It's Friday evening on East Hampton's Main Beach, and around 100 families, dressed in their swimwear, with children still clutching their buckets and shovels, are grooving to the Shema. Welcome to Shabbat by the beach, organized by the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, which tonight has attracted a crowd of of around 400, some of whom have driven straight from Manhattan without stopping at their summer homes. "It's the start of the perfect Hamptons weekend," says Julie Charles, an August renter.
Rabbi David Gelfand arrived five years ago at JCOH, and since then, the once-lethargic congregation has swollen to 720 families -- including the Spielbergs -- paying annual dues and participating in socially charged summer services. Regulars include Mort Zuckerman, Cynthia Nixon, the Rose family of Planetarium fame, and supermodel Basia.
Ocean to his right, the rabbi delivers his message: "Shabbat is a time for us to think and feel and be with one another and to think how the world might be a little better." When he's done, Darren Levine, a handsome rabbinical intern, hands out pieces of challah. (He also hosts Saturday-night beach volleyball for Jewish singles.) As families fold chairs, tighten bikini wraps, and begin making their way home to prepare for dinner parties, Broadway producer Daryl Roth happily watches her grandchildren frolic. Nearby, Marvin Davis and Linda Cappello, both real-estate developers, swap cards.
Some have likened the JCOH summer program to the 92nd Street Y's offerings, though Gelfand prefers to compare it to the Aspen Institute. Summer specials include courses in mysticism and Jewish thought on idolatry. (In spring, Passover Seders are catered by Nick & Toni's.)
But for a few congregants, the main attraction is still the beach. "Now, Mommy?" asks a brown-haired boy as the final Friday prayer is said, the leash of his boogie board already fastened to his wrist. "Okay," she nods, and the little boy sprints toward the beckoning waves.