Tag Archive | "Temple Adas Israel"

Sag Harbor’s Interfaith Museum Brings Students Together

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Heller_Adas Israel Interfaith Museum Exhibition Prep 3-16-15_7848_LR

Students worked on signs for the upcoming Interfaith Museum Exhibition at Temple Adas Israel, which opens this Sunday. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic 

For over a decade Leah Oppenheimer has been trying to find a way to further incorporate Hispanic families into the larger East End community, and now this Sunday her efforts will be unveiled at the opening of Sag Harbor’s new Interfaith Museum.

For the past three weeks, Sunday school students from the Vida Abundante Church in Wainscott have been joining the Monday evening Hebrew School classes at Temple Adas Israel to learn about the similarities between local Jewish and Hispanic lives, families and religions. This Sunday, March 22, from noon to 2 p.m., the synagogue will hold the grand opening of the museum, which will feature work and projects done by the children over the past month.

“I’ve been working on the issue of Hispanic families being so isolated here for over a decade as I saw the population increasing,” Ms. Oppenheimer said in a phone interview on Monday.

The Hebrew School worked with Head Start,  which runs pre-kindergarten programming in Bridgehampton. “But it didn’t get the kids involved,” Ms. Oppenheimer said.

“It didn’t help the kids to get to know each other,” and that, she believes, is the key to bringing people together.

According to Ms. Oppenheimer, Long Island has some of the most segregated school districts outside of Louisiana. “The East End is more integrated than most,” she said, but there is still much improvement to be made.

Ms. Oppenheimer was at a conference at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a living memorial to the Holocaust, in Manhattan, when she heard of a museum program with Jewish and Muslim youths, designed to teach similarities, explain the differences and dispel rumors.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for!” Ms. Oppenheimer said to herself when she heard about the program.

Someone in the temple’s congregation provided funding, and plans for the Interfaith Museum were developed and quickly fell into place. Ms. Oppenheimer has been working with Pastor Oswaldo Palomo of the Vida Abundante Church on the program, and for the past three weeks the temple has hosted “workshops” during which students get to know each other and learn about each other’s lives.

Adriana Leon, who teaches Sunday School at the Vida Abundante Church, said that in her 11 years here, this is the first time her students have been involved in any interfaith programs. “They’re really enjoying it,” she said of the children.

Ms. Oppenheimer said that during the first workshop the kids instantly hit it off. “They were all on the floor making posters together—it took about five and a half seconds.”

“The first week we just got to know one another and the kids made posters about themselves and in groups,” she explained. The posters revealed to the children that they had more in common than they thought, including what seems to be a global love for pizza.

Last Monday, each student brought in a treasured item from his or house—one child, for example, brought in a framed picture of his dog—and during the workshop they made professional museum display cards for each item.

The last workshop on Monday, March 16, began with the screening of a short video about early Latin American immigration to the United States. Ms. Oppenheimer’s husband, Dr. John Oppenheimer, then came in to tell the story of his father’s emigration from Germany before World War II.

All of the hard work will be on display this Sunday during the grand opening.

“I’d like to think of a way to do more of it next year. But this Sunday is our fiesta,” Ms. Oppenheimer said.

“It’s the essence of being Jewish, learning how to help the stranger in your midst. And it’s a major Christian ideal too,” Ms. Oppenheimer added.

“I think we’ll find a way to do more of this.”

The Interfaith Museum will have its grand opening on Sunday, March 22, from noon to 2 p.m. at Temple Adas Israel, located on the corners of Elizabeth Street and Atlantic Avenue in Sag Harbor.







Two Artists Share Common Themes in Temple Adas Israel Show

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Catherine Silver. Toil and Trouble. Jewish Mystic 2012.

Catherine Silver. Toil and Trouble. Jewish Mystic 2012.

By Annette Hinkle

Catherine Silver. Erruptions in the night Encaustic on wood copy.

Catherine Silver. Erruptions in the night Encaustic on wood copy.

Religious art isn’t something that most galleries specialize in — but at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, religious themed art is not only encouraged… it’s required.

The temple’s gallery space consists of three walls in the large meeting room just inside the building’s main entrance. Ann Chwatsky, a member of the temple’s art committee, curates the space and she explains that in order to exhibit at the temple, an artist’s work must relate to Judaism in some apparent way.

“This is a gallery space, but it’s not one people come to visit off the street,” explains Ms. Chwatsky. “Rather people come in when they’re here for services.”

“My goal is to communicate in an artistic way some Jewishness to add to the experience,” she says. “So far, it’s been really interesting and there’s always something on view.”

