At the end of last year, campus couple Rabbi Yosef and Dr. Batya Bronstein announced that they were not returning for the 2016-2017 school year, as they were planning on making aliyah. This meant that the Beren campus was once again in need of a family to help enhance Shabbat, as well as other aspects of Jewish life on the downtown campus. At the end of the summer, Rabbi Brander sent an e-mail to students about new changes for the coming school year. One of those new changes was Rabbi Daniel Lerner, who would serve as the new Beren campus rabbi.
Rabbi Lerner has been involved in Jewish education and communal work for a number of years. He served as pulpit rabbi in addition to several years of work with teenage and adult education. He first connected with Yeshiva University three and half years ago, when he was approached by a rabbi from Wilf campus who ran one of the Jewish education programs. Rabbi Lerner took a position teaching uptown. “I loved it and enjoyed being part of YU.”
This past year, he and his family were invited to join the RIETS Yarchei Kallah. “It was a great experience. I loved the environment, and meeting other families and faculty of YU,” Rabbi Lerner said. While at the Yarchei Kallah, he met Rabbi Joshua Joseph. Shortly after, Rabbi Lerner was contacted by Rabbi Brander, Vice President of University and Community Life, asking if he would be interested in a new position on the Beren campus. “Apparently Rabbi Joseph thought it would be a great idea, which started the process,” he explained.
Rabbi Lerner identified with the mission of Yeshiva University, and Stern College in particular. As the father to five daughters, he is particularly passionate about education, growth and spiritual opportunities for Jewish women. As a father and a rabbi, he thought that this job would be a good match for him.
Rabbi Lerner’s main goal is to be enhance the Shabbat experience and spiritual life on the Beren campus. “I want the ruach of Shabbat to have a positive influence on the following week, and the spiritual inspiration during the week should build and have an impact on Shabbat as well,” he explained.
Though he hasn’t been here long, Rabbi Lerner said that he does have a sense of the history here. “It’s all second hand information. I think the most important thing that I am doing now, and that I am in the process of doing now, is getting a sense of what’s been done, what is being done, and trying to asses what can be done to determine how I can best contribute,” he said.
“One of the things which is striking, and which I noticed on our first Shabbat here is the challenge of cultivating a true environment of Shabbat in a city that never sleeps. You walk outside of the building…and there’s traffic, noise, construction, people running in every direction. It is very different than the Shabbat experience anywhere else in the world,” Rabbi Lerner said. Establishing a real Shabbat is one of the challenges he faces in his new position. “What that means is that it requires us to work more creatively and with greater conviction to create an oasis in time, which is really what Shabbat should be, to allow us to depressurize and allow us to connect with our spiritual selves.”
For students who haven’t previously stayed in for Shabbat, Rabbi Lerner offered a reason why they should give it a chance. “The beauty of Shabbat is that it offers an opportunity to spend meaningful time as a campus community in a non-pressured, non-competitive context. It also offers a chance for students who may not normally cross paths because they are in different classes, different years, or different tracks, to be able to come together and share and learn from one another,” he said.
When asked about his experience on the downtown campus so far, he replied, “I’m very excited. I’m very impressed with the level of commitment and responsibility that the students here have towards building and enhancing the communal and life experience here at Stern. It’s something that I’m not used to seeing and people take their jobs here, which is all volunteer, very seriously — and it shows.”