Governor David Paterson, Rabbi Marc Schneier, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Cantor Netanel Hershtik, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Haftorahman, and Shabbos kiddush for more than a thousand men and women – put these all together, add the Hamptons as your backdrop, and you’ve got an unusually memorable Shabbos Parshas Masei weekend.
It was after Musaf at The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach that Rabbi Schneier, who founded the shul in 1990 as a minyan in the living room of his weekend home, addressed the congregation, mentioning his longtime activism on behalf of greater interracial and interreligious understanding and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King’s declaration that “only those who stand up for others’ religious and civil rights will be assured of securing their own religious and civil rights.” He then described how he was now being attacked in his “own backyard” by those who fear an eruv in Westhampton Beach.
Rabbi Schneier then beckoned Gov. Paterson, who had been sitting in the front row, to the amud to speak to the shul. The governor, after embracing Rabbi Schneier with a hug and a kiss, regaled the congregation with stories of his fascination with all things Jewish – including his recent discovery that he has some Jewish DNA.
The governor reminisced how years earlier he had listened attentively to Rabbi Schneier’s radio program because he wanted to – as opposed to his own father’s program, which immediately preceded the rabbi’s and to which he listened “because I had to.”
After briefly discussing state budget issues, the governor turned to religious tolerance and understanding. He said that just as a gentrified Harlem would have to accommodate old religious and cultural customs, so too would the eruv have to be accommodated by the Village of Westhampton Beach.
Referring to an upcoming town meeting at the synagogue concerning the eruv, the governor offered the possibility that he might “drop by,” adding, “people need to know there’s a new sheriff in town.” The congregation rose and gave him a standing ovation.
Davening was followed by the world class kiddush served every Shabbos and enjoyed by the large crowd that comes for both the service and the marvelous chazanut of Cantor Hershtik.
On erev Shabbos we davened at the “Beach Minyan” and listened to Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, who spoke during the services as well as at a community dinner at the Beach Minyan Shul. This minyan had originated in the home of Dr. Albert and Batsheva Waitman, who, together with some of their friends, found it difficult to walk the nearly two miles from their homes to The Hampton Synagogue on Friday nights. It has since expanded and now meets at the “yellow house” near the bridge on the beach side of Westhampton.
Rabbi Hier noted that the Torah enjoined Israel to remember Amalek only when Israel was victorious over Amalek, not when Amalek defeated Israel. The reason for this, he said, was that the Israelites became overconfident and complacent, and he drew a line from the Tanach to our own time, stressing the need to recognize the Iranian threat to Israel for the danger it is rather than comfort ourselves with the fact that Israel is militarily strong.
Shalosh Seudos at The Hampton Synagogue featured a question and answer session with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who began by roundly criticizing the current bet din situation in Israel. “I am very aware of my words and I am speaking slowly and clearly,” he said. “It is my opinion that the current bet din situation in Israel is corrupt, abusive, and unmindful of the needs of the agunot as well as those who were converted by Rabbi Druckman – a man devoted to the public who is being vilified for no reason.”
Rabbi Riskin described his involvement in the founding of an alternative bet din in Israel to remedy the abuses he described. He extolled the virtues of living in Israel, saying that next to marrying his wife, making aliyah was the best decision of his life.
Some final words about the vibrant kehillah built by Rabbi Schneier. Back in 1990, a municipal official flatly stated that “there never was a synagogue and there never will be a synagogue in Westhampton Beach,” and a local court promptly issued an injunction against Rabbi Schneier’s minyan. William C. Thompson, Sr., an appellate division judge at the time (and the father of current New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr.), vacated the injunction and ordered the village to allow the minyan. (Rabbi Schneier was supported by then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins and then-Gov. Mario Cuomo.)