Keeping the Faith in the Hamptons

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Rabbi Berel Lerman is a key individual in the East End community of Sag Harbor. His chabad, the Center for Jewish Life, is nestled on the Sag Harbor waterfront. With small gatherings in 2013 that were held in the living rooms of friends who call the East End home, Rabbi Lerman has “kept the faith” in the Hamptons now for the better part of a decade.

Rabbi Lerman is a permanent resident of Sag Harbor, but was born in the borough he affectionately calls “the holy ground of Brooklyn.” He moved to the East End with his wife Brocha and children to provide the East End community with educational programs and Shabbat prayer services during the summer months. He found that the demand was great, which led to his presence on a more permanent basis.

“We started in the Sag Harbor area as a grassroots effort,” he says. “We got to know some of the wonderful people here, some working year-round, some seasonal, as you can imagine. One thing led to another, and in 2017 we moved to our formal center which now houses various programs, prayer services, children’s programs, community events, Kabbalah classes, and more.

Lerman considers himself a “spiritual entrepreneur.” While national statistics may suggest that faith and religion are on a downward trend in American society, he says here in the Hamptons that’s simply not the case. Using an entrepreneurial term, rather indicative of his state of mind, he says he remains “optimistic” about spirituality.

“As we live in a modern society,” says Lerman, “at the same time, I’m very optimistic about spirituality, about community, and about our growth. When you think about it, each of us is a spiritual being. We all have a soul and everything about every human being is a product of that soul.

“We are all spiritual beings, living for spiritual purposes,” he adds. “While religion may be in decline, if we focus on metaphysics, it’s something we all crave, need and want.”

Much like the whole of the East End, Sag Harbor is blessed with a natural beauty of beaches, waterfronts and spectacular views. Lerman incorporates these beauties into his services, often embracing the waterfront his center overlooks.

Rather famously, in 2018 Lerman hosted a “Shabbat on a Yacht,” where about 30 worshipers gathered for service on a craft, using the serenity and peace of Sag Harbor Bay to reflect, pray, and celebrate the community.

“We’re located here in Sag Harbor, right on the waterfront, so we’re very in tune with our surroundings and this beautiful part of the East End,” he says. “Several faithful leave their ships and attend services. We have a number of families who moor their boats in Sag Harbor because our center is within walking distance of the marina.

The Center for Jewish Life has also ventured into the art scene with its Ezra Gallery in the Hamptons, which features artwork by local artists and others from around the world. The current exhibit, which was curated by Kimberly Goff, is called the Nature Show, featuring landscape art of various natural scenes on the East End; the show opened last week.

“Everyone is welcome in our center, whatever their religious practice or origin,” he says. “Our goal from the beginning has been to create an environment where there are no labels, and everyone is free to express their Jewishness and spirituality. Our goal is to create a center that serves as a beacon of light, spirituality, education and Jewish culture that shines brightly in the Hamptons and beyond. I believe we have succeeded in doing so.

In terms of the future, Lerman made it clear that the Center for Jewish Life in Sag Harbor has plenty of room for growth. Given recent redevelopment plans for the area, the center is looking for a new property to house its growing community. The Center for Jewish Life has launched a fundraising campaign with naming and dedication opportunities to help meet their need for a new facility.

“We have launched a fundraising campaign so that we can raise funds and secure the next best location for the Center for Jewish Life,” he says. “We are working hard and actively to find the next best place where we can be with the help of Hashem for generations and centuries to come. Although change can be daunting, I see this as a unique opportunity to truly establish a community center, community space, spirituality center, art gallery, children’s learning center – all of the above, under one roof – for future generations.”

The Center for Jewish Life will hold its Building for a Brighter Tomorrow summer benefit at the home of Ken and Maria Fishel in Bridgehampton on August 14 to raise funds for the capital campaign. People from all walks of life are invited to attend and participate. For more information, visit cfjewishlife.com.

Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate editor of Dan’s papers.

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