By Raquel Leifer, Features Editor
After serving the Stern community for four years, Rabbi Jacob and Rebbetzin Penina Bernstein will be leaving the Beren campus to make aliyah [move to Israel]. Dean Shoshana Schechter shared that “under their leadership, the community has grown and the Torah programming has strengthened exponentially.” Rabbi and Rebbetzin Bernstein have made a tremendous impact on religious life at Stern and have helped to cultivate a vibrant Torah learning environment. They will be dearly missed.
The Stern community is excited to welcome two new Rabbinic couples who will be joining the Beren Campus this upcoming semester. Rabbi Azriel (Azi) and Rebbetzin Ellie Fine are taking on the role of campus Rabbi and Rebbetzin. Rabbi Avrumi and Rebbetzin Michal Schonbrun, who were a Rabbinic intern couple this past year, will be joining as the new Scholars in Residence. Dean Schechter also expressed, “We are thrilled to be welcoming the Fines and the Schonbruns to continue building and strengthening what the Bernsteins have built while adding their own kochot [strengths] and their own talents and personalities to our incredible community.”
Rabbi Azriel (Azi) Fine is originally from Riverdale, New York and is currently living in Bayit Vagan on the YU Israel campus learning in the Gruss Kollel. Rabbi Fine attended Yeshivat Shaalvim (2015-2016), and then continued on at Yeshiva University in Rabbi Michael Rosensweig’s shiur. Rabbi Fine majored in Biology and minored in Psychology (2016-2019). He is currently in the RIETS Semicha Program while pursuing a Masters in Azrieli Graduate School of Education, and the RIETS Ferkauf certificate program in Mental Health Counseling. Rabbi Fine is currently a Rabbinic Intern at Congregation Ohel Ari in Raanana, Israel. Rebbetzin Ellie Fine is originally from the Upper West Side. She attended MMY for Shana Aleph and Bet (2016-2017), and then went to Stern where she majored in Biology and minored in Psychology (2018-2020). During that time, she was a counselor on Yad B’Yad for two summers and is looking forward to reuniting with all of her campers at Stern! Rebbetzin Fine is currently a Fellow, learning in Matan Eshkolot and Lapidot Learning programs (Tanach and Halacha Education programs) in Yerushalayim and serving as a Rakezet [young relatable teacher] at MMY. Rebbetzin Fine plans on pursuing a degree in Clinical Social Work and to practice as a therapist.
Rabbi Avrumi Schonbrun is originally from Cedarhurst, New York. After High School, he learned in Yeshivat Shaalvim in Israel for two years. Following Yeshiva, he attended YU where he majored in Math. At YU, and while in semicha [Rabbinical education] at RIETS, Rabbi Schonbrun was privileged to learn under Rav Rosensweig shlit”a. This past year he completed semicha and next year plans to continue his learning in the Yeshiva’s Kollel Elyon. Rebbetzin Michal Schonbrun grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. She went to Maayanot in Teaneck for High School and MMY for seminary. After seminary, she stayed in Israel and did a year of sherut leumi [national service] at Chorev Elementary School in Katamon. After sherut, she came back to Stern and majored in Sociology and Judaic Studies. She then taught 3rd grade Judaic Studies at Yeshivat Noam, before returning to the Beren Campus to learn under the incredible Rebbeim at GPATS, where she has been for the last two years and where she hopes to continue learning next year. She also just recently finished Azrieli (Jewish Education).
The YU Observer interviewed both Rabbi and Rebbetzin Fine and Rabbi and Rebbetzin Schonbrun to discuss some of their thoughts as they integrate into their new roles.
Raquel Leifer (RL): What inspired you to pursue a career in Jewish education?
Rabbi Fine (RF; Campus Rabbi): A lot of it was my own Rebbeim, teachers, and my parents. They all really did an amazing job at creating openings for me and really connecting me to Torah, mitzvos, and Avodas HaShem [serving HaShem]. The impact that it had showed me the importance of having figures like that, and it inspired me to want to be that figure for others as well.
Ellie Fine (EF; Campus Rebbetzin): I come from a family that is very involved in Jewish communal work. My father is a Rabbi, who has been a school principal, and is consistently involved in Torah education. My mom is a clinical therapist who specializes in helping the Jewish community. They are both tremendous role models, and have done so much for so many people and I am really excited to follow their lead, starting with our position at Stern!
