Tag Archive | "Temple Adas Israel"

Temple Adas Israel Seeks Cemetery Expansion

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By Stephen J. Kotz

Temple Adas Israel’s effort to expand its Chevra Kodetia Cemetery on Route 114 just south of Sag Harbor received a sympathetic hearing when it was unveiled before the East Hampton Town Planning Board on April 2, but board members nonetheless pointed out that a number of significant hurdles need to be overcome before it can be approved.

The key barrier to the congregation obtaining site-plan approval for the expansion is that the 1-acre property proposed for it, which the congregation purchased more than two years ago, is in a water recharge district, where clearing restrictions are stricter than for similar sized lots elsewhere to help protect the groundwater from pollution.

The situation is further complicated, said Miles Anderson, the Sag Harbor attorney representing the synagogue, this week because town law requires that burials must be done in sealed caskets, “which is against the Jewish faith,” if a cemetery is in a water recharge area.

Yet another twist to the application is that Suffolk County tax maps erroneously show the original Chevra Kodetia Cemetery as part of a larger, 6.3-acre parcel, which includes 5.3 acres owned by the Jewish Cemetery Association. In fact, the properties were legally split in 1891, Mr. Anderson told the planning board, with Temple Adas Israel owning only a 1-acre portion of the larger parcel.

In their initial review of the site-plan application, town planners erroneously thought the two cemeteries shared a single parcel. As a result, they overestimated the amount of land that could be cleared.

“Our current cemetery is practically filled. We have been looking for this opportunity for a long time,” Howard Chwatsky, a synagogue trustee and chairman of its cemetery committee, told the planning board. “We are here out of need. As they say, people are dying to get in.”

Mr. Chwatsky told the board that the two cemeteries were split in the 19th century because two groups of Jews, some from Hungary and some from Russia, did not get along and quipped that they were still fighting today.

This week, Rabbi Leon Morris of Temple Adas Israel took pains to stress that there was no animosity between the groups, “I do a lot of funerals in both cemeteries,” he said, adding that the different cemeteries were the result of different waves of Jewish immigration. “It’s akin to the differences between a Roman Catholic Church that is Irish and one that is Italian,” he said.

Of more pressing concern is whether the town will even allow the cemetery to expand because of limits it imposes on cemeteries in water recharge districts that require “caskets to be encased in watertight liners to restrict the entry of body decomposition and embalming chemicals into ground or surface water.”

Rabbi Morris suggested that when the town adopted those restrictions “it didn’t have in mind Jewish burial practice” in which bodies are not embalmed and buried in simple pine coffins. “Maybe the restrictions were based on the assumptions bodies would be embalmed and that a lot of toxic glues would be used in coffins,” he said.

A key now, he said, was determining how “arbitrary the lines are in demarking an area next to a historic cemetery” as a water recharge district. “We only purchased that land so we could increase the size of our cemetery,” he said.

Mr. Anderson told the planning board the synagogue would be happy to go before the town Zoning Board of Appeals. “We just need direction so we can get off square one,” he said.

“I see no reason why they can’t grant a variance,” he said on Tuesday. “The question is will they?”

Mr. Anderson added this week that he expects to meet with the town’s building inspector and planners in the coming weeks to discuss the application and what needs to be done to get it moving. “It is going to result in a catalog of issues we have to address,” he said of that meeting.

Board members said they wanted to work with the synagogue, but they had questions about a plan to provide access to the expanded burial ground via Six Pole Highway. That road now serves a single house and would have to be improved to provide access. Synagogue representatives said they did not envision heavy use. Rather, they said the access would be used during the development of the site, to allow backhoes to enter the property to dig graves, and allow hearses to get closer to gravesites.

Eric Schantz, the town planner assigned to the application, stated in an email on Tuesday that the planning board has the authority to issue a special exception permit that would allow additional clearing, provided the property meets a minimum size, but he added that he did not believe the synagogue’s property would meet that threshold and would likely require a variance from the ZBA.

Mr. Anderson said it was anyone’s guess why the county tax maps had never differentiated between the two, separately owned, cemeteries. “They were classified as one cemetery. Because nobody was paying taxes on it — and nobody was required to pay — it was overlooked,” he said.

