Java Nagila

Jeremy Epstein. Photo courtesy of Nitzahn Epstein

It isn’t easy to stay wide-awake when you’re studying at 2 a.m. Yet on the first night of Shavuot, when many Jews study Torah until dawn, that’s what they need to do.

Until two years ago, Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring kept late-night learners lively with instant coffee. Then Jeremy Epstein, a member of the Orthodox congregation and a self-described coffee aficionado, decided that if he and his congregants were going to do the holy work of studying God’s word until sunrise, they needed better coffee.

“You naturally want coffee and want the caffeine,” Epstein said. “Why have crappy coffee? Let’s have good coffee. Let’s have the quality of coffee on par with the quality of the holiday. Let’s raise the bar.”

So last year, Epstein raised the bar by installing a coffee bar.

Before Shavuot, he and his coffee-loving friends, the “caffeine committee,” visited an Ethiopian coffee shop in Silver Spring and came back to the synagogue with Ethiopian, Ugandan and Guatemalan beans. The brewed coffee did justice to the quality of the holiday, which celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

This year Epstein decided to try another innovation.

He sent an email to Rabbi Brahm Weinberg and proposed to get a corporate sponsor for the holiday, in exchange for enough coffee to keep the congregation awake all Shavuot night. Weinberg, who likes a cup of joe, said yes.

Epstein, who runs a marketing firm, contacted Rick Erber from Chesapeake Bay Roasting Co. in Crofton, and invited the company to sponsor the event. Because of the prohibition on handling money on a holy day, Chesapeake Bay would not be able to sell the coffee. But Epstein knew how to make the sales pitch.

“It’s probably a couple hundred dollars’ worth of coffee and you’ll get exposure to a couple hundred people,” Epstein told Erber.

Despite not being able to make any money, Erber, who is Chesapeake Bay’s founder and director of sales, found the idea of serving coffee at a synagogue an appealing way to get the company’s name out.

“It was a unique opportunity to get in front of a fairly large group and Jeremy was very engaging,” Erber said. “He understood some things you could do to get us a little bit of visibility. It was for a good cause and for something that’s good for the community and the synagogue.”

About 300 synagogue members showed up May 30 for the all-night study session, which included the coffee bar as well as waffle and ice cream stations for kids. Chesapeake Bay provided organic, fair-trade, specialty coffee and sent an employee to help with brewing. They heated the water using an open flame — permissible to use on the holiday because it was already burning before Shavuot started — and then they used two brewing methods to make the coffee.

Weinberg said the coffee sponsorship added excitement to the event.

“To me it makes a difference because there are people who wouldn’t come if not for the coffee,” he said.

Weinberg said he was also pleased that the congregation was able to welcome a company that sold fair-trade coffee, which helps support coffee growers in impoverished countries.

“It was a great opportunity to showcase to the shul a local company that’s doing great work and is conscious of issues of morality and fair trade,” he said. “And on the flip side, it was a great opportunity to showcase this shul to the company and show them what we’re all about at 2 a.m.”

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