The work of two temple members, Barbara Freedman and Catherine Silver, is currently on view “Two Artists — Common Themes” at the temple. The show officially opens with a wine and cheese artist reception on Sunday, October 26 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Both artists divide their time between New York City and the East End, and took part in art workshops focused on Jewish text at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El in New York where Leon Morris, Temple Adas Israel’s former rabbi, was once director. Though their artistic styles are strikingly different, Ms. Freedman and Ms. Silver both use Hebrew text in their work as well as imagery reflective of Jewish tradition, mysticism and history.

“Both of them are looking to explore their own relationship to their religion artistically,” says Ms. Chwatsky. “The art helps you to understand more about not just your past but your religion.”

Barbara Freedman. Horizontal Texts 8 x 11

Barbara Freedman. Horizontal Texts 8 x 11

That is certainly true of Ms. Freedman whose work is dominated by collages comprised of various historical, traditional and religious imagery.

“In many of these images, I take photographs and then I bring them together in Photoshop which is everyone’s favorite device,” explains Ms. Freedman. “I paint a background that I photograph then add and subtract images and color and anything that appeals to me — a flower, or piece of text — and collage them.”

To find historic text for her work, Ms. Freedman visited the library at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York where she was permitted to photograph Hebrew on papyrus sheets.

“They had been rolled up for years and never put in a book,” says Ms. Freedman who notes it wasn’t the meaning of the words that inspired her, but rather the visual nature of the texts themselves.

“They have a kind of curl to them. These were just art objects on beautiful paper,” she says. “They were found 100 years ago and very ancient and I was just fascinated.”

Other works by Ms. Freedman’s in this show reference a different kind of history — her own.

A box of old family photographs and mementos were the inspiration behind collages that share a very personal view of the past. One features a photograph of Ms. Freedman’s father along with his personal worship items — his prayer book, tallit, and his tefillin (leather straps inscribed with Torah verses worn by observant Jews during morning prayers).

“The teffilin is made of animal skin and through the years, it had all dried up,” explains Ms. Freedman. “I put the teffilin on the scanner and it picked up the edges of the leather bindings. It had shredded over time and I thought it was just so artistic.”

“I associated it with my dad because it must have been something he used when he was young and didn’t use later,” explains Ms. Freedman who was brought up in a decidedly less conservative religious tradition. “My parents loved the old traditions but they didn’t necessarily practice them in the way they had learned as children.”

Jewish identity is also an important aspect in the work of Catherine Silver. Like Ms. Freedman, Ms. Silver also works in collage, but her medium includes oils, pastels and an intriguing amount of encaustic — beeswax built up in layers. The result is extremely textural work that is chock-full of historical references and dense with imagery.

Ms. Silver notes some of her art was inspired by the text workshops at Temple Emanu-El, but she also draws inspiration from Israel, which she visits often.

“I also define myself as a feminist and some of the themes in my work are feminist,” she says. “It’s a different aspect of women’s identity, religiously speaking, and about finding one’s space.”

When asked about her own religious identity, Ms. Silver responds by saying, “I enjoy different kinds of Judaism. I enjoy Hassidim and go to their services from time to time, I also enjoy the orthodox and the reform service. They are all different in different ways.”

And while Hassidim practice separates the genders during services — hardly a model most modern feminists would embrace — Ms. Silver notes she finds the practice compelling in that is so deeply rooted in historical tradition.

And tradition is ultimately what it’s all about — whether that means preserving it or discovering it.

“My family was in Mexico during the war. My father was a French diplomat there in 1939 and when war broke out he decided to stay in Mexico,” explains Ms. Silver who grew up there and in France.

“My own Jewishness was only made clear and discovered when I was 12,” she adds. “So it has been a search for my roots and the art is part of my search.”

“Two Artists — Common Themes” opening reception is Sunday, October 26 from 4 to 6 p.m. Temple Adas Israel is at 30 Atlantic Avenue, Sag Harbor. Call (631) 725-0904 for details.

Rabbi Morris and Family Depart for Jerusalem

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Berkowitz-Morris Family Photo

Rabbi Leon Morris, his wife is Dasee Berkowitz and children Yael, Shalva and Tamir. Photography by Rob Chron.
By Karl Grossman

In January, Rabbi Leon Morris wrote to his congregants at Temple Adas Israel, informing them of his decision to move, with his family, to Israel. And next week, the rabbi and his wife, Dasee Berkowitz, who has been integral to the education program at the Sag Harbor synagogue, and their children, Tamir, Yael and Shalva, will depart for Jerusalem.

