From Yeshiva University to Yeshivas Bein Ha-Semesterim
Yeshiva University’s Glueck Beit Midrash was packed with over seventy five YU undergraduate students spending their winter break learning Torah in the 12th annual Yeshivas Bein Ha-Semesterim. The program, which ran from January 11th through 25th, offered three classic yeshiva-style sedarim, catered meals, daily shiurim from different YU roshei yeshiva, and various trips, shiurim, and discussion groups with prominent New York roshei yeshiva and community leaders.
Organized by Rabbi Etan Schnall and Rabbi Ely Bacon and funded by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), Yeshivas Bein Ha-Semesterim, or simply “YBH,” offered two weeks of shiurim delivered by a rotation of YU roshei yeshiva in both Talmud and machshava, small mussar (Jewish ethics) groups with semicha students, and several appearances from Tanach expert Rabbi David Fohrman. Additionally, YBH brought its participants to Brooklyn for a shiur from Rabbi Avraham Schorr of Kahal Tiferes Yaakov followed by dinner with Rabbi Eliyahu Shulman, had a sushi and dating Question and Answer session with Rabbi Zvi and Rebbetzin Efrat Sobolofsky of YUConnects, a Question and Answer session with Rabbi Mayer Twersky, dinner with Rabbi Herschel and Rebbetzin Shoshana Schachter, as well as dinners with Rabbi Meir Goldwicht and Rabbi Schnall at their respective apartments. Outside of learning, the gym and workout room remained open, as did the complimentary coffee, hot chocolate, and assorted snacks and sodas.
This year’s Torah learning during YBH was officially dedicated in the memory of Rabbi Yosef Weiss zt”l, a YU rosh yeshiva who passed away on December 20th, shortly before YBH began. Rabbi Weiss began teaching Torah in YU in 1938 at the age of 18 when he delivered the post-shiur review for Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik, the father of Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik.
Yeshivas Bein Ha-Semesterim began in 2005 when Rabbi Micael Ellman (YC ‘05, RIETS ‘09) and Rabbi Dovid Preil (YC ‘04, RIETS ‘08) wanted the opportunity to stay in the YU beit midrash rather than what was the common alternative of learning in other yeshivot in the United States and Israel, Rabbi Bacon reminisced. With permission from President Richard Joel for a YU-sponsored meal program, “students stayed on campus and had a really wonderful time learning in their own yeshiva.” “We decided to…make a real yeshiva experience for at least two weeks a year in YU and make it more comfortable to stay in YU,” said Rabbi Ellman.
One of the overall goals of YBH with its programming, explained Rabbi Bacon, is to continue the energy in the beit midrash without pause and form an environment of serious Torah learning for those who return from winter break travel, as well.
Rabbi Bacon admitted that the program was expensive to run. Each student costed RIETS several hundred dollars with a $60 fee requested from students to cover some expenses, but “the yeshiva itself is committed to helping guys stay here.”
YBH “fuels the excitement in the beis medrash for the spring semester,” RIETS dean Rabbi Menachem Penner explained. “Every yeshiva experiences some winter doldrums - especially in a leap year - until Purim can be seen on the radar. The energy created by the guys who experience YBH together plays a crucial role in sparking the new semester.”
A graduate of Yeshiva University and former participant in YBH, Rabbi Yakov Grun (YC ‘09, RIETS ‘13) reflected on how “talmidei hayeshiva, who balance so many important responsibilities during the semester, need a chance to focus purely on the elevating study of Torah.”
Students stayed for similar reasons. Yaakov Hagler (YC ‘18) wanted time with friends and to make new friends while using YBH as the opportunity to solidify YU as his yeshiva. “I feel that it is important to use YU as your yeshiva as much as possible,” he added.
“I really wanted to be in a yeshiva environment over the break,” remarked Avrumi Schonbrun (YC ‘19). “I really wanted to make YU have that yeshiva feel and I felt that a great way to do so would be to stay here over the break, the same way that I wouldn’t leave my yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael when there was a break.” “I was in YBH for three years and would definitely do it again if I had the chance,” January graduate Yaakov Deutscher added (YC ’16).
The long term goal of YBH is to give students “a new appreciation” of the yeshiva experience at YU. It often helps students realize how much they can actualize their religious growth here, Rabbi Schnall explained. With a break from the pressures of academia and extra-curricular activities during YBH, they can easily enrich their bonds with Yeshiva.
“Experiencing the beis medrash in a different light often enhances a student's own connections to the overall YU experience. Students enjoy and appreciate learning in YU even more during the regular semesters after participating in YBH.”