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Village Chabad

Members of Village Chabad in East Setauket and Lubavitch of the East End organized a car parade to thank the health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital May 12. Dozens of cars were led past Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the main building by a Setauket Fire Department truck and SBU police. The group was even joined by a music truck for entertainment.

Palms left by the door of All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. Photo from All Souls Episcopal

Since the middle of March, houses of worship have had to find other ways to stay connected with their congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked local clergy members how alternative methods have been working and what is on the minds of their congregants.

Setauket United Methodist Church

The Rev. Steven Kim, of Setauket United Methodist Church, is just one pastor who is using modern technology. He said COVID-19 can make connectivity or interaction difficult.

“A church is not an exception,” he said. “Since the pandemic broke out, our ministry has been focused on helping the parishioners feel connected with their church family. Technology is a key player in pursuing this goal. It has enabled us to continue worshiping, keep meetings, continue our bible study and have prayer gatherings all online.”

Kim said the church is also trying to serve the community through prayer and other supportive ways. Church members have sent encouragement cards to medical crews, first responders and police officers in the community and delivered pizza to the medical crew at the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital. 

“The current crisis challenges us to deepen our understanding of a faith community which is rooted in our society,” Kim said.

Setauket Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, interim pastor at Setauket Church, said the congregation at Setauket Presbyterian Church reflected on the theme of “wilderness” during the season of Lent.

“After the impact of the coronavirus became more real for us locally, our wrestling as a faith community with what it means to be in the “wilderness” obviously took on new meaning,” Jones Calone said. “We’ve been contemplating questions like: how do the various stories involving wilderness in scripture guide and challenge and sustain us during this time? Where are God and grace present in the wilderness? What does our church/community/world look like on the other side of a wilderness experience?”

Jones Calone said the experience reminds them that “the church is not a building but a community of people who share deep connection through their faith in a God of love.” Church members love one another and their neighbors by staying home, worshipping and meeting virtually, and comforting those who are sick, hurting, grieving and serving. The congregation also created an Emergency Assistance Fund to help those in need.

“This crisis has further exposed deep societal inequities around economic disparity, poverty, race and health care, and makes systemic transformation even more urgent,” she said.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

Daniel Kerr, a senior warden with All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook, has been leading Sunday morning virtual prayers at 8 and 9:30 a.m. on the church’s website. He said All Souls also held virtual Good Friday, Easter Vigils and Easter morning services. The live, interactive, virtual services have featured the few who can participate taking turns reading from the scripture and leading the prayers.

“Believe it or not, we have had more folks attending the virtual services than we normally get on Sundays in ‘normal times,’” Kerr said.

He added that many who usually attend the church’s concerts, poetry readings and Shamanic Drumming events have also been tuning in to the virtual services, as well as people from New Hampshire, Florida and the Carolinas.

On Palm Sunday, he said the palms normally distributed at the Mass were left on the church’s porch with a sign encouraging people to take them. Kerr said all of the palms were taken by the following Tuesday morning.

Kerr added that at the end of the services, participants are asked to share their reflections on how they are doing during this time.

“Quite often they say these services have helped them feel connected to the extended All Souls community and less isolated and alone in their homes during social distancing,” Kerr said.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

Linda Anderson, a minister affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, who also works with the South Nassau Unitarian Universalist congregation, said during this time she has needed to find new ways to serve congregants. In addition to calling, texting and sending emails to members, worship services as well as other meetings have been made available online.

Anderson said many have lost people in their lives, or fear they will, and have thought about their own deaths. 

“I hear the sadness that death brings,” she said. “The stress of grief affects our bodies in that we might feel more tired, have chest pains, upset stomachs, headaches. The stress of grief can make it hard for us to focus or make decisions. Our emotions can be all over the place, ranging from numbness to anger, from sorrow to relief.”

For those who fear their own deaths, she said it’s important to talk about their lives such as what they are proud of, what regrets they may have, what they think their legacy is and more. 

“It is a relief for folks to talk about these things out loud because they sure are thinking about them,” she said.

She said while the past holiday season had its challenges, the biblical story she found to be most relevant to congregants was that of the Israelites wandering in the desert.

“It feels like we too wander in the desert of COVID-19, uncertain of what will come next but holding onto a faith that we will indeed emerge from this,” Anderson said.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Rocky Point

The Rev. Peter Boehringer of Trinity Lutheran Church said the house of worship has used various online platforms for Sunday school, confirmation classes, First Communion, committee meetings and more. The church’s worship services are recorded and broadcasted on Facebook and YouTube.

He said the congregants see “the virus as something that falls within the realm of our interaction with nature.”

“Where we see God working is in the incredible compassion, empathy and commitment of people who have responded to the great challenges of this contagion with love,” he said. “If one takes the Easter message seriously, the idea that God is somehow punishing us, or the world, is negated. Our Lord does not promise that we will never be ill, or escape all disaster, etc., what is promised is the presence of the Holy Spirit in these things, that we may endure them and be a blessing to those around us.”

Village Chabad, East Setauket

Rabbit Motti Grossbaum said celebrating Passover this week was different than in the past.

“The question we ask at our Seder tables, ‘Why is this night different than all other nights?’ is ringing especially true at the present time,” he said. “We are doing our best to help the local community observe the holiday to the best degree possible as there is no reason we should Passover, Passover. Unfortunately as a Jewish people, we have been through challenges in our history, and the dedication that our ancestors had to our traditions and our heritage serves an inspiration to us during these challenging times to observe our faith despite the challenges. And when we do, we see that our connection to God and our faith gives us the hope we need to carry us through.”

Like other houses of worship, Village Chabad is using technology for services, education and counseling to members of all ages. Due to the pandemic, the rabbis have had to use technology to visit the sick and help families grieve virtually.

The rabbi had some words of hope. 

“While we cannot attempt to explain the reasoning for suffering and for COVID-19, we could attempt to find glimmers of hope and lessons of inspiration from our current world,” he said. “One obvious one is this. The world at large is currently united with one single focus. Crossing geographic divides, languages, cultures, races and even political differences, the world is currently united with one singular concern, goal and prayer. We are seeing how we are all responsible for each other and only together, will we bring an end to this. This is reminding us to set aside our differences and find the common humanity in every single human being on our planet. Every one of us are intrinsically good and together we will also reveal the intrinsic goodness of our world.”

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Village Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning in East Setauket hosted a historic evening with Holocaust survivor Irving Roth  Feb. 23. The 91-year-old Roth, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, shared his story to a sold-out crowd.

“Over 300 people packed our ballroom at Village Chabad to hear Mr. Irving Roth. You could hear a pin drop in the room for over an hour as he shared his fascinating personal story of survival and courage. He left everyone inspired by his unshakable faith in God, his uncompromising hope in humanity, and most importantly, his calling to each of us to do our part to increase goodness and kindness in our world every day,” said Rabbi Motti Grossbaum.

The event also included a performance by violinist Wendy Fogel of the Sound Symphony Orchestra and was followed by a book signing of Roth and his son Edward’s novel, “Bondi’s Brother: A Story of Love, Loss, Betrayal and Liberation.”

Irving Roth, circled, at liberation Photo from Village Chabad

Local residents are invited to the Village Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning  in East Setauket Feb. 23 to hear the firsthand account of Irving Roth, 90, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Readers of TBR News Media can also receive discounted tickets to the event when ordered Feb. 13 through 16.

“Irving Roth is a true survivor,” said Rabbi Motti Grossbaum of the Village Chabad. “Not only did he physically survive the terrors of WWII, but he lived on with his heart and hope intact. Roth’s presentation is sure to be moving, inspiring and educational for all who attend.”

Roth was just 10 years old when Nazi Germany invaded his native country of Czechoslovakia. He suffered through the horrific conditions of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and miraculously survived, emigrating to the United States in 1947. During the first time he returned to Auschwitz in 1998, Roth realized the importance of sharing his story with today’s generation. He has since devoted all his efforts to educating young and old about the perils of anti-Semitism and prejudice.

The evening is catered to all ages and will include a question and answer session following the main presentation.

“It is an honor for us to host Mr. Roth, and we are so fortunate that he has agreed to come to the Three Village area to share his riveting story,” said Grossbaum. “I encourage everyone who can — young and old — to come hear this remarkable person tell his incredible story of courage, faith, and survival.”

Due to limited space, advance ticket purchase is highly recommended and can be purchased at www.myvillagechabad.com. Tickets fees are $20 for advance tickets and $15 for students. A VIP option is also available that includes a reception with Roth, an autographed book and premium seating. Roth will also have copies of his book on sale.

TBR News Media readers can enter code TBR2020 when ordering tickets Feb. 13 to 16 to get a discounted $10 ticket.

Call 631-585-0521 or visit www.myvillagechabad.com for more information.

 The center is located at 360 Nicolls Road, East Setauket. The event begins at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. 

Local children and their family members had some fun with plastic building blocks while learning about one of the oldest cities in the world.

Using 70,000 LEGO pieces on a 20-by-20-foot mat, members of Village Chabad in East Setauket created a replica of the Old City of Jerusalem Feb. 3. The LEGO model included many points of interest, such as the gate entrances to the city, the Tower of David, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and more.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen, from Village Chabad, said the goal of the program was for those involved to leave the event with an admiration for the holy city.

Village Chabad brought in architect Stephen Schwartz of New Jersey-based Building Blocks Workshops to lead the children, parents and grandparents in constructing the model. On the mat were lines to help guide the building efforts. While some sat on the mat constructing walls and towers, others on the sidelines started putting together the buildings, grabbing LEGO pieces from bins.

During the program, Schwartz was constantly engaged with the children and adults, directing them to the proper location if they went astray.

Cohen said Village Chabad had heard about Schwartz’s work from different schools and institutions. The architect has also offered several programs that focus on the historical buildings in Stony Brook for The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

Schwartz said he has been conducting the LEGO projects for 25 years. It began when his daughter, an elementary school teacher in the Bronx, asked him to show her second-graders how a city is designed.

“When I saw that with LEGO you could teach second-graders about zoning, and they understood it, I saw that this was an amazing teaching tool,” he said.

Schwartz said in the past he has worked with LEGO pieces for different Jewish history programs, including Jerusalem, Masada, the Warsaw Ghetto and the world’s tallest LEGO menorah.

The architect said the projects are usually completed in two hours due to working around a school’s schedule. The Village Chabad program ran from 4:30 to around 6:30. Schwartz said after every program he aims for a 15-minute educational tour.

“I am an architect, so everything is exactly to scale,” Schwartz said. “The program gives people a ‘visual image’ of the shape and location of all the important elements in and around Jerusalem. It is a much more dynamic way to teach than just looking in a book or on a screen.”

Smithtown resident Gail Declue said she had no idea what to expect when she arrived for the build.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “The kids are really involved, and they are going to learn a lot about what Jerusalem looks like without even going.”

Elina Rukhlin, also of Smithtown, said her 10-year-old son was among the children building with LEGO pieces, and the family had traveled to Israel last year.

“My son is actually saying I remember we went to the Tower of David light show,” she said. “So, it’s really cool to be able to look back on our experience and then to see this, because we were actually there.”

Women pose at Village Chabad’s Mega Challah Bake last Sunday night in preparation for Rosh Hashana. Close to 100 women attended with over 200 pounds of flour, 200 eggs and 1,600 ounces of water used in the process. Photo by Peggy Gallery

By Rabbi Motti Grossbaum

Imagine you were given an opportunity to travel the entire world, every continent, every country at no cost. But there would be one condition; you would have to do it blindfolded. You can trek from Hawaii to the Swiss Alps, from the Amazon to Jerusalem, but it will all have to be done without you seeing any of it.

It’s a frustrating idea. Here you are going from place to place but to you, it all seems the same. The truth is, this dilemma does not just exist in the realm of space, it also exists in the realm of time.

Women pose at Village Chabad’s Mega Challah Bake last Sunday night in preparation for Rosh Hashana. Photo by Peggy Gallery

The Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) teaches us that just as every place has its own unique energy and purpose, which is why traveling is always filled with newness and adventure, every point in time has its own exclusive character and rhythm.

This week, this day, this very moment will never happen again; there will be many more moments to come, but none will be like this. One can go through life, day after day blindfolded, like listening to the same song on repeat. Or one can take off their blindfold, look at each day and recognize that the challenges and triumphs that are unfolding before them are unique. They have their own flavor and will never happen this exact way again.

This is what’s so significant about Rosh Hashana and the celebration of the Jewish New Year. During this holiday, the energy that will define the entire year ahead, the context in which everything will be achieved, enters into our world for the very first time.

Furthermore, the Kabbalah teaches, not only is this a new energy, each year it is an even greater energy than the year past. The potential and destiny that is waiting to be unlocked during this coming year is something the world has never seen.

All this happens with the blast of the shofar. The sound of the shofar is the sound of us piercing heaven and drawing down a year that is unlike any that’s ever been before. Its unique tone beacons us to take off our blindfold and witness the transition into a brand new year.

This year, we are given the opportunity to go on a magical journey of time to experience moments that are filled with fresh and untapped beauty. The choice is ours; we can slide right into the New Year blindfolded, completely unaware of the fact that we just entered into an entirely new dimension, or we can go hear the shofar and blow the blindfold off. We can open our hearts and pray for a year of health, redemption, prosperity and happy adventures!

Author Rabbi Motti Grossbaum serves at Village Chabad–Center for Jewish Life & Learning at 360 Nicolls Road in E. Setauket. For more information about High Holiday services and other programs and activities throughout the year, visit www.MyVillageChabad.com or call 631-585-0521.

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It was a beautiful day for a homecoming June 23.

Village Chabad, formerly known as Chabad at Stony Brook, opened the doors to its new center at 360 Nicolls Road in East Setauket Sunday. More than 500 were on hand for the grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting to help Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum and Rivkie Grossbaum, co-directors, the Chabad’s other rabbis and family members celebrate a new beginning.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented Chaim Grossbaum with a proclamation naming June 23 Village Chabad Day.

“This is a great day for people of faith,” Romaine said. “Faith is the most important thing that we have — a strong belief in God, a strong ethics system. And this facility is a blessing and a beacon in this town, and we are so proud of this grand opening this day.”

Grossbaum thanked everyone for attending the Chabad’s ribbon cutting, calling the new center everyone’s home.

“Here at the Village you’ll spend time with your expanded community family,” Grossbaum said. “You’ll come to be inspired. You’ll come to relax. You’ll come to study or meet up with a friend over a cup of coffee.”

The grand opening event included a singing performance from a number of the Hebrew school’s children and a tour of the new facility. After the ribbon cutting, many broke into a traditional circle dance to celebrate.

The Chabad had outgrown its former location in Lake Grove, and the rabbis would rent out local venues such as The Neighborhood House and the Holiday Inn Express at Stony Brook to hold events. Grossbaum said many celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs were celebrated in tents at his house.

The 13,000-square-foot Village Chabad, which cost nearly $5 million, sits on 8.8 acres of property, 2.8 acres of it having been developed. There are classrooms, study rooms, a sanctuary, a conference room, backyard, patio and a room that can hold 200 for events and holiday dinners.

The new Village Chabad is on Nicolls Road in East Setauket. Photo by Stacey Heber

With decades of history in the Three Village area, a religious organization is ready to flourish in a new venue.

A view of the front entrance of the new Village Chabad on Nicolls Road. Photo by Stacey Heber

Nestled on Nicolls Road, a new building designed by Natalie Weinstein & Associates of St James is near completion for Chabad at Stony Brook which currently works out of Lake Grove. A ribbon cutting will be held June 23 to mark the beginning of a new era for the organization with a larger home for those it serves to gather in, along with a new moniker — Village Chabad.

The original name, Chabad at Stony Brook, came about 32 years ago when Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum and Rivkie Grossbaum, co-directors, moved from New Jersey and first worked with Stony Brook University students. Soon, the Chabad services extended beyond the school and into the Three Village community and surrounding areas, with a synagogue, preschool, Hebrew and elementary schools, activities for children and adult education.

“Thirty-two years ago, it started with the university, but over the years it developed into a vast array of broad programming,” said Grossbaum’s son Rabbi Motti Grossbaum, program director.

During a recent tour of the new building, the Grossbaums, who provide services with Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen, director of education, said the Chabad outgrew its space in Lake Grove. Many programs had to be held at places such as the Bates House in Setauket, the Holiday Inn Express at Stony Brook and many other rentable spaces in the Three Village area due to lack of space.

“We were literally bursting at the seams there, which is why when we had to rent larger venues for community functions we rented up here in the Three Village area,” Motti Grossbaum said.

Chaim Grossbaum likened the new building to a village where everything a Jewish family needs would be under one roof. Like the Lake Grove location, Rivkie Grossbaum,  preschool director; Chanie Cohen, program coordinator; Chaya Grossbaum, camp coordinator; and Rivka Itzhaky, secretary and accounts payable/receivable, will join the rabbis.

“It would bring the community together as a village,” he said. “Whether they’re coming for the elementary school or coming for a holiday party, they’re coming home. They’re coming for prayer services or simply to relax with a friend over a cup of coffee. It’s the same home.”

The 13,000-square-foot Village Chabad sits on 8.8 acres of property, and 2.8 acres of it has been developed with a wooded buffer. There are classrooms, study rooms, a sanctuary, offices, a conference room, backyard, patio and a room that can hold 200 for events such as bat and bar mitzvahs and holiday dinners.

“This has been a community effort of many people who have stepped up and catapulted this whole project to happen.”

— Chaim Grossbaum

The rabbis said the new location would make it easier to serve the Jewish community who reside close to and on the North Shore. Many who attend services and activities at the Chabad are residents in the Three Village school district as well as Smithtown and Port Jefferson. The Chabad is open to anyone of the Jewish faith of any affiliation or background and membership is not required.

“The concept of Village Chabad is the wholesomeness that the Jewish community needs will be here,” Chaim Grossbaum said.

While the Chabad still holds a mortgage with Gold Coast Bank for the $5 million project, the rabbis said a number of sponsors, both big and small, stepped up to fund parts of the new building, including lead donors Edward and Vivian Merrin, owners of The Merrin Gallery in New York City, whose contribution kicked off the donations. Opportunities are still available for sponsorship as the Chabad hopes to finish a kitchen, install a playground for their school and a swimming pool for summer camp.

“This has been a community effort of many people who have stepped up and catapulted this whole project to happen,” Chaim Grossbaum said.

In addition to the rabbis, those who have attended services and events are looking forward to their new home. Cheryl and Bruce Singer, of Stony Brook, who have been involved with the Chabad for approximately four years, are among them.

“We look forward to having a modern building that provides a central hub for the Jewish community to learn, gather, worship, celebrate and participate in social and cultural events for all ages,” Cheryl Singer said.

Jennifer O’Brien, an insurance agent in Smithtown who travels to the Chabad from Hauppauge, said it has been nice to see it expand.

“Their new location looks like it will be the most upscale synagogue in our area as the floor plans are impressive to say the least,” O’Brien said. “My children loved attending Hebrew school at their former location in Lake Grove, and we are so excited for all that the grand opening and new accommodating space will offer a synagogue, school and camp.”

Andy Polan, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said the new building “shows that our Jewish community is vibrant and growing.”

“It was Chabad’s outreach that inspired me to become more engaged with my Judaism and to take on leadership roles in our Jewish community,” Polan said. “These are experiences that will impact me forever.”

Motti Grossbaum said the Chabad currently serves about 500 active families and the move gives the Chabad the opportunity to benefit many more residents.

“We’re part of people’s lives, and we’re trying to bring meaning and purpose and to remind people that beyond the chaos of our day-to-day life, we all have a collective mission to make the world a better place every day,” Motti Grossbaum said.

The ribbon cutting will be held June 23 at 1 p.m. at the new building located at 360 Nicolls Road, East Setauket. Registration is required by visiting www.myvillagechabad.com.