Planting the Seeds: Beth El Dedicates Generations Park on Sukkot
By: Brandon Chiat, Digital Media Strategist
Before the pavilion of Generations Park rose from the dirt in July 2019; Before Rabbi Steve Schwartz and Ritual Director Ben Kreshtool led a group of excitable preschoolers through a Havdalah service commemorating the opening of their new playground and splash-pad in May; Before the builders first broke ground in April and before Kevin Nealon performed at LIVE! From Beth El honoring Joan and Dr. Michael Schultz, whose generous leading gift made Generations Park a reality, there was a vision.
"If Beth El's mission is to make Judaism a central and indispensable part of daily life than we must create physical spaces where our members can experience those Jewish moments here at their synagogue," said Amanda Beitman, Director of Development. "Our vision for Generations Park was to create a beautiful and versatile setting for Jewish life."
"Synagogues are becoming multi-purpose gathering places where the community can connect not only around prayer and study, but also cultural programs, social events, and informal gatherings," Rabbi Steve Schwartz said. "Generations Park will be one of those community forming spaces at Beth El."
Beginning on October 18th, 2019, Beth El will host A Weekend of Celebration and Dedication of Generations Park. The grand opening of Beth El's bucolic crown jewel intentionally coincides with Sukkot, the High Holy Day on which Jews thank God for the bounties of the natural world.
"In biblical times, Sukkot was the great pilgrimage festival when Jews brought the first fruits of their annual harvest to the Holy Temple. In that light, Generations Park will help us honor the Jewish people's deep agricultural roots and profound connection to the natural world," Cantor Melanie Blatt said. "During the opening weekend, Beth El families will have an opportunity to help plant the gardens of Generations Park, bringing life, beauty, and bounty right here in our backyard."
The opening weekend festivities will celebrate a spectacular addition to Beth El's campus and embrace the spirit of Sukkot.
"Being outdoors is central to Sukkot and Generations Park is a space where Jewish life can be lived outside," Rabbi Schwartz said. "Some of my most memorable prayer experiences have taken place outdoors, where the wind, sun, trees, and clouds all come together to remind me of the gratitude I should have for the beautiful world God has made for us."
The festivities begin with a Sukkot Family Shabbat Service open to Beth El students of all ages and their families in the Generations Park Pavilion led by Cantor Blatt on Friday, October 18th at 5:15 p.m., followed by a dinner for those families at 5:45 p.m.
Providing a venue for alternative prayer services like Family Shabbat and the well-received PRAYground Shabbat is one-way Generations Park supports Jewish learning.
"Generations Park is the place where our young friends can begin their Jewish journeys," said Mandy Barish, Director of Early Childhood Education. "The playground, in particular, enhances our students' social-emotional skills through collaborative play, creativity, and imagination."
Beth El's educators have already witnessed how Generations Park fosters community.
"When new families tour Beth El's campus, the first thing they notice is Generation Park's playground," said Jill Suffel, Coordinator of Early Childhood Education. "People gravitate to the playground. The kids can't wait to get out there, and the parents stay with their children long after pick-up hours, leading to new friendships between family members of all ages."
Immediately following the family service, Cantor Thom King will lead a Kabbalat Shabbat service in the Gorn Chapel at 6:00 p.m. Then, The Soul Center will host its renowned Shir Joy service - an immersive, spiritual excursion into prayer and song - in the Generations Park Pavilion at 7:00 p.m., followed by a dinner in the sukkah at 8:15 p.m.
"When we first started The Soul Center nearly three years ago, we asked: when was the last time you had a spiritual experience? People shared stories about being outdoors and connecting with the natural world: a gorgeous sunset, a challenging hike to a mountain summit, or gazing up at the stars," said Rachel Siegal, Managing Director of The Soul Center. "Being outside in Generations Park reminds us that life is interconnected and that we are part of something bigger than ourselves."
The celebrations continue on Sunday, October 20th, with the formal dedication of Generations Park and Congregational Sukkot Hoshanah Rabbah service in the pavilion at 9:45 a.m., followed by Beth El's Fall Festival from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., a day of family-friendly outdoor programming including face painting, live music, hayrides, and a hay maze.
"Generations Park will be the site of many sacred and spiritual moments, which speaks to the congregation's primary value of kedusha," Cantor Blatt said. "We will have a new space for learning and experiencing Torah in the outdoors, where we can be surrounded by Hashem's beautiful creations."
To that point, Beth El's core value of chesed informed the design of Generations Park, which includes elements for all ages and physical abilities. In addition to making the park usable to everyone from the outset, the generosity of the synagogue's donors enabled Beth El to complete the project in full, rather than developing Generations Park over multiple capital campaigns.
"Words cannot express the gratitude our Beth El tribe has for the donors who made Generations Park a reality," Mrs. Beitman said. "Thank you for allowing us to dream, Generations Park has already exceeded our wildest expectations!"
However, the full potential of Generations Park will only be realized in the years to come, as Beth El families make the space their own, embracing it as the backdrop to their Jewish lives.
"We are planting Jewish seeds for future generations," Rabbi Schwartz said. "So much of this project is about creating memories that a young person will keep with them as they grow into adulthood. We hope children who grow up using the playground at Generations Park will feel like Beth El is their home – a place where their Jewish identity can flourish."
A Weekend of Celebration & Dedication of Generations Park - Schedue of Events
Friday, October 18th:
5:15 - 5:45 p.m.: Sukkot family Shabbat service in the Pavilion
5:45 - 6:30 p.m.: Dinner for families in our Sukkah
6:00 - 6:45 p.m.: Kabalat Shabbat service in the Gorn Chapel
7:00 p.m.: Soul Center Shir Joy service in the Pavilion
8:15 p.m.: Shir Joy dinner in our Sukkah
Sunday, October 20th:
9:45 - 10:45 a.m.: Congregational Sukkot Hoshanah Rabbah service in the Pavilion 1
11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.: Community Sukkot Fall Festival
For more information, contact Cantor Melanie Blatt at [email protected] or 410-484-0411.
Simchat Torah Celebrations
Monday, October 21st, 2019:
5:30 - 6:00 p.m.: Dinner for Kindergarten families (Shapiro)
6:15 - 8:00 p.m.: Mincha/Ma’ariv, Kindergaten Torah Celebration, Congregational Hakafot, drinks, snacks, and music outside
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019:
10:00 a.m.: Simchat Torah Service honoring Robert Slatkin & Arnold Fruman