There is a fascinating synagogue in East Hampton, N.Y., a trendy hotspot on the eastern end of Long Island. Those who have the privilege to pray there can gaze out the window and see nothing but blue sky, sand and miles of the endless waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, in many ways, this synagogue is one-of-a-kind.

It all started 32 years ago in the town of Commack, N.Y.

Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten, now co-director with his wife Goldie of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Hamptons, was a young and energetic 16-year-old when he began traveling to Long Island to bolster Jewish youth involvement. The yeshiva student knew he had his work cut out for him: One of his first projects was to set up Jewish youth clubs throughout the island, and he visited Hebrew schools to spread the word about various programs and get-togethers. By the end of the decade, rabbinical students and seminary girls were commuting regularly to various Long Island towns to run successful youth groups of their own.

Their hard work and dedication paid off; the enthusiasm of the young Chassidim rubbed off on the local youth, and the kids in turn got their parents involved. It wasn't long before each of the towns began supporting full-time emissaries. Today, Long Island boasts 28 Chabad centers.

In 1987, Baumgarten learned of a New York investor who wanted to establish a weekly Shabbat service in the Hamptons, where he owned property. Baumgarten, still based out of Commack, advertised in the local Jewish paper to feel out the community. A family quickly responded by offering their house to serve as a temporary synagogue.

At the beginning, reflecting the Hamptons' summer-destination chic, the young minyan functioned seasonally between the holidays of Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. Every Shabbat for the more than three months every year, Baumgarten would leave his wife and growing family in Commack with either his father or father-in-law to conduct services in East Hampton. It hardly made for an ideal arrangement, but accommodations for all of the Baumgartens could not be found.

It took 17 years until there was enough community support to justify a full-time operation. Finally, in 2004, all of the Baumgartens moved out to the Hamptons following the construction of a mikveh, which the rabbi saw as a necessity for any viable Jewish community.

Learning the art of challah-baking at a women’s circle event in the Hamptons.
Learning the art of challah-baking at a women’s circle event in the Hamptons.
For Rosh Hashanah in East Hampton this year, Baumgarten set up a tent in the yard to accommodate an expected overflowing crowd. Guests' children took over the synagogue, where they enjoyed programming geared for their age-groups.

"On the Atlantic ocean waterfront, we blew the shofar for those that did not hear it yet," said the rabbi. Congregants also marched to the water for the traditional Tashlich service, bringing Jews they happened to meet on the beach along with them.

Ask congregants what brings them out, and you're bound to hear of the Baumgartens' warm personalities and sincerity.

Dr. Philip Freedman, a New York anesthesiologist, has a daughter who lost her fiancé in a 2003 earthquake. Both physically and emotionally drained from the tragedy, a friend recommended her meeting Baumgarten. She found solace in his sound advice, and convinced her parents to meet him for a Friday night Shabbat meal.

Freedman loved the experience, he said, finding the Baumgartens to be "very approachable and down to earth." Now, the rabbi and the doctor can frequently be seen riding bikes side by side.

Neil Bersin, a local real estate agent, has seen the East Hampton minyan grow over the years. What has really amazed him, he said, is the Baumgartens' dedication to helping others, be it the rabbi "breaking his back" to get a minyan during the week for someone needing to say Kaddish or Goldie Baumgarten ensuring accommodations for hundreds of people each month.