In the months that followed New York’s COVID-19 shutdown, Rabbi Marc Schneier of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach set four goals for himself and his leadership team—to make The Hampton Synagogue the first major synagogue in the state to reopen, to launch their own television platform and build a global congregation, to adapt their annual Jewish film festival into a drive-in format at Gabreski Airport, and to continue the Jewish author discussion series in-person. He and his team managed to accomplish each of these goals, complying with all COVID-19 guidelines without compromising the quality and authenticity of programs offered.
In addition to reopening his own synagogue in May, Schneier was appointed to advise Governor Andrew Cuomo on how to best reopen all churches, mosques and synagogues in New York. Setting an incredibly high bar for the rest of the Jewish leadership in the state, The Hampton Synagogue increased its offerings to include open-air Shabbat services by appointment only, outdoor Minyan services every morning and evening, online services that can be accessed globally and televised services that reach more than 200,000 homes. Despite the speed, health and safety precautions were made a top priority, with temperature scanning, frequent sanitization, mask requirements and seating spaced six feet apart. The Jewish Week newspaper described the safety measures as “arguably the strictest protocol [in New York].”
“It’s really been a tremendous opportunity to lead the way and, particularly in the Hamptons, spring inspiration and hope in the midst of all of this uncertainty,” Schneier says. “We are the paragon for synagogues not only in New York State but across the country.”
Schneier, an 18th generation rabbi, is considered a trailblazer in Jewish relations globally, which brings international attention to his synagogue. He led The Hampton Synagogue on the first Jewish mission to the Arabian Gulf country of Bahrain in 2018, and he was invited to the White House on September 15, 2020 to witness the signing of the Abraham Accords peace treaty between Bahrain and Israel.
“The Hampton Synagogue is unique. We’re in Westhampton Beach, which I believe is the crown jewel of the Hamptons, but we’re this global platform. That’s our reach,” he says. “The Hampton Synagogue is renowned for its magnanimous Jewish institution out here and in Israel. As an expression of that commitment, orientation and philosophy, we channel that spirit into bringing light, inspiration and hope, through our magnificent services, to many Jews across the world.”
While Schneier’s mission is global, his heart remains in the Hamptons. “My great passion, my overriding joy, is my congregation at The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach,” he says. “I feel very very blessed to be ministering to such a community as this.”
Extending their reach in Westhampton Beach, The Hampton Synagogue is working on a plan to build a new children’s center dubbed Jack’s House, which is expected to open in summer 2021. It will be located across the street from the synagogue’s Kaylie Center. “It’s a new year, and for us, it’s a new beginning, a new chapter,” Schneier says. “Without hope, nothing is possible; with hope, nothing is impossible.”
It’s certainly a new year for Schneier personally, as well. Living primarily on the Upper East Side for his entire life, he is turning his Hamptons home into his primary residence for the next year and realizes what a privilege that is. “I think we all feel very blessed and privileged to be out here. I’ve commented to so many reporters during this pandemic that living in the Hamptons is like living in Disney Land. It has brought the community together in terms of how blessed and privileged we all feel while this virus is raging across the country,” he says. “We should be very grateful to be here in the Hamptons. Let’s choose to magnify our blessings, not exaggerate our challenges.”
To learn more about The Hampton Synagogue, visit thehamptonsynagogue.org.