Beren Campus Dorms Open on Chol Hamoed for First Time in Eight Years

By: Mindy Schwartz  |  September 27, 2017

For the first time since 2009 Beren Campus University Housing will be open on Chol Hamoed Sukkot, from October 8th to October 10th. In addition, the dorms will be open between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, October 1st to October 4th.

There will be a reduced facilities staff during these periods, but Rachel Kraut, Director of University Housing and Residence Life on the Beren campus, told The Observer that “there will be an appropriate presence of Security, Facilities, Housekeeping and University Housing staff, proportionate to the number of students on campus at this time.”

Kraut said that the decision was made based on the feedback received from a survey given to “Out-of-Towner” students, as well as “various conversations we had with students.” Kraut emphasized thats student interest was key in making the decision. She pointed out that eight years ago when the dorms were last open on Chol Hamoed “less than 10 students were remaining on campus over the holiday and it was not economically sound to keep 4 residence halls open.” But because enough students have expressed interest in staying in the dorms over this period, the policy has been changed for this year.

Chava Baum, SCW ‘18, spoke with Housing over the summer about the issue of dorms closing over chagim. Baum even made a survey which she posted in the “Stern: In the Know” Facebook group to see how many students were also affected by the dorm closures. “About 20 students indicated it was an issue for them,” she said of the results, “and who knows how many more are affected.” Baum noted that the closures can be an issue for students who live out of the tri-state area, as well as for students in the mechina program that may not have religious family or friends  to spend the holidays with, international students, or students who come from troubled families.

When asked about such students, Kraut responded, “we certainly understand that some students struggle with Yom Tov plans for various reasons.  In addition to students contacting Rachel Ciment, the Director of Spiritual Guidance on campus, for assistance , our RA/GA team was pro-active by checking in with their residents to make sure they have the necessary accommodations for Yom Tov.”

Many students are excited by the new policy. Liorah Rubenstein, SCW ‘18, commended the change, telling The Observer, “having access to the dorms over Chol Hamoed is not only a convenience–it is a symbol of support and acknowledgment from our university of the “out of town” student body.”

However some feel that housing has not gone far enough, and that the dorms should be open on Yom Tov as well. One SCW student from Los Angeles noted that while “the new policy is really nice for people who can’t go home, why would I shlep back and forth?” If she is traveling home for Yom Tov anyway, she pointed out, “I am just going to stay where I am.”  

Another student echoed this sentiment, noting that the new policy doesn’t really help those who need it. “[Housing] sees this as a solution to the homelessness problem, which it is not because the dorms are still closed over actual Yom Tov.” She added that she herself moved out of the dorm for her senior year because the “Tishrei stress” of finding places to go was too much for her. “It is disturbing that they are patting themselves on the back for opening dorms over Chol Hamoed when in reality they the dorms shouldn’t close at all,” she said.

The dissatisfaction with the Beren Housing policy over the chagim is heightened by the fact that the Wilf Campus Housing does not close over this period. The men’s dorms officially close on October 3rd, but any students who would like to stay on campus over the break are housed in Strenger Hall, one of the four dorm buildings on the Wilf campus. Kraut explained that the discrepancy is due to the fact that  “Washington Heights hosts a vibrant community of shuls, families, and Rebbeim, whereas there are not many options in midtown Manhattan for our women to feel a sense of community and a Yom Tov atmosphere.” However she claimed that “If we had a significant number of students who committed to staying on campus over Chag, we are certainly open to re-evaluating this in the future.”

Despite this assertion, some students feel that not all possible options for facilitating a Yom Tov environment in Midtown have really been explored. Baum pointed out that hosting for students could be arranged with nearby shuls Chabad of Midtown or Aderet El, both of which she said would be interested in the possibility.

While it is possible that in future years such options may be tested, for now the dorms will be open on Chol Hamoed but closed over Yom Tov. Kraut did note, however, that the dorms will be open on Shavuot this year “since it falls immediately after finals and Commencement.” Because of the time constraints of the calendar, Kraut stated that “housing will be open to accommodate the student body and we look forward to creating a robust Shavuot experience.”