There, Rabbi Morris will be a vice president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. From Temple Adas Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation on Long Island, he will be joining an organization that describes itself as “a center of transformative thinking and teaching that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevates the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.”

For 15 years, Rabbi Morris has been rabbi at Temple Adas Israel, for the past four as the first full-time rabbi in its 118-year history.

“Rabbi Morris has become the pied piper of Sag Harbor,” said Temple Adas Israel President Neal Fagin, an engineer from Sag Harbor. Rabbi Morris has “taken our temple” from a limited mostly vacation season synagogue “to one where there are activities every day all-year round. We leave our shabbat services with a smile. When Leon conducts his last service, there will be smiles but not a dry eye.”

Dr. Perry Silver speaks of how “since our first meeting, I have never seen Rabbi Leon Morris without an open heart and a broad welcoming smile on his face. I once confided to Leon that I doubted the existence of God. Leon then said to me: ‘Here’s a million dollars, now make me an apple!’ I capitulated,” said the Sag Harbor dentist.

Members of the temple say Rabbi Morris has been transformative figure in their lives.

“Before meeting Leon, my spirituality and religious observance was sitting on a shelf gathering dust and aging none too gracefully, said psychiatrist Brad Tepper of Noyac. “Through Leon’s ever-present compassion, empathy and love, I felt brave enough to dust off a part of my soul and with his nurturance, allowed it to grow.”

My life has been transformed by Leon’s presence at Temple Adas Israel,” said Julie Tatkon Kent of Sag Harbor, a social worker and former New York Police Department officer. “Although I was born a Jew, I was raised a Christian.” Rabbi Morris “reconnected me to my Judaism with his compassion, his kindness and love—and his passion for being a rabbi.  He is a true teacher. He is a gentle soul. Leon Morris is my spiritual hero.” She accompanied him on a recent trip to Israel, and “it was there, in Israel, I saw, I felt, I knew—Leon is an Israeli.”

It’s “a very idyllic life we’ve had in Sag Harbor,” related Rabbi Morris in an interview about a village noted for being charming, picturesque, a magnet for writers, artists and other creative people.

Still, as he wrote in a recent Temple Adas Israel newsletter: “Israel stands at the center of our Jewish lives. Not only does Israel represent a singular opportunity in modern Jewish history; it represents a renewal and rebirth for the Jewish people.”

“Israel,” Rabbi Morris wrote, “is the one place where we can make something concrete from Jewish ideas and values that were largely theoretical for 2,000 years. There is nothing theoretical about a state, and about a society. Israel gives us the opportunity to build something out of those ideas and values…. It is a living laboratory of Jewish life.”

Rabbi Morris is originally from Connellsville, Pennsylvania, a small town 57 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Two sets of great-grandparents started stores there. In high school, the only Jew in his class, he was “very open about being Jewish.” And although his family wasn’t observant, he sought to be. As a youngster, “I asked my mother to light candles on Friday evening.” He was driven to services at the nearest synagogue, 30 miles away.

At the University of Pittsburgh, he majored in religious studies, spent a semester at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and backpacked in 1989 through eastern Europe, visiting “endangered Jewish communities.”

And between college and rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he worked with the Jewish community of Mumbai, India, as a Jewish Service Corps volunteer for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

On a return visit to Mumbai in 2003, he met Dasee Berkowitz, who was doing educational work there. A Barnard graduate with a master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew University, Ms. Berkowitz’s mother is from the Baghdadi Jewish community that came to Calcutta in the 18th and 19th centuries. A Massachusetts native, she had been living in Israel for a decade. They married in 2005.

After being ordained a rabbi at Hebrew Union, Rabbi Morris for three years was director of New York Kollel: A Center for Adult Jewish Study, and then he founded and for 10 years was executive director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

He succeeded Rabbi Paul Steinberg as rabbi of Temple Adas Israel. Rabbi Steinberg, in a long succession of part-time rabbis at the synagogue, was otherwise vice president of Hebrew Union. In his last of 20 years at Temple Adas Israel, Rabbi Steinberg would have Rabbi Morris substitute for him at times.

In 2010, Temple Adas Israel made a commitment to having a full-time rabbi and Rabbi Morris, Dasee and their first child, Tamir, moved to Sag Harbor from Manhattan. Rabbi Morris and Dasee immersed themselves in making the temple a bustling, busy full-time synagogue.

