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How to Give Your Services Fresh Air and Sunshine This Summer

How to Give Your Services Fresh Air and Sunshine This Summer

Outdoor services offering kid-friendly, informal or abbreviated worship, and camp-style music are popular during the summer. Here’s a sampling of good ol’ summertime Shabbat celebrations in some Reform congregations across North America.

On the Patio

  • Woodlands Community Temple in Greenburgh, N.Y., often uses its own outdoor spaces for services. They’re about an hour long and end before the last sunlight fades.
  • At University Synagogue in Los Angeles, CA, new chairs, lighting, and sound make Shabbat Under the Stars “a truly special experience,” where the liturgical choices – both words and music – are selected to complement the calm, outdoor ambiance, says Rabbi Morley Feinstein.
  • “Short, informal, and incredibly moving” is how Rabbi Andy Gordon describes the services on the patio of Temple Sinai of Roslyn in Roslyn Heights, N.Y. Frequently filled to capacity, they are, he says, “one of the highlights of our year!”
  • Following services in the biblical garden at Temple Beth-El in Providence, R.I., an ice cream truck dispenses frozen treats for the Oneg Shabbat.
  • Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA, and Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, GA, use their outdoor amphitheaters for services throughout the summer. “It’s all incredibly different, more fluid, more organic. People are much more open-hearted when we are away from the sanctuary,” says Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner.
  • In Portland, OR, Congregation Beth Israel’s Shabbat on the Plaza includes music, mingling, and a traditional Shabbat service that may celebrate past presidents, bless young people heading to camp, or include a community “Sha-BBQ,” featuring Portland’s finest food carts.
  • Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, MI, welcomes 1,500 attendees to its outdoor service each week. “It’s something like Woodstock meets Jewish summer camp meets Tanglewood,” says Rabbi Paul Yedwab, of the gatherings that also prompt the clergy to pray fervently for no rain!

These congregations also hold services on their grounds during the summer:

Near the Water

  • Members of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, N.J., gather at the beach, and a picnic dinner precedes services. “The atmosphere is perfect for a welcome of calm and rest at the end of the week,” says Rabbi Marc Kline.
  • For years, Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, IL, has been holding Shabbat services in a picnic shelter at Lake Michigan’s lakefront. The temple’s garden is the site for others, and annually there’s an erev Shabbat block party with music, games, and a barbecue on the closed-off street in front of the building.
  • Congregants at Springhill Avenue Temple in Mobile, AL, host Shabbat morning services on their dock on Dog River. Plans are underway for a Havdalah service, potluck supper, and boating on the river.
  • Several sites in Maine, including the beaches at Seal Harbor and Penobscot, as well as the waterfront in Bangor, serve as settings for well-attended summer Shabbat services of Congregation Beth El in Bangor, ME.
  • When they’re not worshiping in the congregation’s courtyard, members of Temple Israel of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, N.Y., can be found in a park on Long Island Sound for Shabbat ShaBeach, which includes a bring-your-own dinner and a short, musical worship service.
  • Community Synagogue of Rye in Rye, N.Y., models its beach services on those of Beit T’filah Israeli, which holds services at the Tel Aviv port. Says Rabbi Leora Frankel, “As we face the ocean sending our prayers toward Israel, that community is facing us and we might imagine their melodies floating our way.”
  • Among the venues Temple Concord in Syracuse, N.Y., uses for summer services is poolside at the local JCC, parks, and the temple’s yard.
  • Taking advantage of Florida’s year-round good weather, Temple Solel in Hollywood, FL, augments Shabbat on the Beach with Passover at the Beach. The services are held at a location “once segregated as the ‘colored beach,’ until African- Americans walked into the water and over to a white beach to complain,” says Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin. “Talk about an Exodus theme!”

In the Park

  • In addition to outdoor services at Temple Jeremiah in Northfield, IL, the congregation also holds services in a local park, where families enjoy a bring-your-own picnic.
  • Temple Beth El of Northern Valley in Closter, N.J., holds Prayers on the Palisades high on the cliffs overlooking the Hudson River. “We invite other Reform congregations to join us,” says Rabbi David Widzer, “sharing clergy in leading camp-style worship.” Afterwards, many participants go out to dinner, deepening their sense of connection and community.
  • Shir Hadash in Los Gatos CA, precedes its Shabbat morning services with an optional hike. At a recent retreat, the community held an outdoor walking meditation service on Shabbat.
  • “God and Jewish spirituality can be found in every place,” says Rabbi Paul Kipnes, whose Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA, sometimes hikes on Shabbat, bringing along a naturalist to help hikers connect to God's creations.

Also worshipping in local parks this season:

In the Synagogue

  • In southern Alabama, where the evening temperatures and humidity can be oppressive, Temple Emanu-El in Dothan, AL, opts for the air conditioned sanctuary except on the Shabbat closest to Fourth of July. That night, services and a barbeque are outdoors.

We want to hear from you! Tell us about outdoor services you’ve attended during the summer – or at other times throughout the year. 

Jane E. Herman , a.k.a. JanetheWriter, is the senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. A graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, PA, she holds a master's degree in public administration from the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. She grew up at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, and now belongs to Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. A proud New Yorker, she loves books, fountain pens, social media, Words with Friends, mah jongg, and all things Jewish. She blogs at JanetheWriter Writes.

Jane E. Herman
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