Shul Days, Shul Days, Today's Jewish Sabbath Impels Jews To Worship Before Noshing

To woo worshippers, synagogues compete with food and booze; Bal Harbour, Fla. shul turns festive as downing drinks and noshing flourishes attendance.

This elegant seaside place of worship -- Rabbi Sholom Lipskar's synagogue is on the cutting edge of the Kiddush -- a lavish repast that has helped transform the staid post-service fellowship hour to a boozy, over-the-top spread synonymous with weddings, relates a WSJ feature.

Such affairs have become so much like the hosting in the Hamptons that rabbis solicit donors for a "Kiddush bank" fund to fuel the celebrations. Pricey libations and epicurean fare costs anywhere from $1,800 to $3,600 per week. Rabbi Lipskar, whose synagogue is part of the Hasidic Lubavitch movement, says, "God didn't make the delicious stuff only for non-Jews."

His people don't say, "Let's have a drink," he relates. "They say let's have a L'chaim," referring to the traditional "Jewish toast to life." But he quickly adds, "This is not a drinking fest. The drinks are in small cups." There is always vodka, an assortment of single malts, tequila.

Imagine the glee of Jews who'll attend Rabbi Marc Schneier's summer worship in New York's posh Hamptons community. His committee is considering ways to improve on the martini bar. Winterites still reminisce about the summer indulgences. One weekend the entrees included pa-seared sesame salmon and sliced steak with horseradish cream. The "herring bar" features 12 different variations named after the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Wealthy worshippers make "contributions" no matter what city they inhabit.
One donor in Bal Harbour made an unusual contribution. Every Friday, on the eve of Sabbath, his driver appeared carrying a leather suitcase with a giant 1.75 liter bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label tucked inside. At the Saturday Kiddush, a special volunteer handed out shot glasses of the $500 scotch. The rabbi admitted, "It went pretty fast."