By Fruma Landa
I am often in the Heights during the evenings for a variety of responsibilities, such as meetings, clubs, extracurriculars, or studying. As someone who tries hard to daven with a minyan, I usually daven mincha and/or maariv in the Beit Midrash in the Morgenstern building. The Beren Campus does not have the variety of minyanim that the Wilf Campus has, and that lack of options makes for a lack of flexibility. There are days when I have class during the two mincha minyanim and one maariv minyan that happen at Adereth El, a shul a couple of blocks away from Stern. On those nights, I rely on the minyanim in the Heights. Recently, I have noticed that the five maariv minyanim taking place in Morg between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. have been moved to the Glueck 2nd floor lobby and, more recently, Zysman room 101. I have been told that this switch is due to security reasons since alumni are not allowed into Morg.
It is often stressful to go to a new place and have to worry about the mechitza at the shul I want to daven in. Will they daven in a space that has a mechitza set up? Will they have a portable mechitza that I can set up? If there is a women’s section, will it be locked? In Morg, the mechitza is always set up; I never needed to worry about having a place to daven there. In the Glueck lobby, there is usually a portable mechitza, which I can set up right before tefilla begins. However, since it is not permanent, I am not guaranteed the mechitza will be there; relying on it is a risk.
Relocating the minyan to Zysman is even worse; there is no mechitza there at all. If a woman wants to daven in Zysman, she will need to go to the Fischel Beit Midrash, located across the hall from Zysman, and bring a mechitza over. Since Fischel is an active beit midrash, many women do not feel comfortable walking in to find the mechitza and bring it across the hall to Zysman. Also, imagine how much earlier she would need to arrive to give herself enough time to find the mechitza in Fischel and bring it across the hall to set it up in Zysman all before the men begin davening. People are busy – it is extremely unfair to expect women to arrive early enough to set up the mechitza and leave time for unexpected inconveniences, such as the mechitza not being in the expected location, every time she wants to daven maariv.
There is some level of discomfort which comes along with davening in a place that doesn’t have a set women’s section. It is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, to constantly scrape together a space for yourself in a place where you are made to feel unwelcome. Walking into a minyan without a space for women to daven feels like you are essentially erased from this communal religious ritual. It says that you are not expected to show up, that your prayers don’t count, that you are an outsider in your own religion. By setting up the mechitza, I am forcing my existence to be recognized. It says I am here, I care about davening, my tefilla has value too.
In some situations, such as minyanim where women rarely daven, I find interrupting the male-only space with my presence to be empowering. I am thrusting women back into the picture they have been excised from. While it can feel empowering to do this every so often, it should in no way be the standard, especially in places where women usually daven.
There are many women who daven on the Wilf Campus, whether they live in the Heights or happen to find themselves uptown for classes, clubs, friends, or extracurriculars. These women predominantly have relied on the minyanim in Morg for maariv. They occurred often and there was always a mechitza set up. This switch to locations less suitable in accommodating women has affected their tefilla experience. It is unfair to cut these women out of the picture when scheduling these minyanim. No one enjoys forcing their presence to be recognized, and walking into a minyan without a space to daven is essentially just that. By not accounting for the many women who are now displaced because of the minyanim change, YU is sending the message that women don’t belong in a makom tefilla, that they don’t care about the women who daven with a minyan, that they are not welcome and they do not belong.