On Sunday morning, July 14, Abby Robinson cooked a French hallah toast breakfast for 10 at the Shore House for Sandy Relief. She didn’t have to do it, since she was technically a guest at the Long Branch summer residence sponsored by Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
That she chose to seize the skillet underlines the success of the venture in bringing together young Jewish adults in their 20s and 30s for weekends of beach time, bonding, and mitzvot.
“People pitch in here,” said Robinson. “This is a very friendly, team-oriented environment.”
Seven residents, plus three on-site coordinators, were at the house to enjoy Robinson’s breakfast during the July 12-14 Shabbat and weekend.
The week before, tying in with the Independence Day holiday, the Shore House attracted substantially more than the typical 10-12 visitors. “We slept 26 for four nights,” said coordinator Melanie Krutzel of Manalapan. “There were mattresses everywhere, even in one walk-in closet that has a window.”
Shore House residents mostly spend the daylight hours going to the beach, and in the evenings hang out in the backyard or on the front porch, swapping stories and singing. “Making sure everyone has a good time is our number one goal,” said coordinator Roey Wieser, 28, of Freehold.
Through the July 26-28 weekend, some 75 people have taken up residence in the Shore House — which began June 21 and is running through Labor Day — and spaces are filling up rapidly for the rest of the summer, according to Ariella Lis Raviv, the federation’s director of community impact, who is overseeing the project. Additionally, she said, about 100 non-residents have joined in the Shabbat dinner, closing barbecue, and other activities.
The federation is sponsoring the program and the Jim Joseph Foundation is heavily subsidizing the venture so that attendees only have to kick in a nominal amount. Moishe House of Oakland, Calif., is providing programming assistance.
About half the participants are local; the rest were drawn to the shore because their families vacation there or are members of Jewish young adult groups in the tristate area. Some had participated in other Moishe House settings, like a group from Philadelphia that was scheduled to spend a weekend. The Shore House has also had repeat residents and visitors throughout the summer.
No one is forced to adhere to a schedule, said Krutzel, but certain communal activities are part of each weekend — Shabbat dinner on Friday, Havdala on the beach on Saturday evening, a Sandy aid community service project on Sunday morning or early afternoon, and a farewell barbecue Sunday evening.
Howard Levi, 23, of Ocean Township, the third coordinator, is principally responsible for arranging the community service activities. Over the course of the summer, he is organizing property and beach cleanups, simple home construction jobs, furniture repairs, food and clothing collections, and more.
On July 14, the Shore House crew distributed leaflets offering free help to those in need. The young volunteers canvassed a neighborhood that had been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy — not so much by the ocean rushing in as by overflow from a nearby swampy area. One summer renter they encountered said, “It seems like every third or fourth house is unoccupied this year.”
A homeowner confessed that she would be moving inland to Eatontown at the end of July, after having lived year-round in her Long Branch home for 52 years. “We’ve been talking about moving for more than 20 years, but we just never did anything about it,” she told the Shore House representatives.
Elliot Braun of East Windsor participated in back-to-back weekends early in July. The 24-year-old said he learned about the Shore House from Krutzel, whom he knew during their undergraduate days at Rutgers.
Braun said he enjoyed lending a hand to help in the Sandy recovery effort. “The first weekend I was here, we helped a Sea Bright householder — a middle-aged woman — to install an air conditioner and make some needed home repairs,” he told NJJN. “I found it very rewarding.”
Brooke Lichter of Holmdel had such a good time at the Shore House over the weekend of July 19-21 that she is determined to recruit residents for the rest of the summer from among her friends.
The 21-year-old Monmouth University student heard about the Shore House from Levi, a friend.
She told NJJN that the experience was a “cool way to meet other Jewish people — some from the area and some from Philly and NY — and share what we have in common.” Shabbat dinner and Havdala on the beach were highlights, but, Lichter said, she got a lot of satisfaction from the Sunday project, which had that weekend’s 12 Shore House residents helping an elderly couple in Sea Bright clean away debris from Sandy littering their home and yard.
Lichter said she since high school, she has often been involved in service projects, but “combining the volunteer work with the Jewish aspects of the program” made it particularly meaningful. As a result of her participation, she said, and her Birthright Israel trip last winter, she intends to seek out more Jewish activities when she returns to campus in the fall.
During the weekend she stayed there, Lichter said, she and the others who stayed at the house “became really good friends” who will be sure to stay connected. And she has not seen the last of the Shore House; she said she intends to drop by for activities all through the summer.