It was a busy late afternoon of meal preparation as Beth Hillel Congregation Bnai Emunah (BHCBE) in Wilmette prepared to welcome the Sabbath on the evening of Friday, Aug. 22, for the annual Shabbat at the Shul celebration.
The work had to be finished by sundown since fire, unless for spiritual purposes, must be extinguished before dark. Some 250 burgers had to be grilled, ears of corn husked by intergenerational hands cooked, and challah formed by young hands baked. Songs of jubilation segued to thoughtful commentary after sundown.
The annual celebration comes as the school year begins and in advance of the High Holidays.
“It works nicely that the Jewish High Holidays always fall in sync with the beginning of the school year,” BHCBE Rabbi Annie Tucker said. Rosh Hashanah begins Sept. 24; Yom Kippur, Oct. 3 — both at sundown.
BHCBE Cantor Pavel Roytman gestured with his right hand after 7 p.m. that guitars should be put down. Sunlight faded past the western treetops along the Edens Expressway at 3220 Big Tree Lane.
Sunset marking the state of the Sabbath, even behind cloud cover, gently encourages people to quiet their minds.
A goal of the Aug. 22 musical Kabbalat Shabbat service and barbecue was to “welcome new members to our community, and to really celebrate being back together after a long summer and to start the school year together,” Tucker said.
“It’s a nice event,” said Bruce Hershman, BHCBE executive director.
“People come, all ages, from zero on up, we have a couple who are well into their 90s,” said Hershman, who resided in Winnetka for 43 years and now lives in Glenview.
“Everybody comes. We have a very friendly group of people.”
Hershman’s family joined the congregation in 1969.
The expected turnout was 350 people. The complimentary meal included hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers.
A side dish of hospitality was served by volunteers.
“If you help, you get back,” said Tyler Kittel, 16, of Wilmette and a New Trier Township High School junior.
Tyler, who recently moved from Vernon Hills, completed his service hours by running food to Spak Auditorium where the meal was eaten because the iffy weather forecast forced the party inside. The sun was shining as Tyler worked after 5 p.m. near a row of hot grills, one of which was new this year with a smoker and stovepipe chimney hood.
Tyler is looking forward to the New Trier school year.
“I heard it was, like, the best school in the country,” said the teen volunteer, who dished about the dinner preparations.
“I learned how to mop!” said Tyler, with a grin.
“He didn’t … mop. He was dancing!” laughed Percy Ferguson of Des Plaines, a supervisor and three-decade employee. On Aug. 22, he was a master griller.
“It’s like family,” Ferguson said of BHCBE. “It’s family.”
“You’ve got some good people here,” agreed Simon Castellon, another employee enlisted to cook.
Meanwhile, younger children played outside on a playground, supervised by adults and teen members of United Synagogue Youth.
“We’re here to help make things run smoothly,” said Jack Rubinstein of Evanston, a high school junior and USY chapter president.
About 30 feet away were long tables for bread-making.
Ellie Ousley, 10, of Skokie and an Edison Elementary School fifth-grader, formed challah with her brothers Nadav, 9, an Edison fourth-grader, and Ronen, 6, a Madison School first-grader.
“It’s really fun,” said Ellie, who talked while completing her loaf.
“It reminds me of praying.”
Prospective members are encouraged to contact BHCBE. Learn more at http://bhcbe.org. BHCBE is at 3220 Big Tree Lane in Wilmette.