Repairing the world is central to what we do. Everyone has a place in the world, and a right to be safe and fed.
For more info, visit Jcoh.org