Indeed, the rabbi gives enormous credit to his wife for much of its growth. “Dasee has been much more than the rabbi’s wife,” he said. “The biggest, most important change” at Temple Adas Israel has been the drawing in of “families with small children as part of the congregation” and initiatives such as a pre-school program and a mothers’ network. “That’s all Dasee,” he said. The “young families are the ones that are going to drive the character of the synagogue.”

Margaret Bromberg, who has been involved with Temple Adas Israel since she was 10 years old, growing up in Sag Harbor in the 1950s, and is a former president of the congregation, said that when she retired as a social worker a few years ago, “one of my goals was to be available for more observance of various Jewish holidays.”

She added, though, “I was uncertain that a full-time rabbinical presence was going to be good for me, for our community. After all, for as long as anyone could remember, Temple Adas Israel had never had a full-time rabbi. This meant that we were somehow free from the authority which a rabbi might bring to various individuals’ daily, weekly, monthly, or perhaps, even annual observance of Jewish law and customs…Rabbi Morris has, in a quiet, gentle, unassuming way, made it possible for me to approximate my initial goal.”

Sag Harbor real estate broker David Weseley, who was “lucky to be on” the trip to Israel with Rabbi Morris speaks of how “through his leadership we met with many agents of change in Israel, learned a ton about the country and its people, had many moments of spiritual discovery and sharing, opened up in surprising ways to each other, and came home as a vibrant and energized group. Not coincidentally, what was accomplished on this trip reflects so many of Leon’s outstanding skills and qualities:  he is an educator, scholar, spiritual leader and consummate community builder. Leon is that remarkable combination of brilliant and charismatic and warm and above all considerate.”

David Lee of East Hampton, long a businessman in Sag Harbor, several times the temple’s president and currently its secretary, tells of arriving in Sag Harbor after World War II service in the British army and looking for a synagogue. “I found Temple Adas Israel on the hill. It was in poor shape both physically and from a membership point of view. We hoped and prayed that we could bring it back to life. After over 60 years I’m happy to report that all is well. Much of our success is due to the fact that we have had Leon and Dasee with us.”

Rabbi Morris is being succeeded at Temple Adas Israel by Rabbi Daniel Geffen, who has just been ordained by Hebrew Union College. He is from a family of rabbis—his brother is a rabbi, their grandfather a rabbi, and a great-grandfather also a rabbi—and he, too, is a warm, personable, caring and a learned rabbi. He is coming to Sag Harbor with his wife, Luanne (Lu) who is also a Jewish educator with a combined master’s degree in Jewish education and non-profit management from Hebrew Union.

Rabbi Geffen says that “to be following in the footsteps of Rabbi Morris and Dasee is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.  “Thus, my vision,” he says, “is to do whatever I can to continue the tradition of warmth, openness and acceptance that has been established by Rabbi Morris and our rabbinic predecessors, and to work together with this amazing and unique community to build a more just and righteous society here in Sag Harbor and indeed, throughout this all-too-fractured world.”

Sag Harbor’s Temple Adas Israel’s Menorah Restored

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Peter Lipman-Wulf’s copper and brass Menorah, which for 35 years has adorned the façade of Sag Harbor’s Temple Adas Israel, has been restored and reinstalled by his daughter, Ghilia Lipman-Wulf, also an artist.

Conceived during a period of rebirth for both the building and its evolving congregation, the menorah was commissioned by Mrs. Alvin H. Rossuck, in memory of her late husband. Originally exhibited at Mr. Lipman-Wulf’s one-man-show of Sacred Art at the John Jermain Memorial Library in 1978, the piece was mounted on the temple’s exterior above Romana Kramoris’ stained glass windows in March 1979.

The restoration project was welcomed by Rabbi Leon Morris. Ghilia was assisted by husband Bruce Marienfeld, who—against expectation—found one of the flames missing for over a decade in the yew bushes below the site, and artist and jewelry maker Breahna Arnold, also of Sag Harbor. Sculptor Jameson Ellis re-soldered the junctures in need of repair.

With its seven flames, the menorah is considered a traditional symbol of Judaism, rather than the more commonly rendered Hanukkah menorah—or Hanukiah—which has nine branches. In accordance with Mr. Lipman-Wulf’s original vision, no lacquer was used on the polished piece, thus it will again become tarnished over time.

Mr. Lipman-Wulf’s installations can be seen in numerous public and private institutions, including the ceramic wall relief gracing Pierson High School’s main entrance.

Trip to Israel a Life-Altering Experience

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Arline Blake in a self-portrait with the Western Wall and the Temple Mount in the background.

