Beth Am’s Shabbats in the park return for the summer

Attendees participate in a 2019 Services in the Park event.
Attendees participate in a 2019 Services in the Park event (Courtesy of Beth Am Synagogue)

Can a washboard band be part of Shabbat services? At Beth Am, the answer is a firm “yes.”

Services in the Park is an opportunity for members, prospective members and friends of Beth Am Synagogue to gather together for an outdoors, instrumental Kabbalat Shabbat service, said Jamie Aaron, program coordinator at Beth Am. The series normally includes Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg playing the guitar, along with Beth Am’s Uncle Ira’s Hebrew Washboard Ensemble, a collection of musicians who commonly play during Beth Am’s Klei Kodesh Shabbat services once a month, Aaron said.

The Services in the Park series will be held July 2, July 16, Aug. 7 and Aug. 20. Beth Am has held the series in the Maryland Zoo’s Waterfowl Pavilion, one of its rental facilities, for the last several years, Aaron said, and will do so again this year. While the zoo’s exhibits are closed to the public, she said it remained an excellent gathering spot.

“It’s just a really great place to gather,” Aaron said. “There’s so much green space, and there’s kids running around and playing games and it’s a really just a different space.”

Burg said in an email that Services in the Park began years before he came to Baltimore, describing them as “a mashup between Tanglewood (or some other outdoor music venue) and a family picnic.”

“This is really our first in-person event as we come out of COVID, and we’re just looking forward to being together with our congregants and our friends,” Aaron said.

At the intergenerational, exclusively in-person program, attendees bring dairy or pareve picnic dinners with them to enjoy a summer evening together, Aaron said. Picnic tables are available at the venue, and Beth Am provides attendees with tablecloths. If participants are more comfortable bringing their own picnic blankets or chairs, though, they are quite welcome to.

While in past years Beth Am has provided attendees with ritual items such as challah and wine or grape juice, Aaron said, due to the pandemic this year, people will need to bring their own.

The series will go forward rain or shine, Burg said. The zoo’s bathrooms are available for use, while a golf cart for those with mobility challenges is also at the congregation’s disposal.

In past years, events in the series have seen an average of 200 attendees, depending on factors such as weather and people’s vacation schedules, Aaron said. Participants can listen as the washboard ensemble, which includes professional musicians, volunteers, congregants and nonmembers, plays everything from the drums to the spoons.

The opening event on July 2 will help mark the arrival of two new senior staff members, Rabbi Tyler Dratch and Alex Pomerantz, Aaron said. Dratch will join Beth Am both as the rabbi for Tefilah Leadership and the director of youth and family education, while Pomerantz will come in as the new executive director. This will be the first opportunity for the congregation to meet both Dratch and Pomerantz face to face.

“Beth Am is rooted in our Reservoir Hill neighborhood, and Druid Hill Park is like our backyard,” Burg said. “The Waterfowl Pavilion where we hold services is at the park’s original boat lake. The outdoor setting really adds to the spirituality of the evening, and with COVID, we know many people are thrilled to have opportunities to safely come together outdoors!”

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