Beth Shalom welcomes in-person community with BBQ


In what will be its first major in-person event since the beginning of the pandemic (aside from a few religious services and a bar mitzvah), Beth Shalom Congregation is holding an outdoor barbecue on Aug. 29 to welcome its community back.

In past years, Beth Shalom would organize a barbecue for students on the last day of its Hebrew school, said Susan Kuning, an executive vice president at the synagogue. The pandemic put a halt to that, and so, with the first day of in-person classes approaching, staff began looking at holding the barbecue on the first day of school instead.

“As we started talking about it, we thought this doesn’t have to be just kids,” said Kuning, a resident of Columbia. “This is such a big deal that we’re welcoming back the whole community back to Beth Shalom. We should expand it to welcome and have things of interest for everybody.”

All of the food at the barbecue will be kosher and include hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, pasta salad and soda.

In past years, Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood has held open houses on the first day of school to display its different wares and to sign up new members, Kuning said. By contrast, the upcoming barbecue is expected to feature a DJ, games with water balloons and water pistols, samples of honey for the High Holidays and pies for Thanksgiving, monster costumes, lawn games such as cornhole and of course many opportunities for the adults to schmooze. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs.

The shul is expecting as many as 100 attendees, Kuning said, noting people had been “signing up like crazy.”

“This means people really want to come back and see people,” Kuning said.

Kuning gave Linda Eisenberg, the committee chair for the event, the lion’s share of the credit for spearheading the upcoming barbecue.

In the event of inclement weather, the barbecue will be held the following evening, though without the activities, Kuning said. They had considered moving the event indoors if needed, but decided against this “in the interest of comfort and safety.”

As the event will be outdoors and involve food, social distancing restrictions will be more pliable then they might be otherwise, Kuning explained. While attendees will be encouraged to wear masks when practical and to make use of the abundant outdoor space to avoid clumping together, Kuning said that “there’s a limited amount of that you can do at a picnic, and it’s not as dire when you’re outside.” Unvaccinated adults will not be turned away.

Kuning’s favorite part of events like barbecues is seeing people she doesn’t get to see enough of and chatting and catching up with them and their families, things she’s had less opportunity to do of late, she said.

“Now it’s a relaxed atmosphere,” Kuning said. “So you can sit down and just chat with people you otherwise just don’t get to see. … It’s just a chance to actually live and be back in the real world.

“One of the things that happens when people are separated for so long, due to COVID, is they lose connection. … So I’m hoping people will remember how wonderful it is to feel a part of a community,” she continued.

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