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Jewish Summer Festival attendees watch the performance with cotton candy and snow cones. Photo by Jim Harrison

More than 500 people stopped by West Meadow Beach last Wednesday evening for the three-hour Jewish Summer Festival.

Entertainment included an acrobatic performance by Cirque-tacular Entertainment, the music of Israeli singer Sandy Shmuely, face-painting and a moon bounce for the children.

That and a kosher barbecue dinner with all the fixings were part of the lure, but the bigger enticement was the camaraderie and friendship the festival offers.

The festival is a creation of Chabad at Stony Brook, and is co-directed by Rabbi Motti and Chaya Grossbaum.

“Seven years ago,” said Rabbi Grossbaum, “I was looking for a way to bring the community together for a public celebration of Jewish life, pride and future here in Suffolk County.” Now in its seventh year, it has become a midsummer classic event that many people look forward to.

A NYC Cirque-tacular Entertainment duo wows the crowd. Photo by Jim Harrison
A NYC Cirque-tacular Entertainment duo wows the crowd. Photo by Jim Harrison

The festival has grown every year, he said, gathering new partiers and sponsors as well.

“It’s nice to ‘hear’ your culture,” said Dominique Shapiro of Smithtown, referring to Shmuely’s music, “and to meet people—young, old, Jewish, non-Jewish—and also bump into those you know.”

Shapiro discovered the festival last year and brought her family again this year. Her three children played in the sand, sampled the food and swayed to the sounds of Shmuely’s guitar.

Steve Zalta of Holbrook attended with nine members of his family, including his two young granddaughters who, he said, danced away to the Hebrew music.

The 63-year-old sales rep of Syrian descent moved to Long Island from Brooklyn 30 years ago. He said at first, he used to go back to Brooklyn for Jewish content and connections; now, he has found outlets where he lives.

“We’re all one family,” he said in general. Of the summer event, in particular, “It’s a way for the children to see their heritage.”

Rabbi Grossbaum thanked the crowd for attending, and acknowledged the sponsors for helping make the night a success and bringing the community together. In fact, that’s what drew Elyse Buchman of Setauket to the festival for the second time.

“It’s very community-based,” she said. “No matter what temple you’re affiliated with—or none at all—you get together as a community and share in a good time. There are not a lot of places where you can do that.”

Buchman and her husband Marty are owners of the Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn, which opened in June and focuses on bike tours. She pronounced the North Shore “full of history and beauty that often falls under the radar.”

The icing on the festival cake was, as Shapiro noted, a very beautiful sunset, “one of the best on Long Island.”

From left to right, Stephanie Belli’s sister Diana and mother Carol receive their copy of the book with Rabbi Cohen of Chabad at Stony Brook. Photo from Chabad at Stony Brook

Four hundred acts of kindness turned out to be an underestimate.

It has been one month since a horrific Cutchogue car crash killed four North Shore women, and Chabad at Stony Brook set out to assemble a book of kind acts to show how good could come out of tragedy. But by the time that book was finished last week, it had grown into a much bigger list.

Smithtown’s Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, as well as Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack were riding in a limousine in the middle of a weekend wine tour on the eastern part of the Island when Steven Romeo, 55, T-boned their vehicle as it made a risky U-turn, killing the girls and injuring five others.

After the crash, Romeo was arraigned at Eastern Long Island Hospital and charged with driving while intoxicated. He was initially ordered held in lieu of $500,000 cash bail, or $1 million bond, but that bail was reduced to $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond. Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said Romeo had recorded a blood alcohol content of .066 percent — below the legal limit of .08 — when he was tested roughly one hour after the crash. The DWI charge, however, was not dropped, Spota said. No additional charges were filed against Romeo as the investigation continued.

Romeo’s court date, which was originally set for last week, was adjourned to Sept. 18.

The tragedy sent shockwaves through the greater North Shore community, and Chabad at Stony Brook called on everyone to help.

“People came out in big numbers to post all these heartfelt things they were going to do,” said Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Chabad at Stony Brook, who helped launch the project in the wake of the tragic crash. “We’ve always encouraged to respond to darkness with light, and to evil with good.”

The group launched a Facebook group called “Goodness & Kindness x 400 for our girls,” and acquired thousands of page views in a matter of days, Cohen said. The goal, he said, was to remember the lives of those lost by compiling a book of names and acts of goodness committed in their honor, to show victims’ families that they were not alone in their darkest hour.

“We felt we were swarming in death,” Cohen said. “This was an act of goodness and kindness to bring more goodness to the world. While we can’t bring the girls back, when the community comes back and shows we are there, it does bring some kind of goodness.”

Good deeds included anything from committing to donate to worthy causes to something as simple as paying for succeeding cars in a Starbucks drive-thru.

Cohen, along with wife Chanie Cohen, a Chabad program coordinator, as well as Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum, Rabbi Motti Grossbaum and the rest of his staff, delivered those books to the victims’ families over the last week and said they helped everyone move forward in a time of great loss.

