Chabad North Haven Expands Outreach with New Center for Jewish Life
By Emma Betuel
Rabbi Berel Lerman of Chabad North Haven is aware of the transience on the East End. For some it is home all year, with the sense of community and belonging. For others it is a place to get away, but maybe not quite home.
Creating this home is the task that Chabad North Haven has embraced under the guidance of Rabbi Lerman and his wife, Brocha. Chabad North Haven’s new Center for Jewish Life at 36 West Water Street is two weeks away from completion. In that short time, they are seeking to create a physical space worthy of the mission of Chabad: a place that conveys hospitality and spirituality.
“I envision this as an ‘everyone’s space’,” said Rabbi Lerman, seated in what will become the Center for Jewish Life’s Sanctuary. The walls have been freshly painted yellow, although they’re still using folding chairs (they’re waiting for the arrival of their furniture which has been donated by a local business). They’re also waiting on works from local artists to add some interest to the walls.
“The Chabad motto is to create an environment where everyone is welcome,” Rabbi Lerman added. “If a traveler—maybe in the Far East or Bangkok finds a Chabad House they can feel welcome…as if it is their home away from home.”
Chabad North Haven began in 2013 as a seasonal program.
Rabbi Lerman remembers meeting in living rooms, and occasionally in the Sag Harbor Inn. They have since held several separate rental properties, but none big enough to embrace their full mission of community programming, from a kid’s center to weekly services and lectures. This winter they acquired the space vacated by the John Jermain Memorial Library in a “flexible rental agreement.” If they continue to meet their expenses and sustain the community they are there to stay.
These days, Rabbi Lerman believes that the idea of welcoming a diverse community has become particularly relevant.
“We are living in a time where there is a lot of division. If we could try to do away with all that and focus on all that unites us…and provide an environment where that isn’t just preached but is practiced, that I think will be an amazing thing,” he added.
The Center reflects this in their programming. They are incorporating cultural events like Challah baking classes and lectures from figures like Judith Leiber, a designer who has created handbags for first ladies Mamie Eisenhower, Barbara Bush, and Hilary Clinton, and who calls the hamlet Springs home not only to her part time residence, but to a museum of her celebrated work.
Emil Braun of Bridgehampton is adamant that the Center is not a synagogue in the traditional sense. He has been a supporter of the mission of Chabad for 30 years and a student of Rabbi Lerman—who he describes as “nothing short of phenomenal”—for five years before becoming more deeply involved with the Center.
“We’re looking to be more than just a synagogue. It’s a place where kids can do arts and crafts, adults can attend meaningful lectures and the community can convene,” he added.
Rabbi Lerman is aware of the role the Center can play on the South Fork, a place defined by natural beauty that encourages heightened spirituality. He sees it as a beacon of light, or a refuge from a hectic schedule.
“Here the country and the water meet, so that’s an incredible combination. Coming out here is a refuge. People out here are looking for more, something deeper. So this is a very unique place to offer such an environment.”
For the Rabbi Lerman, Chabad North Haven was a beacon when they were meeting in living rooms in 2013. Now he hopes that with this new space the beacon will cast a brighter light.
The Center for Jewish Life will hold their official opening on July 23rd from 2p.m. to 4p.m. They host services for adults and children on Friday and Saturday mornings followed by a festive lunch. For full information on programming visit chabadnhhamptons.com.