A Sukka, Sag Style

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By Emily J. Weitz; Image by Erling Hope

Sukkot, which runs September 30 to October 7,  is considered the happiest holiday on the Jewish calendar, and for this year’s festivities, Temple Adas Israel has decided to throw its doors open to the whole community. The Sukka, an outdoor structure where all meals are meant to take place during the festivities, is the most distinctive part of the holiday, says Rabbi Leon Morris. And this year, Temple Adas Israel will unveil its beautiful new Sukka, designed by local architect Nilay Oza and local designer Erling Hope.

“Sukkot is the holiday of hospitality,” says Morris. “It’s part of the ‘It takes a village’ approach. We are sharing our tradition with the larger community, inviting people to participate on their own, and to share our joy.”

All activities throughout the week will take place in the new Sukka, which was designed sticking to Jewish legal requirements, with interesting aesthetic choices, like the unusual roofing.

“One of the rules,” says Oza, “is you can’t mechanically secure anything — so no screws. We took wide, thin pieces of wood and did a cross weave. We wanted the pieces of wood to be thin enough that you could see the light through them. Then, if you vault a ceiling it will have some strength, like an arch. This makes it self-supporting. It’s really simple.”

For a secular person like Oza, working on the Sukka was refreshingly spiritual.

“Whether you like it or not,” he says, “this is a spiritual construction. I understand that as an architect, a primary task, which borders on the spiritual, is to provide people shelter. I am emotionally tied to everything I do because I am providing people a home. That is very central. This was a way to connect with that. It was more than a job.”

But the construction of the Sukka is only the beginning. The structure will also be a work in progress, evolving as people from the community come and contribute to it. To that end, the temple has scheduled special community events daily throughout the week of Sukkot, including a screening of the award-winning Israeli film “Ushpizin,” a reading by local poets, a discussion with farmers from the East End, an evening of storytelling, jazz music and even a puppet show.

“Whenever someone comes,” explains Morris, “whether it’s for the poetry reading, the jazz concert, or the harvest discussion, they will create a panel that Erling Hope will then transform into the interior of the Sukka.’

“It will be a growing art project that the entire community will create,” he adds. “On the last day, we’ll have an open hut where people can come and see what was created over the course of the week.”

This communal aspect of building the Sukka and celebrating this holiday with the whole of the village is very much in line with the spirit of Sukkot.

“Even though this is a Jewish festival,” says Morris, “it’s always had a universal thrust to it. In the ancient temple in Jerusalem, over the course of the week, there were 70 bulls sacrificed, to represent the 70 nations of the world. The sacrifices were offered not just for Jewish people, but for all the world.”

So when Rabbi Morris and the members of the congregation started planning the weeklong celebration, it only made sense to draw on the abundance of the entire community.

“This holiday resonates with themes that speak to everyone who lives on the East End,” says Morris. “It’s about ecology, hospitality, universalism. It’s about getting in touch with how tied in to the earth we are and about getting in touch with our vulnerability.”

But he returns to the heart of the holiday, which is this element of joy.

“Some rabbis teach that what we accomplish on the High Holy days through tears,” explains Morris, “We accomplish on Sukkot through joy. Joy is no small aspect of religious life. It’s no small aspect of Jewish life, and I think it’s an aspect that some Jews on the periphery haven’t experienced how central the idea of joy is in Judaism. This holiday underscores that, and it’s something we can share with the larger community as well.”

This degree of inclusion, getting the whole community involved, is quite rare, said Morris. He said he does not feel there is a contradiction in being a devout Jew and being open to the whole community.

“They are not mutually exclusive principles,” he says. “The robust Jewish life that we experience personally and we share with our congregation is one that equally embraces and is non-judgmental. I think those are really complementary ideas, rather than contradictory. We’re so excited to share how relevant and meaningful Jewish life and traditions can be.”

Still, Morris attributes the plausibility of a collaborative project like this to the larger culture of Sag Harbor.

“This is a project that could only have come together as a result of our experience in living here,” says Morris. “This is a Sukkot with a Sag Harbor vibe.”

Celebrate Sukkot: The Jewish Harvest Festiva

Temple Adas Israel, 30 Atlantic Avenue, Sag Harbor. 725-0904.

Monday, October 1 -Screening of “Ushpizin” an Israeli film. 8 p.m.

Tuesday, October 2 -Poetry reading by Scott and Megan Chaskey, Pamela Kallimanis and Barbara Leff. 8 p.m.

Wednesday, October 3 - “A Day in the Life of Local Farmers” from Sunset Beach Farm and a sampling of squash soup. 8 p.m.

Thursday, October 4 - An evening of storytelling with local residents. 8 p.m.

Saturday, October 6 - Jazz concert with Bryan Campbell and friends. 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 7 - “Open Hut” viewing of the community Sukka. 3 p.m.

Putting the Fun into the Purim Holiday

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web Purim

By Emily J Weitz

If you’ve never celebrated Purim, you’re missing out on one of the best parties of the year. When Rabbi Leon Morris of Sag Harbor’s Temple Adas Israel dubbed it “Mardi Gras for Jews,” it pretty much summed up the feasting, storytelling, and overall joyful sentiment that accompanies Purim.

“On a very basic level,” says Morris, “it’s a topsy-turvy carnivale-esque holiday filled with laughter, parody, sweets, gifts and masquerade. On a deeper level, it’s about how to construct a life of faith in a world where God’s presence often appears to be absent.”

To honor both the lightness and the significance of Purim, the temples in the area are planning to honor the four mitzvot, or commandments, of the holiday in their own special ways.

The first mitzvah is the Reading of the Scroll of Esther, or the Megillah.

“Esther is the great heroine of this story,” explains Morris. “She risks her own life to intervene on behalf of her people and succeeds.”

Goldie Baumgarten of the Chabad in East Hampton adds that “Purim is a time that celebrates the victory of good over evil, the victory of the innocent being protected by God, and the importance of faith.”

In this spirit, Temple Adas Israel, the Chabad, and the Jewish Center in East Hampton will all have Megillah readings on Wednesday evening. The reading is one of the more serious of the mitzvoth, but Shelley Lichtenstein of the Jewish Center promises that “It will still be a fun evening, with celebration and chocolate.”

Esther’s great accomplishment in the Megillah is that she protects her people. But Rabbi Morris explains that “Esther is a complex and curious character. She is in many ways a ‘hidden Jew’,” he says.

“She is thoroughly assimilated into the culture of the country in which she lives, yet identifies with her people when the moment calls.”

The name Esther means “hidden,” and Morris says this refers not only to Esther’s hidden identity but also the fact that “God is hidden throughout this story, without God’s name appearing even once.”

Readings are an integral part of most Jewish traditions, as these texts have been passed down for thousands of years as a way to keep the stories alive. But just as important on Purim is the celebration – a different way to honor memory and history. At Temple Adas Israel, “Purim Fest” will include family activities and food for all. The energetic congregation has created a new way to celebrate this year, with a local beer tasting, co-sponsored by Edible East End.

“Purim is traditionally celebrated by drinking to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews in days of Mordecai and Esther,” says Morris. “In fact, in the Talmud it says that one drinks until he or she doesn’t know the difference between ‘Blessed be Mordecai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman’ (the villain of the Purim story). We thought a contemporary and local twist on this would be a local beer-tasting. This will encourage responsible drinking while sharing the joy of the holiday with one another.”

The Jewish Center will host its annual carnival in honor of Purim, and this year there will be a kids’ rock concert in addition to the usual face painting and balloon makers.

“Purim is a joyous time,” says Lichtenstein. “Kids are encouraged to dress up and be silly. It’s a big party.”

Of Rick Recht, the Jewish kids’ rock star that will perform, she says, “He uses Jewish prayers and text in contemporary form. The kids sing about doing good deeds and about Israel, and it’s really exciting. Each age level gets a song they sing on stage with him.”

The other two mitzvoth on Purim are making offerings to the poor and sending food to friends. The temples organize donations, with charities as local as the Sag Harbor Food Pantry (Temple Adas Israel) and as distant as a charity in Israel that brings a Purim dinner to those who cannot afford it (Chabad).

“It’s all in the spirit of bringing joy to each other,” says Baumgarten. “It’s a holiday of joy, celebration and salvation.”

All of the congregations are throwing their doors open wide to members of the community, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. To learn more about the Purim festivities in the area, check out the temples’ respective web sites. Chabad of the Hamptons is at www.chabadofeastend.com, Temple Adas Israel at www.templeadasisrael.com, and the Jewish Center of the Hamptons at www.jcoh.org.

Unplugging and Sharing Jewish Traditions

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web shabbat

By Emily J. Weitz

Built in to many religions is the opportunity to stop and pause. Whether this means a slow and easy Saturday or six weeks without meat, in some form or another it’s a reminder to take a break from our routines, and to give thanks. In the Jewish tradition, Shabbat is a weekly observation that begins at sundown on Friday and lasts 25 hours. The purpose is to unplug, to kick back, and to remember the bigger picture.