By Stephen J. Kotz

Diana Stone said she had too many concerns about security to ever consider visiting Israel on her own. David Weseley, who had visited the country before, said it had never occurred to him in his wildest dreams that he would take part in a temple-sponsored tour. And  Dr. Bradford Tepper, who had visited the country twice before as a young man, said he had always dreamed of returning but had never found the time to do so.

Despite coming at the journey from different viewpoints, the three members of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, who were among the 20 people who visited Israel in late March on a trip led by Rabbi Leon Morris and Rabbi Gadi Capela of Temple Tifereth Israel in Greenport, were unanimous in describing the 12-day tour as a life-altering experience.

That goes for Rabbi Morris too.

“I knew I was providing a meaningful experience for my congregation, but I don’t think I was prepared to see Israel through their eyes,” said Rabbi Morris, who announced earlier this year that he would be leaving Sag Harbor and moving with his family to Israel this June. “The experience of seeing them see Israel reminded me of all our reasons for moving our family there this summer.”

“This was more than a trip. It was really a kind of personal spiritual journey for everyone,” he continued. “This was both an experience in which we were doubly touched by the people of Israel and the places that we saw, but it also had some kind of a transformative effect on us as a group, the connection that we experienced with each other.”

Participants ranged in age from 32 to 89. The itinerary included stops in the new Israel: bustling Tele Aviv, the center of modern Israeli business, educational, and cultural life; and the old: the ancient City of David, where archaeologists have excavated the ruins of the palace built there by King David 3,000 years ago when he established Jerusalem as his capital, and the Western Wall, one of the Judaism’s most sacred sites.

“Approaching the Western Wall—I don’t think I can put it into words,” said Dr. Tepper. “Touching the wall is like being in contact with God.”

There were stops in Haifa, a fashionable resort city on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, a kibbutz, where young Jews are committed to establishing a society of co-existence with the Palestinians, and a visit to the Golan Heights, where the group could look across the border at Syria, one of its fiercest enemies, as well as visits to Ariel, a settlement in Samaria on the West Bank.

“I think the people of Ariel are very brave. I was very proud to be there,” said Dr. Tepper of that visit, although he was quick to add that residents may have settled there  “to make a specific political statement” or simply because it was a place they could find affordable housing.

Dr. Tepper, like others who took part in the trip, expressed hope for peace between the Arabs and Jews, but stressed that the political differences remain wide. Ariel, for instance, could be described, depending on one’s viewpoint, as a city in “Samaria, in the occupied territories, on the West Bank or in the liberated territories,” he said.

“I would love for there to be peace. From those I had conversations with, everyone says they want peace,” he said, “but when you have generation upon generation of animosity in your bones, peace will be something that has to be nurtured.”

Although exploring the issue of Jewish-Arab co-existence was not the primary focus of the trip, Rabbi Morris said “it loomed large. We did not avoid it. We embraced it.”

“On the grassroots level, there are many things that are happening, many things that are quite hopeful” for improved relations, he added.

Ms. Stone said she expected to discover a country with armed guards everywhere, but found it to be the opposite of what she expected. “Now, I can’t imagine why everyone in the world, no matter what their religion, shouldn’t go to Israel,” she said. “I can’t wait to go back. I’m excited that Leon is moving there—even though I’m also heartbroken—because I can go visit.”

Ms. Stone, like the others on the trip, said she was impressed by a sense of progress and purpose in the country. “I’ve never been in a place where everyone seems to be moving in one direction and that’s forward,” she said.

Dr. Tepper, who said he could not recall any buildings taller than four or five stories when he last visited in the early 1980s, said he was awed by the economic development and the high level of research being done at universities in the country.

Another important element of the trip, according to Rabbi Morris, was to help participants grasp the notion that “the Jewish people are a nation. This is our indigenous place. This is our homeland. To many American Jews, who understand their Judaism only through a religious lens, it is important for them to know that Israel is not only the birthplace of their religion, but also of the Jewish people.”

For Mr. Weseley, a highlight was the bonding among the participants. “On the bus, we created a beautiful community,” he said. “It’s like those of us who went to camp as kids and didn’t think we could ever have that experience as adults.”

That extended to the group’s guide, an American-born Jew named Ezra Korman. “There was a wrap-up session on the last night, and we had an extraordinary guide. He’s on the level of Leon, and that’s saying a lot,” said Mr. Weseley. “He’s done hundreds and hundreds of these tours, and he cried.”

He said he anticipated that the trip would have positive impact on the synagogue. “There is clearly a wonderful new energy impulse coming back from the trip,” he said. “A highly energized bunch of people have come back.”

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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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.