By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
For a while there, I thought it would never happen. Because although I’ve always wanted to be a well-seasoned traveler, my reality was far from that becoming something I’d feel comfortable taking on.
Yes, my big boys were away for the summer and I had only two little ones to potentially plan a weekend away with and pack up for (two things I’m less than proficient at doing) but it was something I had dreamed of, the way couples plan on going out on a winter motzaei Shabbos when Shabbos ends at 5 p.m. It’s something we all think would be nice to do, until we find ourselves in pajamas an hour later with a pint of ice cream and Netflix at our disposal and, all of a sudden, plans change.
The backstory was a good one. Around five years ago, I received a text from a Chabad shluchah cousin of mine from East Hampton that went like this: “Hi Malkie! It’s Musia. We have friends who summer in East Hampton who have their son’s bar mitzvah in a few weeks—wondering how close you’d be to the Sephardic Temple?”
As I read the message and laughed at the idea that she had no clue that the shul was a few feet from my backyard and that her East Hampton friends were my neighbors, I responded that we were very close by and would love to have them on the Shabbos of the simcha.
Since that time, Musia would reach out at the start of every summer and invite us for a Shabbos in the Hamptons. A native of Crown Heights, Musia married Aizik Baumgarten from East Hampton and in the last few years established Chabad of Montauk during the summer months.
When I received the usual message from her before the start of this summer, I mentioned her invitation to Naomi, who’d vacation by my home in Woodmere, which she lovingly referred to as “Hotel Hirsch.”
As we discussed it, Naomi turned the fleeting thought into something that would actually happen.
As most plans away from home overwhelm me, the idea of taking a long weekend away did just the same. Because of my less-than-stellar organizational skills and my inability to multitask in general, it just didn’t seem feasible until Naomi got on board with the whole thing.
As she’d send me the destinations we should hit up while there (we totally planned on doing some Instagram stories with Ina Garten at Loaves & Fishes, but, alas, she wouldn’t return our calls), I became more and more excited at the prospect of (a) actually leaving the Five Towns for a few days and (b) telling everyone who’d listen that we were going to the Hamptons for a long weekend.
It became such fun to see people’s reactions to my weekend plans that I resolved to tell everyone that I’d be spending the weekends in Montauk all summer, even though I’d likely be home in pajamas watching Netflix.
In all seriousness, for those who don’t know what it takes to establish and run a Chabad house, regardless of exotic locale, it’s a lot of hard work. I haven’t been privy to the inner workings of what’s required like I was this past weekend, but, essentially, it’s the ultimate act of selflessness. It’s the fundraising for your Chabad house and programming for outreach for those who are frum and also unaffiliated.
For those who want to experience a Shabbos meal or for those vacationing in different locations who rely on Chabad for so much, they act as concierge, religious and Chassidic authority, and also the fun cousins you have early memories of sharing part of your childhood with.
The mission of Chabad is outreach in general, in the worldwide sense—and in Montauk specifically—being a place a surfer or fisherman wants to stop by in the early morning to put on tefillin and grab a bagel before hitting the waves or his boat.
It might be something my cousin had grown up observing and wanting for her own family, but when I see what has to be balanced with maintaining the Chabad and caring for her own young family, her efforts don’t go unnoticed.
She might have always wanted this, but it’s different to want something and be motivated to do exactly what was envisioned. It’s tireless work that’s generally unappreciated a lot of time. But these efforts are caused by an inner purpose unseen by many.
It requires creativity, multitasking, and a lot of faith to do what they do day in and out, and I’m so happy I finally got to see what it takes to do the things they do on a daily basis.
Naomi and I helped with the prep work in the kitchen as well as regaling the company with fun stories from the front lines of food blogging (we have the talent of making grocery shopping sound super-appealing) and explaining the concept of social media in general to people who involve their time in G-d’s work—being an example to many on how they sacrifice general comforts and conveniences to be there for others in many different locations.
I know it’s not the way I was raised, but I have an enormous amount of respect for the work my cousins all over the world do to be there for every type of Jew who shows up at their door for a plethora of reasons. As we sat down for shalosh seudos on Shabbos, Musia’s husband Aizik gave over a thought from Pirkei Avos.
“What’s the straight path a person should choose? Whatever brings beauty to the person and is beautiful to others.”
Sometimes we err on the side of caring too much what other people will think. Other times, we might veer too far inward, focusing on our inner world, integrity, and thoughts, with not enough regard for how it affects others.
Tiferet means synthesis in beauty. What synthesizes the personal integrity of the person and also emanates that beauty outward, connecting to others, is the balanced path. Mitzvos come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors to help us keep that delicate equilibrium.
He spoke of the concept of being “fine.” Not being extreme in your religiosity but instead remaining on a straight, honest path and being consistent instead of trying too hard; you can end up burning out eventually from your efforts. Don’t let the “perfect” be the enemy of the “good.”
Gentle with the self, gentle with others. Integrity from within, kindness outward.
What we might think of a minor mitzvah versus a major one, and how as a people, we are intentionally uninformed on the values of mitzvos, so we don’t pass over ones that might seem unimportant. G-d wants us to know there are no small parts or small actors.
Everything matters for the good, every point counts and shines our souls. Sometimes being fine is the right path to be on. We should travel on a path that brings beauty and benefit to ourselves as well as others.
The concept of tiferet, which is the beauty of balancing and harmonizing opposites, is exemplified by our avos: Avraham as chesed, kindness; Yitzchak as gevurah, strength; and Yaakov as tiferet, synthesis.
Like Avraham, we begin with kindness—the world is built on chesed. But in order to maintain our integrity, often we need strength, gevurah, like Yitzchak, to stay true to our values in the face of temptation or adversity. Yaakov synthesized these middos—he learned Torah, channeling the chesed through boundaries, through the lens of holiness.
This reminds me of the mission Chabad houses around the world aim to do. Chabad itself stands for three types of wisdom: chachma, bina, and daas: theoretical information, intuition, and application—wisdom that moves from the inside out and can also be integrated from the outside in. We give and we receive.
Chabad shluchim in particular exist in a world we share with people from all different walks of life. They don’t judge but instead look to assist however they can, within the comfort level of each individual person. Tiferet, harmony—I give to and learn from you, and you from me.
They spread holiness and perform mitzvos that are major and minor and achieve as opportunities arise. My limited time there observing the way they live, the way they enlighten others and lead by example, made me so proud to be family and inspired me to shine my own unique light into the world, too.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.