by Ailin Elyasi, Senior News Editor
Following the farewell of Rabbi Daniel Lerner, who served as Stern College’s campus rabbi from Fall 2016 to Spring 2018, Stern welcomes Rabbi Jacob Bernstein and his wife, Rebbetzin Penina, the new campus rabbi and rebbetzin.
As the campus rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Lerner’s primary job was to increase the spirituality of Shabbat on the Beren campus. Several students attest to his impact on their campus life, including Rachel Zakharov, biology major at Stern and Director of Program Coordinating for the Shabbat Enhancement Committee: “It’s sad that Rabbi Lerner left since he’s been our campus rabbi for two years and his energy added so much to our Shabbat experience at Stern.”
Rabbi Lerner departed with the feeling that he had accomplished the goals of his tenure, commenting that he hoped to have “help[ed] enhance the Shabbat experience through faculty, programming, and food every week”, as well as “to bring more rabbinic couples to Beren, particularly those people who could make a multi-year commitment. At this point, we have two rabbinical couples on campus.” Although Rabbi Lerner felt the “privilege” of coming to the Beren campus, his future plans no longer allowed him to continue.
Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, however, Stern has instated Rabbi Jacob Bernstein as the new campus rabbi. Rabbi Bernstein graduated from Yeshivat Har Etzion in 2011 and has been a YU alum multiple times over (YC ’15, Azrieli ’15, Revel ’17, RIETS ’18). While Rabbi Bernstein has spent the last year studying at the YU Kollel in Jerusalem, Rebbetzin Penina spent the last year studying at Matan, a women’s Torah learning program in Israel. She completed her learning at Yeshivat Har Etzion’s sister school, Migdal Oz, in 2010. Rebbetzin Penina also has old ties to YU, as she graduated from Stern College in 2014 with a double major in Jewish education and elementary education. She attended Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration following her Stern graduation.
Both the Rabbi and Rebbetzin value returning to the institution where they had spent so much of their life and education. “The opportunity to work with the student body at Beren Campus is an honor and privilege for me, and being able to help provide for the spiritual and religious needs on campus is meaningful and significant work,” says Rabbi Bernstein. He adds, “I love Yeshiva University and am excited about its future. I know that the students on this campus can and will be at the center of influencing the concentric circles that surround us as a community.”
The Bernsteins will be spending every Shabbat at Stern. Penina Bernstein discussed her goals for the following year, saying, “[My husband and I] hope to help strengthen the wonderful Torah community that already exists on campus, through offering different shiurim, having chavrutot with students, and running programming during the week and on Shabbat. We hope to serve as a resource for students, and to be present for people to talk and schmooze with about their lives.”
In addition to teaching and being present on the Beren campus, during the week, Rabbi Bernstein will be working on his PhD at the Bernard Revel Graduate School. He will also be a fellow at Wexner, an elite graduate program that prepares its students for the rabbinate. In addition, he will be teaching the Bekius shiur at Yeshiva University High School for Boys. Penina, meanwhile, will be continuing her teaching career at Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls-Hebrew Academy of Long Beach. Previously, Penina taught 5th grade at SAR Academy. Their summers will be spent at Camp Morasha.
“Over the past years, I have been blessed to serve as an educator in various Jewish educational settings from classrooms and camps, to pulpits and a Birthright bus, and I am excited to continue that journey here in Murray Hill at the Beren Campus,” remarks Rabbi Bernstein about beginning his position. He adds, “I am eager to, together with Penina, bring our past education and experiences to work for and with our new community to learn and grow together, and in doing so hope to be a meaningful part of our students’ lives on campus.”
Current TAC president and 2017-18 TAC VP of Shabbat, Adina Cohen, has high expectations for the “powerhouse” couple, as she calls them: “Both Rabbi Bernstein and Penina are extraordinarily passionate about increasing Torah opportunities on campus as well as building up the general community. I have been in touch with them a lot over the summer and they have been amazing to work with — they not only want to give the Beren Campus their all, but they also want to empower students to take an active role in their religious growth on campus.”