It’s almost a tradition in the mid-Atlantic states: When summer arrives, head for the shore.

But for the last few years, another tradition has steadily been taking hold in the New Jersey town of Ventnor, where Jewish community members and vacationers just celebrated the opening of a permanent home for Chabad-Lubavitch at the Shore.

For years, people in Ventnor who wanted to observe Shabbat could either stay home, or walk the considerable distance north to Atlantic City or south to Margate. But in 2004, suburban Philadelphia residents David Richter and Andrea Lee noticed a decidedly Old World figure walking down the street in front of their vacation home.

Lee, who during the year had been attending programs at Chabad of the Main Line in Merion Station, Pa., went up to the man – bedecked in a black skullcap known as a kippah, a white shirt, black pants and four fringes known as tzitzit hanging down from his sides – and asked him flat out if he was by any chance a Lubavitcher.

He was none other than Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, the oldest son of Rabbi Shmuel and Tova Rapoport, co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

The next morning, the elder Rapoport stopped by and invited the couple for a Shabbat at his home. In no time at all, the son and some friends were making weekly foot-powered jaunts to Ventnor to give Shabbat afternoon Torah classes at the Richter and Lee home.

“We never knew how many people were coming any given week,” remarked Lee. “As they would walk down the boardwalk, people would see them and join.”

A Series of Stops

At Chabad-Lubavitch of the Shore’s Krafts for Kids, children in Ventnor, N.J., can bake challah every Friday.
At Chabad-Lubavitch of the Shore’s Krafts for Kids, children in Ventnor, N.J., can bake challah every Friday.

Shabbat services came the following year, with Avrohom Rapoport leading the gatherings first at the home, and then at a succession of locations.

“We hung a sheet as a mechitza,” recalled Lee, referring to a religiously-proscribed barrier separating the genders during prayer. “The women sat in the dining room, while the men were in the living room.”

But while the Shabbat group grew and grew, a synagogue was out of reach until 2006, when Rapoport and his wife Mashie opened Chabad on the Shore in a small rented space. With this summer’s move to a 2,000-square-foot building closer to the boardwalk, said Rapoport, the community can finally rest assured in the knowledge that they have a permanent place to worship.

After winning a zoning variance from the local municipality, the shul opened its doors Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. According to the rabbi, the new location – which previously housed a daycare center – “is so central, that it is accessible to anyone on the island.”

This summer, the Rapoports are also coordinating regular services in Wildwood, a beach town in Cape May County.

“We’ve grown by leaps and bounds,” said Tad Stern, a Jersey shore local who started attending Jewish classes with his wife two years ago.

Lee said that the highlight of the services is Rapoport’s speeches.

“He is extremely dynamic, and very charismatic,” she said. “When he spoke about the Ten Commandments on Shavuot, he literally had me crying.”

During the week, Mashie Rapoport runs Krafts for Kids – a Jewish-themed crafts store opened by Chabad of the Shore. The storefront on Ventnor’s main road is open in the mornings and evenings when the beach is closed in order to accommodate families looking for things to do. On Fridays, Krafts for Kids features hands-on challah baking.

Rapoport recounted the story of a woman who learned about making Kiddush after her son brought home a Kiddush goblet that he made at the store. She went back, saw some candlesticks on display, and decided to start lighting Shabbat candles, as well.

Lee, whose husband leads the prayer services at the new synagogue, said that she’s thrilled the community finally “has a place to call its own.”

“We feel really taken care,” she said. “It’s like a big family.”