You don’t have to be Orthodox, to enjoy the greatest Synagogue on the planet.
What makes The Hampton Synagogue so special? We think of the Hamptons as a bunch of rich, shallow, snooty, secular people who enjoy expensive cars, polo, jewelry and their Brooks Brothers wardrobe. Well, nothing could be further from the truth at The Hampton Synagogue.
What makes this Orthodox synagogue so unique is that approximately half the shul is not Orthodox. In fact, quite a number of members are so secular that they would never attend any synagogue, if not for the unique welcoming atmosphere that Rabbi Marc Schneier has created. This is kiruv work at its best.
Virtually every Jew I have spoken with, who attended Rosh Hashanah services this year, has described his or her synagogue experience in the most uncomplimentary of terms. One of my closest friends calls his synagogue—“The Torture Chamber.” This institution happens to be one of the largest conservative synagogues in Westchester County.
No wonder synagogue attendance, even on the high holidays, has dwindled dramatically over the last 10 years, with synagogues placing ads and offering free tickets. An existing member pays $1000+ to be bored out of their mind, in a service that has very little meaning, with a rabbi who goes through the same motions, year in and year out. How sad that a truly great religion is going through such a dilemma.
This is precisely what separates Rabbi Marc Schneier and The Hampton Synagogue from the rest. The shul’s mission statement says it all: “Making the ordinary—Extraordinary.” How many times have you attended a synagogue for the first time and somehow felt alone? Not at The Hampton Synagogue—probably the friendliest shul around. Everyone makes an effort to speak to new faces at the lavish Shabbat/ Jewish Holiday Kiddush luncheons.
But let’s start at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah—the services. One cannot really call it pure davening, because a person can actually get high listening to Chazzan Netanel Hershtik, a 14th generation cantor, who many consider the greatest chazzan in the world today. Accompanying the cantor is the world renowned Hampton Synagogue Choir, under the direction of Maestro Yitzchak Haimov.
The harmonies were incredible, especially when the cantor and choir used cantorial music written by such luminaries as Yosselle Rosenblatt, Zavel Kwartin, Louis Lewandowski, Moshe Ganchoff and numerous others. Oh, and let’s not forget The Beatles Adon Olam! The services bring you to a sort of “out of body experience,” no exaggeration.
Is there more—of course. During several prayers, Chazzan Hershtik was accompanied by his nephew from Israel—Shlomo Zichel, who has become an item all over the country because he was a finalist in Israel’s version of American Idol. Another one of The Hampton Synagogue’s rising superstars was Ben Emmerich, 17, who blew the shofar with notes of perfection including a 45 second T’ke’ah G’dola.
With all of the professionalism, many young people participated in various parts of the services, and were enthusiastic and comfortable. How many synagogues alienate their youth by shoving them off to a teenage or alternate service?
To top it all off, every sermon was truly fascinating and meaningful. Rabbi Schneier and Rabbi Korenblit were on target with their d’var Torahs. Rabbi Robyn Tsearsky honored us with some of her Rosh Hashanah thoughts. And then there was Golda Meir—actually it was Tovah Felshuh who played Golda on Broadway, and spoke to the congregation about the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, and her love for this very special synagogue and Rabbi.
After the chulent, herring, salads, meatballs, pastas and martini bar, author and Jewish speaker, Irwin Graulich addressed the congregation with the topic—“Judaism and Feminism; Are They Compatible?”
Of course, Hashem contributed to this amazing experience of Rosh Hashanah and the Shabbat Shuvah that followed it, by giving us gorgeous weather to enjoy Westhampton Beach and its surroundings.
It is so beautiful, that even the simple task of walking to shul, becomes a wonderful Jewish experience. No wonder there are brachot for seeing beautiful flowers and trees. That is God’s gift to humanity, and if one attends a service at The Hampton Synagogue, we also realize that music is another one of Hashem’s gifts to us.
As a gift to Am Yisrael, The Hampton Synagogue had its Slichot Services this year professionally videotaped. Sit back and enjoy some truly amazing Chazzanut: