For tourists and residents alike, Chabad-Lubavitch at the Shore provides a much-needed spiritual respite from the sand and sun in and around Atlantic City. For the past 25 years, the Rapoport family has served beach-goers with traditional Sabbath and holiday programming, as well as services specific to the South Jersey vacation hotspot.
When Rabbi Shmuel and Tova Rapoport first moved to the Shore close to three decades ago, they couldn’t imagine the extent to which their Chabad House would become a family affair, involving many of their children, including current director Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, as well as hundreds of locals and summer residents.
“We’re here to provide inspiration for people,” said Avrohom Rapoport, who took the reins five years ago and now hosts more than 100 guests on an average summer weekend. “When people participate, they feel proud of being Jewish, no matter who they are.”
Such Jewish pride takes many forms. From kosher barbeques on the beach, to the seventh annual Jewish summer festival, which is set to draw close to 800 people for an evening of music, food, rides, crafts and camaraderie, the center is reaching out to all elements of the Jewish shore-going public.
“The festival really attracts hundreds from all different walks of life, and so many people look forward to it every year,” said Ari Rabinowitz, who lives full time in Ventor, N.J., which shares a border with Atlantic City. “Chabad provides an incredible sense of community, especially in such a transient one, and it’s the place where visitors and locals can always feel welcome and at home.”
Since meeting the Rapoports close to three years ago, Rabinowitz has strengthened his connection to Judaism to the point of keeping a kosher home, donning the prayer boxes known as tefillin, and praying with the community every day. He and some of the 50,000 Jewish tourists and residents who call the shore home every summer find themselves enjoying Sabbath meals at the Rapoport home and synagogue as a way to further their connection to both the community and their heritage.
A popular venue, which attracts the youngest members of the shore community, is Crafts for Kids, a storefront on the boardwalk initiated by Tova Rapoport some eight years ago. In the colorful, friendly store, children aged two and older can choose from more than 75 different crafts to build or paint. For the few hundred children who choose a craft every month, the activities are something to do besides sitting at the beach all day.
Crafts for Kids’ main attraction, however, is its weekly challah baking workshop. According to Rapoport, tens of thousands of children have baked their own challahs in the now reservation-only class, which guides children and their parents through the entire baking process, from start to finish. Every Friday, Rapoport hosts three 15-child workshops, and sends families home with a recipe and a freshly baked challah.
“The challah baking workshop has become a great opportunity to connect with the families about the Sabbath,” said Rapoport. “I send them home with a ‘goodie-bag’ of Sabbath candles and candle-lighting times, and as a result, I have seen many families begin to have to their own Sabbath meals at home.”
For those who call the shore home year round, the Rapoport family has become a source of strength and growth.
Wendy Land, who lives in nearby Egg Harbor Township, became more involved with Chabad about two years ago when she was searching for more spirituality in her life. Since then, her life has changed to incorporate more Jewish practice.
“Rabbi Avrohom came to make my kitchen kosher this year, and it was the most beautiful experience,” said Land, who recently made a celebration in synagogue in honor of her daughter’s choosing a Hebrew name. “He sang and told stories the whole time; I’m very lucky to have found him. I’m glad to be able to rekindle my spirituality through Chabad, and this warm, kind, and compassionate family.”
For Helen Luloff Goddard, of Absecon, attending a weekly Torah study class has been an unexpected opportunity to reconnect with the traditions of her youth.
“I feel that I’ve been welcomed back to Judaism with a warmth that I haven’t felt since I was a little girl,” said Goddard, who is one of 14 in the class. “Something magical happens at Chabad. Here, you just feel loved, and it’s just wonderful. The Rapoports are such a wonderful example of the way you should live a life. They are a refreshing part of my life and I love it.”