Parashat D’varim: Beginning the Fifth Book of Torah
Summer Jewish Life in the Poconos
This past Shabbat morning, I chanted the prayer announcing the new Hebrew month of Av in our summer congregation, the Hemlock Farms Jewish Fellowship. For 32 years, Ellen and I have spent our summer vacation in Hemlock Farms, a recreational community of 3000 homes located in Lords Valley, Pennsylvania.
Jews the world over will begin to read the book of D’varim/Deuteronomy this coming Shabbat. D’varim is the fifth and last book of the Torah. The book is very different in tone and style from the other four books. Moses speaks to the Jews as they are preparing to enter the Promised Land. For most of the book, he speaks in first person. He presents three orations summarizing the laws that the Jewish people have been taught and the experiences they have endured during their forty years of wandering.
The entire book transpires in just five weeks! At the very end of the book, Moses dies after 120 years of faithful service to G-d and to the Jewish people.
As we begin to read the book of D’varim, we realize that the summer season is about half over. Next Wednesday evening and Thursday, July 26 and 27, we observe the 25 hour fast of Tisha B’av, the ninth day of the month of Av, a day devoted to remembering the catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people, including the destruction of the first and second Temples, the expulsion from Spain, the Holocaust, and so many other tragedies. After the ninth day of Av, there are seven weeks to the High Holidays, and our new year of activities begins once again.
Since 1990, the Tilman family has vacationed in Hemlock Farms. For ten years, we rented different homes. In 2002, we decided to build our own summer home. This summer, we are residing in our Hemlock home for the twentieth year.
The Jewish life within our community has evolved and grown. When the community was new, Jewish residents founded the Hemlock Farms Jewish Fellowship in 1980 as a place for social gatherings. Soon, the leadership decided to organize Shabbat evening services. Student Rabbis from Hebrew Union College were engaged for the summer season, and Shabbat evening services were exceptionally well attended. The leadership decided to engage a full time Rabbi, and soon Shabbat morning services were offered to the growing Hemlock Jewish community.
Shabbat evening services are now conducted according to the Reform practice using the Reform prayerbook. Shabbat morning services are conducted from the Conservative prayerbook, and include Torah reading and both the Morning and Additional service.
Five years ago, a Chabad Rabbi rented a home and began conducting Orthodox Shabbat morning services. He and his wife now offer a full range of traditional activities, including Shabbat and Sunday morning services, Shabbat dinners, classes, and social gatherings. This past Sunday afternoon, the Chabad Rabbi, his Rebbetzin, and his seven children, age 10 to two months, hosted a barbecue. Ellen and I attended and we were so pleased to find over 100 adults and children, all of whom reside in Hemlock Farms!
Ellen and I contribute to the Jewish life of the Hemlock Farms Jewish Fellowship in many ways. Two weeks ago, Ellen presented her 2023 program on New Reads. I am offering a Sing Along program of Israeli music in celebration of Israel 75. I officiate at Shabbat morning services whenever the Rabbi asks me fill in for her.
We can purchase David Elliot Kosher poultry in our local Weis supermarket. We are an hour’s drive from Monticello, New York, the gateway to the Catskills. In Monticello and other Catskills towns, there are several large Kosher supermarkets, restaurants, and Jewish bookstores serving the growing Orthodox communities.
There are many other recreational communities throughout the Poconos offering similar facilities.
We attend summer concerts at Bethel Woods, a large summer concert venue built on the site of the original 1969 Woodstock Festival that took place on the Yasgur Farm, a Jewish dairy farmer who made his property available to the concert promoters. We always take our company to the terrific Woodstock Museum on the grounds of Festival site. The museum’s exhibits include sensational audio and video recordings of the original performances.
We spend our time swimming in our pools and lakes, bike riding, cooking, home repair and gardening projects, and visiting with our Hemlock Farms friends. We attend Shabbat morning services every week to pray and to meet and greet members of our growing Jewish Hemlock Farms community.
Soon, we shall return to Elkins Park and to KI. High Holiday rehearsals of Shir KI, our wonderful adult choir will begin on Tuesday evening, August 15, at 7 pm. New singers are always welcome!
Ellen and I wish you and your families Shabbat Shalom.