By Lindsay Andarakis
Joshua Franklin joined the Jewish Center of the Hamptons as its new Rabbi this summer. He will be “officially installed” over Labor Day weekend after hosting many nights of “Shabbat on the Beach,” which attracted hundreds of families. Rabbi Franklin received his ordination from Hebrew Union College in New York. In his new role, Mr. Franklin says he seeks to foster Judaism and a Jewish community that brings meaning and purpose to the East End and beyond.
Did you always wanted to go into organized religion and become a rabbi?
My father is a rabbi. There are tons of articles written about what it’s like to be a clergy’s child, but essentially it convinced me that I for sure did not want to be a rabbi under no circumstances growing up…I had a very strong sense of Jewish identity. I went to Jewish summer camp and I felt a strong connection to being Jewish, but not a strong connection to Judaism. That changed when I got to college and I decided to take an “Intro to Judaism” class. It opened my eyes to something that was rich and meaningful and gave life purpose; helped me see the world through a spiritual lens. Judaism for me became something that not only I wanted to be a part of my life, but it became something I wanted to teach, and live and help people find connections to.
How do you use technology to bring dynamic teachings and spirituality to groups of people?
It’s not something that I’ve necessarily done here at the Jewish Center, however, at my past role in Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts, we innovated and did creative things including projecting the liturgy, words of prayer, on top of community sourced images that would essentially be used as a prayer book. It enabled a new dimension to prayer; a lot of people are visual learners and this really helped them connect to Jewish prayer through images that people found particularly meaningful in connecting to certain prayers.
Another thing we’ve experimented with is how we utilize social media and live streaming and things that will enable us to get ourselves out into the world so that Judaism doesn’t exist in a room and it can go beyond our walls…I think prayer has gotten a bad wrap, especially in the Jewish context. One of the ways I want to really create meaningful Jewish expereience is through worship that reaches and touches the heart and soul. That’s great Jewish music; that is a high level of intentionality and learning that goes along with prayer.
I read that each week this summer, hundreds of young families gathered at Main Beach in East Hampton to welcome Shabbat with you. What was this experience like?
It’s been incredible. “Shabbat on the Beach” has been an institution of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons for a long time, except the numbers keep growing and growing. We’ve been changing things up, we have a bonfire and smores afterwards; our big goal is to build community and help connect people to a meaningful Jewish experience…People are looking for that meaningful experience for their families. Another thing is, people don’t always know what they’re looking for utnil they actually find it, and Judaism has a lot to offer.
What message would you like to get out there to both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities?
I would say that Judaism has a lot to say about how we live our lives, and fill it with meaning, relationships and community. Judaism and the Jewish Center of the Hamptons is that place to come and find your center in times that are difficult…We’re able to offer perspective as a Jewish voice on what’s going on in the world today. We live in a world that is surrounded and really filled with hatred, as we just saw in Charlottesville. We want to be a place where you can get away from the politics of the difficulties in the world around us and come and find a Jewish voice that will offer perspective that will help you cope; that will help you and your families understand what it means to be Jewish in a time that can be a little bit difficult. But also why being Jewish is incredibly enriching in living life.
Rabbi Joshua Franklin will officially be “installed” as rabbi at a ceremony on Saturday, September 2 at 10 a.m. at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, 44 Woods Lane in East Hampton. The community is welcome, and for more information, please contact (631) 324-9858 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.