Leon Morris and Dasee Berkowitz, who head up Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, are young, hip, and fun. And they are taking my grandmother’s traditions and bringing them right into the context of the present day.

“Sometimes we are so enslaved to our iPhones we just can’t unplug,” says Berkowitz. “Shabbat is a part of that unplugging process.”

Shabbat doesn’t just mean swearing off devices. It’s the larger meaning behind that. Disconnecting from your iPhone means paying attention to the person sitting in front of you. Refusing to drive means walking and enjoying the brisk night. It means talking, relaxing, and existing in the present moment. That’s what Shabbat Around Sag Harbor is. It’s a chance to observe the evening in your own way, and to share it with family and friends of all faiths.

“The idea is to encourage people to celebrate Shabbat at home,” says Berkowitz. “It’s fun to do it while so many other families are doing the exact same thing… We’ll provide the ritual objects and foods like challah and wine and grape juice.”

The temple will be packing up boxes with homemade challah by Carissa, made of local organic wheat from Amber Waves farm. A bottle of wine, grape juice and two candles will set the mood. A sheet of traditional songs and blessings will be included. And there will be a pack of table teasers, note cards scribbled with interesting questions and provocative quotes to ignite conversation around the table.

Shabbat Around Sag Harbor will start at the temple this Friday, November 4 at 5 p.m. for the popular Shabbat Shaboom, a kids’ program with live music inspired by Shabbat that gets kids singing and dancing. During the summer, this program was held at the windmill by Long Wharf, and passersby were invited to join in. The open door policy holds true at the little temple on the hill. At 6 p.m., young families will probably head home and the general service for grown-ups will begin, and around 7:15 people will disperse to their own homes for dinner.

So what’s the difference between Shabbat and any other Friday night dinner party? The ritual aspect, explains Berkowitz.

“Doing a ritual that’s the same every week can give order and meaning and consistency to a person’s life,” she says. “To add prayers that have been said for generations, it’s a link back. This project [Shabbat Around Sag Harbor] is trying to elevate people spiritually in a different way than just kicking back. It’s the link to history, to ritual, to something beyond ourselves. It creates a space that feels different.”

Other rituals that are part of the Shabbat tradition include a blessing of children on Friday evenings, and a blessing that a husband would say to a wife. In more reform traditions, there are also blessings a wife says to her husband. It’s an opportunity to express gratitude.

“If we didn’t have a script,” says Berkowitz, “we might not take the time to offer that blessing.”

While people will all prepare their own delicious meals, traditional Shabbat foods include noodle kugel, roasted chicken, or chicken soup for Ashkanazi (German/Polish) Jews. In the more Eastern Jewish cultures, curries, coriander, lemons and olives are common. Meat is often eaten on Shabbat because many Jews couldn’t afford meat most of the week, and this was a way to elevate this night to feel special.

There’s a certain humility to observing Shabbat.

Berkowitz describes it as “making an island in time to not manipulate the world around us. We don’t even pick a blade of grass. We are not masters of our own world. One day a week we remember that we share the planet and we don’t control it.”

At a time when families get so wrapped up in their daily routines and their own obligations, Berkowitz believes that Shabbat represents a chance to “take a few minutes and eat delicious food and connect to each other and the larger community and that history.”

Tobi Kahn, Artist in Residence

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Tobi Khan

Temple Adas Israel’s guest artist in residence on reflecting spirituality in art, finding holiness and helping people live.

By Lucy De Souza

In your early years as an artist, you painted American landscapes. How have you evolved from painting landscapes to what you do now, art that reflects religion and contemporary science?

Well I’ve always been interested in the power of land. My early work was really about looking at landscape and simplifying it. I did that for many years and became fascinated with fractal geometry. In fractal, you start noticing that things repeat themselves in nature. My childhood closest friend, who is still my closest friend, is a scientist. Every summer his family and my family would go to Cape Cod and he had a place in Woods Hole. He would study electron microscopy and looking at cell formations. At the same time, I had a friend who would take me on these planes and look at aerial views. Because I was so interested in fractal geometry, I started looking for things in nature and in science that overlapped. I started to realized that landscape and cell formations looked very similar, especially if they were aerial views of landscapes. Then I thought of things that were related in science and in landscape. I’ve always been interested in creating sacred spaces. I’ve always been interested in religion and the art in healing. As the years went on, I always did more than one thing at a time…really, everything happened so organically.

What first influenced you to make these art pieces with these themes?

Well, I’ll tell you a story. I was 19 and I was in London and I saw a beautiful show of Turner, a very famous English artist. I told my then girlfriend, “One day I want to make inspiration like this.” [Walking into] that space, there were all of these beautiful landscape paintings with ships, huge skies and water; it felt like you were on a journey. I decided very early — I was just in college, I wouldn’t have even considered myself an artist at that time — I really wanted to make art that transforms the way you feel. I was very lucky that I did study in seminary for many years, I did a lot of studying of comparative religion, I lived abroad for four years and saw a lot of the world and I know that it impacted me greatly. Having a scientist as my best friend who has always pushed me to look at images in science really changed the way I look at the world and then meeting someone who is very interested in fractal geometry.

How would you say spirituality is expressed in art form?

I’m really interested in holiness, I’m very interested how art can take you to another place. That fascinates me…[For example] when you walk into one of [artist] Mark Rothko’s rooms or James Turrell’s rooms, there is a certain calmness that comes over you and that’s what I’m trying to do in my work. I think religion can be interpreted in many different ways. What interests me is how art can take you to a higher place. I understand that some people want to make art that’s political, but I’m really interested in the art of healing and art of meditation. That’s what my goal is, whether that happens all the time or people feel that, that’s up to them, that’s not really up to me. I do create ceremonial objects, paintings, sculptures, and with all of them, I want the same thing to happen, that the art transforms the way you think.

Would you say your pieces physically or emotionally represent spirituality?

I don’t like anything literal. I would never put a Star of David or a cross or a crescent moon, I’m not interested in images that people think of as religious. I’m much more interested in what’s in you as a person…One of my favorite articles ever about me was on a show at the Neuberger Museum and I had an installation of 80 paintings. A writer from the New York Times wrote they were very hard to write about because they were so abstract, that to him they were means for meditation. I felt like crying, I couldn’t believe he totally got what I was trying to do. And then the show got reviewed over and over again and everyone got it. I said to people that was one of the first times in my life where I felt like it worked, because everyone felt this great sense of calm. And that’s what I’m looking for in my work.

In the art you’ve done reflecting spirituality, you’ve made a collection of shrines. What is the meaning of it?

Well the first ones I did were just like little meditative spaces. I was very interested in looking at Torii Gates, those Japanese and Chinese meditative spaces or meditative rock gardens. And that together within the Bible, and the Torah, they talk about the Holy of Holies, where the high priest went in once a year. As a kid I read about that and I found that fascinating. So there is an amalgam of places like Stonehenge, Torii Gates in Eastern Philosophy and Religion and the Torah and the Bible in the Christian world; having a space to bring you close to something internal.

What kind of materials do you use primarily in these works?

I carve everything in wood, and then I very often cast it in bronze. I use paint, stone, bronze, canvas. I like doing spaces that you can actually walk into or around. There are spaces that I’ve done in the past that are 14 feet, 20 feet and you can walk around it. But I also do very small pieces that you can hold in your hand, which are ceremonial objects…I love wood because it’s natural, I love carving. Early in my career, I’d used to use clay but if I wanted to change things or add things, it was much harder. With wood, if I carve too much out of it, I can add a piece back on.

You’ve dedicated a lot of your time to teaching; why is it that you love teaching so much?

I love teaching because I think [living visually] is such a valid way to live. It is the way I live. I want to help people do that. And I think art for me is all about communication, I love a visual conversation, and the only way you can do that is if you engage in it…I think more people can enjoy things visually if they give themselves the chance, and I really like being the guide for that.

Do you have any input for artists who possibly want to create art like you have?

The most important thing is to be honest; whatever interests you is what you should do. Don’t wait for other people to tell you what you should do. I so deeply believe you are an amalgam of everything you are. You should embrace that, embrace who you are. Make work that comes straight from your inner being, whatever that is…I just think it’s a blessing and gift if you can make work that talks to other people, whatever the subject is matter is.

