Leah Oppenheimer is excited to be a community builder. As the Hebrew School Director at Temple Adas Israel, she has breathed new life into the facility, turning what has traditionally been home to a summer congregation into one that serves Jewish families year around. These days the temple bustles after school with children of all ages singing songs, reading religious texts and engaging in discussions about their faith.
Now Oppenheimer is hoping to create a truly multifaith community in Sag Harbor.Â
“There’s a movement in Judaism to reach out and be inclusive — to start really talking across the lines,” says Oppenheimer. “Partly it’s because there are so many interfaith families these days.”
Oppenheimer’s mission got a boost when she joined a Sag Harbor group that meets to study the life of the late Thomas Merton, a Catholic mystic and a proponent of inter-religious understanding.
“The group meets around his writings,” she says. “It’s just a starting point to be in God’s presence in our own particular ways — and isn’t that what interfaith is all about?”
“It was all Catholics and me,” she adds. “But I love this group and thought why can’t we make it bigger?”
To that end, Oppenheimer has organized an Interfaith Book Fair to be held at the temple this Sunday, November 16 from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The fair is co-hosted by the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church with support from Canio’s Books and Oppenheimer notes there will be something for everyone — children and adults — regardless of faith. Among the offerings are titles on family life, religious tradition, the Bible, Kabbalah and mysticism.
“There will be three presses — Scholastic with their line of Jewish and Christian children’s books and cookbooks, Jewish Lights Publishing, which has a lot of books on interfaith subjects and advanced Jewish political thought, and Canio’s with books of poetry, Catholic mysticism and nature.”
The fair will also feature a cafÃ©, handmade jewelry and a bake sale led by the Hebrew School students to help build a small lunch program for the CDCH charter school. While the fair will offer residents an opportunity to stock up on often hard to find spiritual books, Oppenheimer notes the real goal is to build community.
“More people are talking and that’s a good thing,” she says. “You define yourself by being in conversation with others.”Â
In January, Oppenheimer will start an interfaith group at the temple for mothers raising Jewish children — an important topic given the number of couples who come from different faiths.Â
“That’s what I love about Judaism,” says Oppenheimer, who converted to the religion at the age of 22. “When I converted I was anxious that I had to excise Christianity from my soul. But the rabbi said, ‘You are who you are — that’s what makes you an amazing Jew — you bring gifts to the religion.’”
Temple Adas Israel is at Atlantic Avenue and Elizabeth Street in Sag Harbor.