I have lived my entire life in Fair Lawn, NJ. I can easily take a bus from Port Authority and be in my house around one hour later. The proximity of my home to YU has allowed me to be dubbed as an “in-towner,” a term which I have learned to fondly embrace. After all, there are many conveniences that come with being an in-towner, such as being able to leave my winter clothes at home until it is actually cold outside, not having to worry about finding a place to go during short vacations, and being able to sleep in my bed at home pretty much whenever I want. However, with the convenience of being able to go home every weekend comes the expectation that, just like many in-towners, I actually do go home.
There is an attitude present in some students that in-towners have to go home and out-of-towners have to make plans to be elsewhere. Many students, when their plans fall through last minute, scramble to find a place to go lest they be “stuck” on the Beren campus for Shabbat. But for me, and many other students, YU is not just a place to go for class and leave right away. The Beren campus is my community and my home.
My first semester on campus, I stayed in for orientation Shabbat. Orientation itself had been very overwhelming. There were so many things to get used to, so many places to get lost, and so many people that I did not know. I felt like a fish out of water, even though almost every other new student was in the same boat. Orientation Shabbat came along, and for me it was an easy decision to stay in, but it was also one of the best decisions I have made as a student at YU. I quickly became accustomed to the way things ran on Shabbat and as I stayed in week after week, I became comfortable around school itself. More importantly, I became friends with the other students who also stayed in on Shabbat and many of those friendships are the most important ones I have today.
During the first few weeks , there was a warm atmosphere felt at the Shabbat meals, programming, and Shabbat as a whole. There were ice breakers during meals, candy and games with the RAs in the lounges, and interactive speakers and panels. I realized that there were specific students who had an impact on the way Shabbat ran and made it meaningful and relaxing every week. I vividly remember Talia Molotsky and Carmelle Danneman, the TAC president and Shabbat Enhancement Committee (SEC) president at the time, running an oneg each Shabbat. We sat around the table in room 101, ate candy, sang songs, and laughed a lot as we talked about different things that happened during our week. We were able to genuinely enjoy each other’s company without the distractions of schoolwork, tests, or phones.
I realized that I wanted to be involved in helping make Shabbat into the experience that I loved. When the opportunity arose in my second semester on campus, I joined the Shabbat Enhancement Committee. SEC is a committee filled with people who think of YU as their home and want to enhance Shabbat so that they always feel that the Beren Campus is their community. Working with people as dedicated as the people on SEC made me want to get involved on campus in ways that did not just involve Shabbat and also gave me the confidence to step forward and be a leader. As a member of SEC, I was not treated as an inexperienced first year student on campus. I had a vision and voice to be heard and since the Beren campus was equally my home, I was always able to have a say in how I wanted it to be.
During my time on SEC I saw students work tirelessly to create the Shabbatot that they want. Clubs worked with SEC, TAC, and the Office of Student Life, to bring in speakers and plan programming for various audiences. New initiatives came about to enhance the Shabbat and the community as a whole. A weekly minyan was added even for all women Shabbatot, a larger variety of food were introduced at kiddush, onegs on smaller shabbatot were moved to dorm lounges to create a more relaxing feel, and new song sheets were created to enhance the oneg.
When I became SEC president, I wanted to continue the work already done and add to it. Together with OSL, TAC, and SEC, this year we continued the minyan on campus and put in the work to make sure that it continues week after week. We added onegs with GPATS, gluten free cookies at Kiddush, new benchers, and square tables instead of long tables on some of the larger Shabbatot. We allowed for an option to sign up for Shabbat tickets online and lowered the prices for people who sign up early to allow for every student to be able to stay in for Shabbat without having to worry about running out of money on their caf cards. There is always more to change and more new ideas to implement, but there is never a shortage of people to work to carry them out.
I, and so many other students, work hard to enhance and change things on Shabbat because this is our home. We’ve created a warm environment in which we can feel comfortable to hang out in the lounges with whoever is there, and have intellectual debates or silly conversations. Students are constantly staying awake late on Friday night to talk to their friends they haven’t seen all week. On Saturday nights students who stay in for Shabbat go to events in the city, out to dinner with their friends, or just hang out more in 16 handles. I never have to worry when I stay in for Shabbat that I will not have friends to talk to because the people who stay in for Shabbat have become my friends.
Many people ask me why I do not often go home for Shabbat when I live so close. I could eat a home cooked meal, sleep in my own bed, and spend time with my family. My response is while I love my family and my bed at home, I have another family here at YU. I have a community that I can enhance myself and make it into the place I want it to be.