A Great Place for Coffee and Connection

Posted on November 1, 2017

You may stop by Cafe Beth-El, Temple Beth-El’s bagel cafe, on Sunday mornings only once in a while, or you may be a die-hard regular. Either way, did you know that buying your morning bagel and coffee is a mitzvah for our congregation? That’s because all the proceeds go to supporting the religious school, which has been a big part of its mission from the get-go, says Jay Taylor, who runs the cafe.

About 15 years ago or so, members Russ and Barbara Johnston, Debbie Youngerman, Shelley Gomolka and Stuart Farber came up with the idea to use the space next to the religious school to sell snacks, enabling members to purchase a quick, delicious breakfast for their children before Sunday school. Even more important, the café founders wanted to foster a place where congregants could nurture a sense of camaraderie, friendship and community during religious school hours. These volunteers put a great deal of time, energy and soul into the cafe for many years, and some of them still pinch-hit for Jay when he’s unable to come in on the occasional Sunday morning.

Today, the cafe remains centered on community, says Jay, who took over running it about seven years ago. He loves the way it helps him stay connected to the temple’s younger families now that his own kids are grown. “I want to make our temple as happy, warm and inviting a place on Sunday mornings as possible,” he emphasizes, adding, “I’d like people to think of it as a great place to just get together for coffee on Sundays, whether it’s with fellow congregants or even friends who aren’t members.” Bagels for the Sunday school teachers and madrachim are gratis, and Jay is happy to entertain requests for special bagel flavors – just ask!

Jay shops throughout the week for the cafe supplies and has a standing order with Bagelicious in Hillsborough for 7-10 dozen bagels per week. He tailors his order to whatever’s happening at the temple that morning, whether it’s a Brotherhood function, a religious school family education session, or a Membership Committee meeting. Jay arrives at TBE with bagels in hand by 7:30 on Sunday mornings, and his eager team of loyal volunteers – Simon, Sam, Lila and Audrey Stark, and Nathaniel Pincus – immediately sets to work schmearing and wrapping them all in time for the Sunday morning rush, starting with the first trickle  of people at around 8:40. During that busy morning hour, he enjoys catching up with his young helpers and talking to them about school and their lives and interests.

The cafe remains open until about 20 minutes after the later Sunday school programs start, and then it’s cleanup time. Jay gives some of the unsold bagels to our hardworking custodians, and the rest of the leftovers go to Agape House, a shelter in Somerville. And in keeping with the community spirit of the cafe, there’s a collection can for mazon (hunger), and a general tzedakah box at the register.

Jay’s always looking for more volunteers to lend a hand and join in the fun. Working at Cafe Beth-El is a great way for sixth graders to do some community service, he points out. He could use some help on the cleanup end, for any children (or their parents) willing to stick around a few extra minutes after classes end at 11:00, or for students in later programs who would like to come a little earlier and roll up their sleeves. And for any congregants who are Costco members, Jay could also use some occasional backup shoppers to purchase cafe supplies there. Please contact Jay at 908-507-7849, or j.taylor@huber.com, with any questions.

So the next time you’re tempted to drop your child off at Sunday school and race off on errands (as we all need to do sometimes), contemplate lingering just a few more minutes, digging into a bagel and enjoying some friendly banter with your fellow TBE members. See you there!

Originally published in the November-December 2017 issue of the Shofar. For more, visit the Shofar archives.