Montauk seasonal synagogue opens, allowing surfing and Shabbat
An East Hampton-based Orthodox synagogue has expanded to Montauk, offering a space for observant Jews who want to surf but also attend Shabbat services this summer.
Chabad of Montauk, a temporary space that one worshipper likened to a popup synagogue, started hosting services and community events Memorial Day weekend and will continue through Labor Day.
Rabbi Aizik Baumgarten, 30, and his wife, Musia, 28, of Chabad of the Hamptons, have opened their Montauk rental home to the local Jewish community where they host Shabbat in their living room.
“There is a need and people want it,” Musia Baumgarten said.
The nearest Chabad center is in East Hampton, where the couple and Aizik’s Baumgarten’s parents, Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten and his wife, Goldie, all live full-time. Chabad is an Orthodox, Hasidic Jewish educational and religious organization with more than 30 centers across Long Island.
Montauk hasn't had a synagogue in recent history, the Baumgartens said, but they frequently receive phone calls at the East Hampton center asking for services further east.
“In the summertime, that drive is a minimum half-hour" from Montauk to East Hampton, Musia Baumgarten said. "No one was schlepping out.”
She said the year-round Jewish population in Montauk is relatively low, but estimated it swells to more than 1,000 on summer weekends. Kosher community dinners and challah bakes at the Baumgartens’ home provide an opportunity for Montauk Jews to connect, she said.
“They’re like, ‘I thought I was the only Jew in Montauk,’ ” Musia Baumgarten said.
Although Chabad is Orthodox, the Baumgartens stressed the center, at 16 N. Gravesend Ave., is open to all Jews.
Seth Bender, 37, a Manhattan banking attorney who purchased a Montauk vacation home last year, took 15 friends to a recent Chabad of Montauk cookout where margaritas were served with kosher grilled meat.
Bender said he hadn't considered himself religious but found himself wanting to put down roots after buying his East End home as well as pay respect to an uncle who recently died.
“It’s a place for people to come and get closer to their culture,” Bender said. “It’s not this intensely formal place of religious worship. You can get what you want out of it.”
Friday night services draw a mix of secular and Orthodox Jews, with some wearing shorts and flip-flops, others in Hasidic garb.
Part-time Montauk resident and surfer Coby Zekry, 47, said he recognized about half the attendees at the synagogue’s community dinners from the surfing community.
“They [the Baumgartens] are very open to different backgrounds. You don’t have to be Hasidic or Orthodox,” Zekry said. “I think most surfers are spiritual regardless of religious background.”
Word of the gatherings spread through ads in local papers, social media and word of mouth. The biggest crowd was on July 13, when Shabbat services drew about 40 worshippers.
The couple, along with their children, Sholom, 5, Esther, 3 and Zelig, 2, plan to return to East Hampton on Labor Day, but hope to one day build a permanent facility in Montauk.
“God willing," Rabbi Baumgarten said, "we’ll be able to purchase something.”