Categorized | A Conversation With

Rabbi Jan Uhrbach

Posted on 11 July 2013


By Ellen Frankman

The rabbi of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons talks about relocating the congregation to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork Meetinghouse and the evolution of its congregation.

What brought about the decision to relocate the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons?

There were two things. Sag Harbor has gotten more and more expensive and it became prohibitive for us to find housing within the village of Sag Harbor because my religious commitments require me to be able to walk to services on the Jewish Sabbath. The second thing is that the summers have been getting hotter. Our space at Old Whaler’s isn’t air conditioned, and for a long time it really wasn’t an issue. There were one or two days a year when it was hot and we put on fans and we dealt with it. But the last couple of summers there were people who could not come to services because they couldn’t breathe in the heat. So we were really faced with a couple of difficult choices on figuring out what to do.

How did you decide on the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse?

We started looking at what the possibilities were and Reverend Alison Cornish, who is the outgoing reverend at the Meetinghouse, mentioned to me that they had this beautiful building that was air conditioned if we ever needed it. And so this winter we got our boards involved, and it seemed like a move we could make. It’s not within walking distance of the village so the housing stock is less expensive and we could afford to do what we’re doing.

What else were you looking for in a space that the Meetinghouse offered?

We also cared very much about making sure that this isn’t just about sharing space, that we share certain values. Obviously we have very different ways of worshipping and we come from different religious and spiritual traditions, but our values are very compatible. That’s important to everybody, it’s important to them and important to us, as it was at the Old Whaler’s. We felt very at home there, and spiritually we feel very at home here as well.

How has the congregation handled the move?

I feel so proud of our community all the time. We have the most wonderful people, and this was an example. Change is hard and in many communities a change like this would have come with a lot of hand wringing and frustrations and accusations and bad behavior, and that’s the nature of communal life. We sent out a notice to our community some time in January saying that this was something we were thinking about and these were the reasons we were thinking of doing it and we sought input. We got the most beautiful responses from our congregation; it was just so heartwarming. And since we’ve been here I think people have just been delighted.

Has CSH ever considered building a space of its own?

There’s been a lot of pressure, more so from outside the community than within the community to build our own temple. People tend to define the success of any congregation on the building, but we’ve always resisted that pressure. It’s in part because this is not an inexpensive market to build and it would require a level of fundraising that we feel is really not the best use of that money. With all of the needs that people have, to put more money into brick and mortar for a building that would mostly sit empty during the week, it feels wrong. There’s an affirmative benefit of communities coming together and sharing resources, so that it’s not a compromise, it’s a blessing to everybody.

What’s been the hardest part of the move?

We’ve been at the Old Whaler’s Church for a very long time and it’s been a wonderful relationship. Nobody in our community wanted to leave. The most difficult part has just been the sadness of leaving. And that’s a wonderful problem to have to go from one place that you love to another place that you love and miss the one you’re not at. That’s a good problem.




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