Diana Belli, sister of Stephanie Belli, took to the “Goodness & Kindness” Facebook page to express her gratitude.

“Thank you so much! With love, my entire family,” she wrote on the page. “This means a lot to us.”

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Wacky Chad, the stunt comedian, gets some air in the company of West Meadow Beach visitors at last Wednesday’s Jewish festival. Photo by Peter DiLauro

By Carin M. Smilk

It was a real scorcher, according to those who attended the sixth annual Jewish Summer Festival, referring to Wednesday’s, July 29, event at West Meadow Beach in East Setauket in the midst of a heat wave that marked a week of 90-degree weather.

But it also turned out to be the largest turnout yet, with more than 500 people attending of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations.

The festival was sponsored by the Chabad Jewish Center of Stony Brook, which serves the Jewish community on Suffolk’s North Shore from Smithtown to Port Jefferson, and is co-directed by Rabbi Motti and Chaya Grossbaum. On tap was live music in the form of the high-energy Jewish rock band Yellow Red Sky; family entertainment, including a moon bounce, face painting and the award-winning stunt comedian Wacky Chad; and a kosher barbecue with all the trimmings, as well as cotton candy and Italian ices for the kids and grown-ups, too.

“There was something for every generation to appreciate,” said Jodi Casciano of Port Jefferson. “It was an evening full of warmth and connectedness — very good for the soul. The kids all had a blast, and the live music was phenomenal.”

The feeling of connectivity was alive throughout the event. In fact, the band dedicated a song in tribute to the four young women who were killed last month in a tragic limousine crash in Cutchogue: Smithtown’s Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, as well as Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack.

One of the more colorful notes of the three-hour festival occurred when the beach balls were distributed as an event giveaway. They were donated by Gayle Stock of Setauket, owner of TakeStock Inc., who declared the evening “fabulous” and is already planning to return next year.

Marty Gerber, a retiree from St. James, has been involved with Chabad for about a year and went to the festival for the first time. He said he was surprised by the size of the crowd, noting that “the tent area was overflowing.”

There were rows of chairs arranged under the shade of the tent, he described, and some even brought their own to position on the beach. The food was tasty, Gerber said.

“It’s a very good place for kids to have fun, and for the parents to relax and socialize,” Gerber said.

And that was the whole point.

“The goal is simply to bring the community together in unity for an upbeat Jewish experience,” said Rabbi Grossbaum. “It was a ‘feel good’ time for everyone there. A special shout-out goes to the main corporate sponsors, without whom it would not be possible.”

They included Jefferson’s Ferry, the Suffolk Center for Speech, Fairy LiceMothers, 3 Village Wellness, Nguyen Plastic Surgery, Gourmet Glatt, Gurwin Jewish and the Times Beacon Record Newspapers.

The event ended around 8 p.m., with the seasonal sky bringing its own sort of closure: a spectacular sunset over the beach.

Red ribbons are one way North Shore residents are remembering the fatal crash victims. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

One week has passed, but no amount of time can ever truly heal the wounds endured by the greater North Shore community since four of its own were killed in a horrific limousine crash.

Anyone driving through the streets of Smithtown and its surrounding communities this week could notice the red ribbons wrapped around trees in memory of Smithtown’s Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, as well as Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack. The four girls were killed when Steven Romeo, 55, T-boned their limousine with his pickup truck in Cutchogue last Saturday, injuring Romeo, along with limo driver Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, Joelle Dimonte, 25, of Elwood, Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale, Alicia Arundel, 24, of Setauket, and Olga Lipets, 24, of Brooklyn.

After the crash, Romeo was arraigned at Eastern Long Island Hospital and charged with driving while intoxicated. He was initially ordered held in lieu of $500,000 cash bail, or $1 million bond, but that bail was reduced to $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond last Thursday, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. At a press conference on Friday, Spota said Romeo had recorded a blood alcohol content of .066 percent when he was tested roughly one hour after the crash. The DWI charge, however, was not dropped despite his BAC coming in below the legal limit of .08, Spota said. No additional charges were filed against Romeo as the investigation continued.

Romeo’s court date, which was originally set for last week, was adjourned to Sept. 18.

The past week saw the funerals of all four of the victims, while those injured were released from hospital care by the middle of this week. The North Shore community planned to take one of its first steps toward closure on Wednesday night at Smithtown High School West, where residents, elected officials and members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving were scheduled to meet. The event was borne out of a Facebook page titled “Candlelight Vigil for Our Girls,” which was put into action in the days following the tragedy. By Wednesday, the page had collected more than 6,000 names to its roster and countless photos of mourning and support for the victims’ families.

Marianne Howard, executive director with the Smithtown Historical Society, was one of the several Smithtown residents to tie red ribbons around trees in front of the society’s property. She said various businesses throughout town, including Towers Flowers of Nesconset and James Cress Florist of Smithtown, helped donate the ribbons to the cause.

“We mourn the loss of four beautiful souls who were taken too early from our community,” she said. “We send our deepest condolences to their families and friends. May they rest in peace.”