Rabbi Schonbrun and Rebbetzen Michal Schonbrun (RRS; Scholar in Residence): Our families, teachers, and Rebbeim, instilled within us a love and passion for the world of yahadus [Judaism] and Torah learning, as well as a strong desire to give and be involved in the Jewish community. We also love connecting to and learning from other people, and really value building relationships.
RL: What are your goals as the new campus Rabbi and Rebbetzin/Scholars in Residence?
RF: We feel extremely fortunate to be coming in after the Bernsteins, given how much they have contributed to the campus and how much they have built up the Torah learning and the community in Stern. We will be working with the Schonbruns, as well as Dean Shoshana Schechter and the office of spiritual life. We are excited to work together as a team!
One of the things we want to focus on is continuing to build the feeling of community at Stern. Two of the ways in which we want to highlight this, is through our weekend and Shabbos programming, as well as continuing to create a culture centered around and in the Beis Medrash. Regarding Shabbos, we feel that the opportunity to engage in community, Torah, and Tefillah [prayer], outside of the context of the busy schedule of the week, and specifically within the context of the Kedusha [holiness] of Shabbos, adds a crucial element to one’s experience and Avodas HaShem in college; and can even impact one’s experience in Stern for the rest of the week! We are looking forward to continuing to think about how to take advantage of the amazing potential that the Shabbos experience at Stern has through continuing the amazing programming that exists, along with new ideas of how to make it even better (please let us know if you have any ideas)! We are looking forward to spending every Shabbos on campus as part of this community.
Segueing to our second focus regarding the community, we want to continue to build the culture that the Stern Beit Midrash is not only a place where one comes to hear a shiur, but that it is the central location of the communities growth in their Avodas HaShem, Talmud Torah [studying Torah], and Tefillah. We are excited to introduce programs that will encourage a constant Kol Torah [Torah environment/sound of Torah learning], feelings of growth, and a community environment.
Our third focus is trying to reach as many students as possible on an individual level. Besides being around to give shiurim, we will be living on campus and have time built into the day to set up times to have individual meetings, chavrusas [one on one Torah learning], and small chaburahs [Torah learning in a small group setting]. College is such an important time to have someone who really knows you and can be there for you on both a spiritual and personal level and we are excited to be able to serve that function (disclaimer Ellie is the expert in this area!).
We are excited to continue the opportunities that are offered to hear from our Roshei Yeshiva, renowned teachers and speakers, as well as the range of topics that are provided to learn about. From both mine and Ellie’s perspective, we felt like a tremendous part of our religious growth was in our time in YU/Stern, and are looking forward to building that experience together with the students.
RRS: We hope to continue the incredible work the Bernsteins did, and build on the strong foundations they built. As the Rabbinic intern couple this past year, we have loved being involved and seeing how motivated the students are on so many fronts. We’re excited to feed off of that energy and expand on the amazing existing opportunities now that we will be filling a larger role. We intend to create opportunities for the spiritual growth of every student on campus; through the means of meaningful Torah content and skill building relationships, and informal more experiential avenues for connection.
RL: What are you most looking forward to?
RF: I’m most looking forward to joining the really special and unique Stern Community, which has so many different types of students from many different backgrounds who come together from a desire for religious growth and Avodas Hashem. We are excited to both join and continue to build this community, and look forward to living on campus, and spending our Shabbatot (every week!) together with you. Additionally, being able to be a part of the incredible Makom Torah [atmosphere of Torah learning], the Stern Beit Midrash, is something that we are really looking forward to.
EF: I had such an incredible experience at Stern myself academically, socially, and religiously and grew tremendously from all the opportunities provided on campus. There is so much offered, whether it’s the plethora of clubs to join, fun chessed events at night, or stimulating shiurim to go to, and I cannot imagine who I would be without my Stern experience! I am really looking forward to being back on campus and being able to set up chavrusas, one-on-one meetings, be in Stern on Shabbos, and (hopefully) give back to a place that shaped me in so many ways.
RRS: We are looking forward to working side by side with the Fines, a true power couple, to provide opportunities for meaningful connections with peers, mentors, Judaism, and of course, with the Ribono Shel Olam [Master of the Universe]. We are also excited to continue investing in relationships; getting to know so many different types of students this past year and building relationships with them was a real highlight for us. Additionally, we’re looking forward to building a real Torah culture on the Beren Campus!
Photo Credit: Rabbi Azriel (Azi) & Rebbetzin Ellie Fine (left) and Rabbi Avrumi & Rebbetzin Michal Schonbrun (right)