Last year, the Beren campus Shabbat experience changed drastically with the addition of a minyan on campus for all shabbatons. Previously only co-ed shabbatons, which are often popular with male students, could provide Beren students with their own on-campus Shabbat minyan. The new initiative was the brainchild of then-TAC vice president of Shabbat Jen van Amerongen and the then-president of the Shabbat Enhancement Committee, Avital Habshush. Van Amerongen explained to The Observer that “Shabbat is a day that is all about community and especially communal tefillah. When Shabbat davening took place at [local synagogue] Adereth El, attendance was low because many students chose to daven by themselves instead of making the trip. Because we are a religious institution, it is imperative that we have a space for our own tefillah; Avital and I thought that bringing a minyan to the Beren Campus would be the perfect way to unite Beren students as one religious community.” Van Amerongen and Habshush, with the help of faculty members Naomi Kohl, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, and Rabbi Daniel Lerner, managed to make their vision of a minyan on campus a reality almost every Shabbat of last semester.
This year, under the guidance of Ilana Karp, the current president of the Shabbat Enhancement Committee, and Adina Cohen, the current TAC vice president of Shabbat, the minyan is a regular fixture at every Shabbat on the Beren campus once again.
When asked why it was important for her to continue this initiative this year Cohen explained, “One of the biggest struggles of being a Jewish university is creating a strong sense of community throughout the diverse student body. Shabbat on campus is an opportunity to engender those feelings across campus. In general, most communities gather around the davening, as davening not only brings people together through the words themselves but through the different customs that develop as part of the tefillah. Having a weekly minyan on campus is what allows Beren to concretize the strides it is making in other areas of Shabbat programming as well as create an overall more meaningful experience for the student body.”
This year, however, because van Amerongen and Habshush already laid the groundwork and did much of the hard work in establishing the minyan, TAC and SEC are working hard to make any improvements possible to the experiences of the men who come to help make the minyan every Shabbat, on the condition that it does not disturb the atmosphere of the all-women’s Shabbat, which has always been a top priority.
Two notable changes that have been made this year are the location of the meals and optional programming for the men. Last year, the men usually ate in the Kushner dining hall or the reference lounge. This year, the men are still eating separately, but have switch locations to room 101 of 245 Lexington, which, with its floor to ceiling windows, is much lighter and more spacious and which the minyan coordinators hope will not carry the sad, dank basement vibe of the old locations.
A second change that has been made is the addition of optional programming for the men, who are not allowed to attend any of the main programming for the women. Rabbi Lerner, the Beren campus rabbi, and Rabbi Yisroel Meir Rosenzweig, one half of the new Beren campus couple, will be providing optional shiurim during the men’s kiddush and/or the oneg. If enough men are interested in programming with whoever the guests are at Beren for that Shabbat, there may also be an option to have programming with them as well.
Rabbi Rosenzweig has enjoyed being a part of the new programming, “I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with the young men coming to campus and have found them to be a good group. I’ve given shiur to the group at their kiddush on Shabbos morning and we’ve had a great time with meaningful discussions that were sparked by the mekoros that we were learning,” he said.
Rabbi Lerner was similarly pleased with the success of the all male programming. “The programming we provided for the ‘Minyan Men’ also appeared to be well-received,” he said. “Personally, I appreciated having the opportunity to interact with the students during the shiur that I gave on Friday night and hopefully they enjoyed it half as much as I did!”
Ben Strachman, a YC student who attended one of the first Shabbat minyanim at Beren this year, told The Observer, “I really enjoyed the shabbat I spent making the minyan at Beren last year, and this year the minyan organizers went above and beyond in improving the shabbat experience for the ‘Minyan Men’. There were noticeable improvements to the men’s Shabbat experience since last year. In particular, we ate in a more appropriate and enjoyable setting and enjoyed access to enhanced programming on Friday night, Shabbat morning, and Shabbat afternoon. At every stage in the process both last year and this year, the women who organized the minyan and the men’s accommodations made it clear that they are committed to improving the men’s shabbat experience on Beren, and I saw clear evidence of that.”
Benjy Koslowe, a YC student who helped make the minyan the same week as Ben, had similar feelings about his experience on the Beren campus. “I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a Beren ‘Minyan Man’. The accommodations were comfortable, the food was delicious, the davening was meaningful. I also appreciated that our group of guys received special programming in the form of two interesting Torah sichot.”
Koslowe also noted the unique social environment created for the men who come to Beren to create the minyan. “The highlight was spending Shabbos with friends. During meals we ten men enjoyed each other’s company, sharing in great conversations. In between official programming, I caught up and hung out with friends of the other gender. The relaxed, low-pressure social scene was right up my alley.”
As an instrumental player in getting the minyan initiative off the ground and a mainstay presence of Shabbat at Beren, Rabbi Lerner continues to enjoy the minyan’s success. “Having the minyan continues to be a wonderful enhancement to shabbat programming at Beren. Shabbat began and ended with a lot of ruach. Student participation at both shacharit and Mincha was noteworthy.” He also explained that logistically the minyan allows the Rabbinic faculty and male guests “to be more present and involved with programming and meals–especially Seudat shelisheet–since we don’t have to run back and forth to shul.”
Rabbi Rosenzweig feels even more than just being practically sound, the minyan helps to build a sense of unity and community throughout all of Yeshiva University. “I’m excited to continue building minyan as a part of the overall Shabbos experience on the Beren campus. I hope that a strong minyan is indicative of unity between the campuses, as well as a sense of investment in the Beren Shabbos experience on the part of the minyan participants and the broader Wilf campus community. Our campuses are separate gender, which is important and should be honored. However, I don’t think that should equal a lack of concern for one another. We are all peers, as well as part of YU’s legacy and future,” he told The Observer.
In an interview with The Observer earlier this year, Rabbi Brander confirmed that enhancing the shabbat programming at Stern will continue to be a priority for the administration and the Student Life team. He noted that additional funds had been raised specifically “to improve the Shabbat at Beren experience, based on the first hand experiences of students.” The money will be used to for a number of shabbat improvements, such as securing interesting scholar in residences for Shabbatons and “ensuring that there be a minyan on a regular basis,” which obviously requires funds to house the Beren ‘Minyan Men’ at a hotel near Stern.
The investment of administrative attention, funds, and student effort has thus far produced high returns in students’ Shabbat experiences this year. Racheli Moskowitz, a junior at Stern College who spent an all-girls shabbat with a minyan on campus, attested to its success. “I think it’s a really important step towards changing the Shabbat environment on campus; to me it says that the school really cares about my prayer opportunities for Shabbat, and that I can find everything I need for Shabbat on my campus.” Another junior, Rachel Fried, expressed a similar sentiment, “It’s amazing. I love having a minyan on campus.”
Last year, Habshush expressed that “Having our own tefillah in our own Beit Midrash will help to add to the ruach and feeling of community on the Beren campus on Shabbat. Tefillah is an integral part of Shabbat and the covenantal faith community in general so we wanted to enhance the religious experience here on campus.” When asked about how she feels about the minyan initiative at Beren today, Habshush, who is now a student in YU’s Graduate Program for Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS) said, “It’s spectacular to see that the question asked about the minyan now is not how or if it can happen, but how we can work to make it better. Jen and I worked tirelessly with OSL and it feels like a real win for the Beren campus that the minyan is here to stay.”