Chabad at Stony Brook also signed onto the cause of finding good in a tragic situation, launching its own Facebook event page, “responding to dark, with light,” in memory of the four girls and challenging residents to commit 400 random acts of goodness and kindness in their honor.

Chaya Klein Grossbaum of Chabad at Stony Brook said once the goal was reached, the group would print a book detailing each singular act.

Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum speaks at a ceremony last week. Photo by Barbara Donlon

The North Shore Jewish community is one step closer to getting its forever home as the groundbreaking ceremony for its new center took root in Stony Brook on Thursday evening.

Rabbi Chaim and his wife Rivkie Grossbaum addressed the eager crowd at the ceremony at R.C. Murphy Junior High School to mark the new Chabad Merrin Center at Stony Brook, named after Edward and Vivian Merrin, who donated $1 million to the center.

“Our wandering has come to an end,” Chaim Grossbaum said at the ceremony last week. “The Merrin Chabad Jewish Center is the answer.”

Since acquiring its first space at the Lake Grove Jewish Center in 1990, Chabad Stony Brook has spent much of its last 25 years wondering where it would offer its services. The growing Jewish community was hard to fit in the current center and it often relied on rental space to get the job done, Grossbaum said.

Members of Chabad at Stony Brook join with community leaders to ceremoniously break ground. Photo from Motti Grossbaum
Members of Chabad at Stony Brook join with community leaders to ceremoniously break ground. Photo from Motti Grossbaum

The current space can fit roughly 80 people, far less than the 400 families Chabad Stony Brook serves. The new center, now in phase two of the $5.5 million four-phase project, will be able to accommodate far more families once it is completed, he said.

The new center will have a banquet room, a gym, Mikvah and spa, a library, a pool, a santuary and more. The building is expected to open in the summer of 2016, the group said.

“It will pretty much be multi-use in many fashions for the several programs we service the community with,” Grossbaum said in a phone interview.

The center will offer Hebrew school, pre-school, summer camp and other school programs. According to layout plans, there will be five pre-school rooms and two regular classrooms.

The new center will be right in the heart of the Three Village community it serves, Grossbaum said. The center will also have a hospitality suite for the Jewish community taking care of sick loved ones at Stony Brook University Hospital, the group said.

The rabbi said he is hoping the center attracts new families to help Chabad Stony Brook grow exponentially.

“We want to give them reasons to want to go,” Grossbaum said. “It’s hard to create atmosphere in a rental space.”

The rabbi highlighted many of the difficulties the group experienced while going from place to place over the last 25 years. He said the center would help expand on everything they currently offer to enhance services.

Sheila Skolnick, an attendee at Chabad Stony Brook, said the center’s kind and welcoming atmosphere would draw many people into the new center. Skolnick along with many others said she is eagerly waiting for the new center to be built.

“The Merrin Center will be our place and we’ll know where to go,” Skolnick said. “It’s really a place for Jews to congregate from all over.”

Construction of the new center is expected to begin shortly. Kevin Harney of Stalco Construction is leading the project and John Tsunis of Gold Coast Bank is financing it.

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Chabad co-directors Rabbi Chaim and Rivkie Grossbaum visit the site of the new building construction on Nicolls Road. Photo from Rebecca Itzhaky

The days of celebrating in rented spaces are coming to an end for the North Shore-based Chabad at Stony Brook Jewish community.

Since acquiring its first space at the Lake Grove Jewish Center in 1990, Chabad at Stony Brook is finally breaking ground on its home turf with a new facility being built on Nicolls Road, much closer to the epicenter of its Three Village neighbors. The group will celebrate the new beginning with a groundbreaking ceremony on May 7 at 5:30 p.m. in anticipation of the summer 2016 building opening.

Chabad has been home to more than 400 families from Smithtown to Port Jefferson, but has relied on rental spaces throughout the year to host key events like the High Holiday services and popular holiday celebrations. The Shabbat services have also been held at the rabbi’s home.

Rabbi Motti Grossbaum of Chabad at Stony Brook said planning events like Bar and Bat Mitzvahs has become a logistical headache for the group, making the potential of a new space a welcome addition to the family.

“Since 1987, Chabad at Stony Brook has been like ‘the wandering Jew,’” Grossbaum said in a statement. “Though Chabad was fortunate to acquire the Lake Grove Jewish Center in 1990, it was not a perfect fit. For one thing, the location was 15-20 minutes away from the larger Jewish community in Stony Brook and other surrounding towns on Suffolk County’s north shore. Also, the building was too small to accommodate Chabad’s ever-growing attendance.”

The new facility was made possible thanks to a $1,000,000 grant from Edward and Vivian Merrin, founders of the Merrin Gallery in New York City and the project is being led by Kevin Harney of Stalco Construction and it is also being financed by John Tsunis of Gold Coast Bank.

“The new building will serve as a home and a hub for the rapidly growing Jewish community in the Three Village area and beyond,” Grossbaum said.

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