Temple Adas Israel will present Tobi Kahn in its first Artist in Residence weekend Friday August 12 through Sunday August 14. Mr. Kahn will speak at Shabbat Services on Friday August 12 at 8 p.m. on “What is Sacred Space?” On Saturday morning August 13 at 11:30 a.m. following 10 a.m. services and 11 a.m. Kiddush Mr. Kahn’s topic will be “Judaism and the Visual” an interactive discussion and text study. On Sunday morning August 14 at 10:30 a.m. Mr. Kahn will speak on “A History of Art” with a slide presentation. The community is welcome to attend all sessions. They are free of charge.

Cans Take on Religious Meaning at Hanukkah

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On Saturday evening inside Vered Gallery in East Hampton, Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten of Chabad East Hampton led a large gathering through the Havdalah ceremony, which marks the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath. And with this being the second night of Hanukkah, candles were lit to mark that occasion as well. But rather than sitting in a traditional Menorah, these candles were burning atop a Canorah, a carefully stacked collection of food cans built into the shape of a Menorah.

In fact, there were seven Canorahs of varying shape and design scattered throughout Vered, each one built by a different shul, synagogue or temple on the East End — the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, Chabad of Southampton, Chabad of East Hampton, Temple Adas Israel, The Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, Temple Israel of Riverhead and The Hampton Synagogue of Westhampton.

The Canorah project was organized by Rabbi Baumgarten and his wife, Goldie, as a way to support local food pantries during Hanukkah — the season of light.

“We decided it’s one way to help,” says Rabbi Baumgarten. “Hanukkah represents light — freedom from oppression. One little light dispels darkness. We felt through Hanukkah we can add light and feed the hungry.”

Rabbi Baumgarten notes that he has witnessed first hand the need for help on the East End. Since the financial meltdown, he says he has received many calls from people who are struggling to make ends meet, but often ashamed to admit their circumstances.

Over 500 cans of food were incorporated into Chabad East Hampton’s Canorah — and that food will help stock the shelves at the East Hampton Food Pantry when the Canorahs come down this Sunday at the conclusion of Hanukkah.

Though helping to feed the hungry is not a new mission for the East End Jewish organizations, what is new this time around is the fact that the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform organizations all collaborated.

“We all do food drives all the time, but there hasn’t been a movement wide project together,” says Leah Oppenheimer, director of the Hebrew School at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor. “All the movements coming together is unheard of.”

Oppenheimer and her students worked together to create the temple’s Canorah and she explains that helping others is a key component in her curriculum.

“We don’t use books, we learn through doing,” says Oppenheimer. “Any time I can get kids to think about other people, that’s a good thing.”

Oppenheimer adds that she often talks to her students about the need to take care of others in the community, regardless of their faith or ethnic background.

“The kids know this quite well and have heard it a hundred times,” says Oppenheimer. “Being a stranger in a new community is a terrible thing and we are obligated to take care of our neighbors.”

 “Everybody’s aware there are a lot of people struggling right now,” adds Oppenheimer. “Some at the temple are also volunteers at food pantry, and they can’t believe the need they see going through the door right now.’

Kids are always more aware of what’s going on around them than adults give them credit for, and Oppenheimer notes that they are not immune to noticing the difficult financial issues that are currently facing many in the community. She adds that when the Hebrew School collected coats for the Southampton Tire Center soup kitchen, near the 7-Eleven on North Main Street where day laborers gather in search of work, the kids were keenly aware of who they were helping.

 “Every kid in school has ridden past that intersection and seen the tire center soup kitchen,” says Oppenheimer. “They see those people out there are cold. It’s very personal to all of them.”

“We’re reminding kids to imagine what its like to be others.”

What the kids have learned through building the Canorah is not only the need to help those in the community who are hungry, but a little Hebrew as well. Instead of opting for a traditional menorah design, Oppenheimer and her students, who will give their food to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry come Sunday, decided to send a message for the season through their Canorah.

“We spelled ‘Shalom’ in Hebrew — which means both peace and hello,” explains Oppenheimer.

The Canorah also has a special portion that was constructed with Campbell Chicken Noodle Soup cans and inspired by the temple’s associate board member Mindy Cantor.

“She’s an art historian, and she wanted to do a tribute to Andy Warhol,” explains Oppenheimer.

The Canorahs will be remain on view at Vered Gallery (68 Park Place Passage, East Hampton) through Sunday, December 20. A special reception will be held this Saturday, December 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the gallery and visitors are asked to bring along a donation for the food pantries. 

Religious Reading — Interfaith book fair helps build home libraries and communities

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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. 

“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 café, 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.” 

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. 

“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.