Almost every summer, except the recent COVID summers, my wife and I have enjoyed going away for Shabbat to visit old friends in various communities throughout the tri-state area. Over the past few weeks, we have spent weekends at Beaver Lake in the Catskills, in the Five Towns (Woodmere) and, this past Shabbat, at the Jersey Shore in Long Branch. It’s always easier for us to go away with most of our children away or married (as of June) and especially with our special needs son Zev away. As of this writing, Zev is having a great time at HASC this summer and we are quite grateful to HASC for the break. (More on HASC in a later column.)
Although I love our home community of Teaneck, I have always had a strong sense of wanderlust in the summer weeks and I generally like going to new and different communities and reconnecting with good friends and their families. The bottom line is, as my wife knows but doesn’t fully understand, I like to be away as much as possible in the summer and generally speaking, she is happy to go along with me.
Three weeks ago, I spent Shabbat with old friends from Queens at their bungalow colony called Beaver Lake. This was my first time ever visiting a bungalow colony for Shabbat and it was an interesting experience. Beaver Lake’s homeowners and renters run the complete gamut ranging from families from Flatbush, the Five Towns, Queens, Staten Island, to seemingly growing numbers from Northern New Jersey, including Teaneck and Bergenfield. There were even a few families who have made aliyah and come back to spend every summer there.
I recognized many people that I knew from my childhood, summer camp days, yeshiva and college years, and from earlier in my pre-Jewish Link fundraising career. It was wonderful to reconnect with them. Many of the families at Beaver Lake have been there for decades, and it was nice to see how many of the second and third generation love coming back and sometimes even buy their own places near their parents if they can, as my friends from Queens have done.
The post-Shacharit kiddush was incredibly well attended by almost every family, and it seemed like most people didn’t get home from shul until an hour or more after davening ended. Shabbat lunch for many was held on outdoor decks, depending on the weather and shade conditions. I certainly understood the appeal of a colony like Beaver Lake, and it was a wonderful weekend.
After a fun weekend in the Five Towns two weeks ago where we had our annual visit to old friends of my wife’s from Montreal, this past Shabbat, my wife and I stayed at the Jersey Shore in Long Branch, at an apartment recently purchased by good friends currently living in East Brunswick. Interestingly, it seemed like there were many families from East Brunswick who owned places and spent the summer there. I wondered and half-joked with the East Brunswick members to see if anyone was left for a minyan at the Young Israel of East Brunswick. (They assured me that the shul did indeed still have a strong minyan in the summer and throughout the year.).
While there, we had the chance to see and visit the beautiful and brand-new satellite shul of Congregation Brothers of Israel (CBI) and hear shiurim and divrei Torah from my old Kew Gardens Hills friend and CBI’s veteran Rabbi Nasanayl Braun and CBI’s summer rabbi, Rabbi David Sher of Yeshivat Frisch. I also davened Shacharit at the relatively new and also magnificent Chabad of the Shore, heard a beautiful dvar Torah there from Rabbi Laibel Schapiro, and partook in the legendary indoor/outdoor kiddush there. A good number of families sat down with challah and ate a full lunch there, which is not something that you see in most shuls, even if the kiddush is as lavish as Chabad’s.
In addition to the large contingent of East Brunswick families, it was also nice to see many families from throughout our readership. Families from Teaneck, Englewood, West Orange, Highland Park, Edison, Riverdale, Scarsdale, New Rochelle and Manhattan were all among the many families I encountered in Long Branch over the weekend. It was also nice to hear them tell me that they were happy to be able to easily pick up The Jewish Link in their apartment buildings or at the shul.
Walking on the boardwalk on Shabbat afternoon, which appears to be a near-mandatory activity for anyone staying there, we were stopped nearly every 100 feet by people we knew. It reminded me a bit of the Miami Beach boardwalk scene during its heyday in my youth when it was jammed with frum people from almost all walks of life (and before most people had ever heard of or started moving to places like Surfside, Aventura, Hollywood, Boca Raton and Boynton Beach).
As I have now gone down to the Long Branch/Deal areas a good number of times over the years, it’s always amazing to see how strong both the summer and growing year-round Orthodox communities are. There are an incredible number of kosher establishments. (Check out the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate/JSOR site at: JSOR.org for the full list.) On Sunday mornings, the boardwalk is filled with frum people taking walks or exercising, and I also noticed many, many families and couples from the Lakewood area who like to visit the Long Branch boardwalk for day trips. At times, it felt like more than half of the people walking by were from the Jewish community, and I was happy to see it.
As our weekends away are now coming to an end (anyone want to invite us for Nachamu?), and my thirst to travel and get away is nearly slaked, I always treasure these weekends and the new experiences that come with them. The summer is not only a time for my wife and me to spend more time together without our children (a relatively rare occurrence during the year) and also to be more active (which I definitely need to be), it’s also a time to get out of my home shul and community a few times a year and see other areas.
While I do often daven around in different shuls in Teaneck and Bergenfield during the year, it’s good to see communities outside of our immediate area and learn with and hear from other rabbis. And last but not least, it’s great to see and spend time with my oldest and closest friends and their growing families and “keep the kesher,” as we used to say in my yeshiva days.
Have a meaningful Tisha B’Av!