Now Lets Move to the Boardwalk

Praying on the beach, a perfect answer to all our ‘what ifs’

Prayer, I suppose, isn’t for fair weather fans. Or at least it’s not supposed to be.

On a recent Friday night I attended an incredible Kabbalat Shabbat on the beach in Atlantic Beach, NY.

Just hours before sundown, the anticipated start time for the services, it started to rain. My brother went upstairs to get dressed, I asked him where he was going — he said “to get ready for Shul.” I said, “but it’s raining.”

In any usual circumstance “but it’s raining” is a totally nonsensical reason not to attend Friday night prayer services at a synagogue. But I realized, for me, there was something about the beach that was drawing me in more than the benediction itself.

To be certain, this beach minyan was sanctioned — the Rabbi and Cantor even attended, bringing with them the pomp and circumstance of the sanctuary.

This experience, particularly my lack of interest in attending a regular prayer experience, feels like the perfect capstone to all the what ifs of the last couple of years.

What if no one ever comes back to shul? What if backyard minyanim take over? If there is no shul, will people even be observant any more?

Throughout my adult life I have found myself wishing that I was a more regular attendee of Kabbalat Shabbat services. ‘I’ll go when my kids are older,’ that’s my favorite excuse — but my kids were with me when I decided to go this past shabbat to the beach minyan.

If we dig deeper I think I was drawn by more than just the sand. I knew that some of my dear friends and confidants would be in attendance. Would I have gone to pray at the playa if they weren’t there?

For me, the takeaway here is that there are leaders who embrace the what ifs. Rabbi Elie Weinstock, one of those dear friends and the Rabbi of Atlantic Beach, could have easily dismissed this surfside service as ‘not what we do,’ but instead he lead. He lead his community, in partnership with lay leaders like David Sable (a second dear friend), through the what ifs…What if we don’t embrace the 70 people who decided to come to the beach minutes after a storm to join together as a community?

This doesn’t mean that tradition has to be abandoned. In fact, as we neared the start of Shabbat we left the beach and walked up the ramp of the weathered boardwalk to finish our prayers. Why? Because there is an ancient law which dictates that one cannot carry an item on the sabbath unless there is an eiruv. So? Well, the eiruv ends at the end of the boardwalk and we had prayer books in our hands. Tradition was being embraced to the tiniest grain of detail, not being left in the hall of the synagogue.

As I put my arm around Elliot Pines (a third dear friend) to sway to the timeless tunes of Kabbalat Shabbat, tunes that he and I have sang together countless times and on several continents, I was certain that the shul’s central role isn’t as a building but as steppingstone on which to build the community.

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