The country may be talking about lockdowns and permanent closures, but in Westhampton Beach the Hampton Synagogue is thriving. The popular Jewish congregation — run by the oft dubbed rabbi-to-the-stars Marc Schneier — hasn’t let the pandemic slow it down. In fact, they plowed ahead with construction of a massive addition to their synagogue, named Jack’s House and the Levin Family Children’s Campus. The campus will encompass a full block providing facilities like an athletic field, volleyball court, regulation basketball court, swimming pool, playground, STEM learning center, music studio, art studio, library, multi-sensory learning and activity studio and a children’s chapel.
“The campus is exclusively for the children of the congregation and for the children of the community,” says Rabbi Schneier. “It’s going to be a central point and an essential destination for children from all walks of life in our community. The seating will be the kind of seating for little children and even the Torah scroll will not be a regular size, it will be more of a mid-sized Torah scroll, keeping with the theme of children. For the children of the congregation, it’s going to be their sacred space, it’s going to be their chapel where they’re going to congregate on Saturday mornings, with their junior congregation running parallel to the service in the main center.” The campus is slated to be completed in spring 2022.
In addition to this unparalleled facility, Rabbi Schneier has announced that the Hampton Synagogue will be the recipient of two new projects by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly — an installation at the aforementioned children’s chapel and a separate Holocaust Memorial dedicated to the 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Both projects are slated to be completed in the upcoming months.
How has Rabbi Schneier managed to pull off these impressive undertakings in the midst of the pandemic? “People were looking to galvanize around a big project, a big idea or a big initiative. They were looking for that ray of hope, for an initiative that would focus on the future and not on the present,” he says. “The congregation has really stepped up in the most magnanimous and generous way. I think that in this spirit, the Hampton Synagogue has been very unique in leading and setting an example of finding opportunities in the midst of all these challenges and obstacles.”
As for how Rabbi Schneier came to Dale Chihuly specifically, it’s all thanks to his mother, Donna Schneier, who was an early collector of the artist’s work and has maintained a relationship with him for years. “She made the introduction to Dale Chihuly, and he readily embraced the opportunity. He’s now turning 80, and he very much sees this as a legacy project at this stage of his life,” he says.
Rabbi Schneier goes on to say that the colors that Chihuly is featuring are those used at the time of creation and explains what these colors represent. “They are the colors of the breast plates that were worn by the High Priests in the Holy Temple,” he says. “The High Priests had 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel and each stone had a different color, so it’s not only a question of his designing and creating pretty colored glass windows, but both the colors from the chapel — the 36 windows — and the Holocaust Memorial will be based on the colors of Biblical narratives.”
In addition to the synagogue’s new children’s center, they now have a nationwide television platform where they televise their Shabbat services pre-recorded to more than 76 million homes across America on NBC/Comcast. “One can always look and one should look, for opportunities in the midst of challenging times to bring people that ray of hope and that sense of optimism,” Rabbi Schneier says.
Rabbi Schneier sees these art projects not only as opening up a whole new avenue for the children of the Hamptons community, but that they’re also going to translate into the Village of Westhampton Beach, becoming an art destination. “What we envision, because of these unique Chihuly glass installations, is that thousands of people will come from far and wide to visit the Hampton Synagogue Children’s Center and its campus. The avenue of arts will draw many wonderful people, art connoisseurs and art aficionados to the Village of Westhampton Beach.”