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The Future of Stern Shabbatonim

Joint-campus shabbatonim in midtown highlight the year for many YU students. Stern shabbatonim combine the vibrant Shabbat atmosphere from both campuses, replete with inspirational davening, lively meals and tisches, dynamic speakers, and the opportunity to socialize with peers. The shabbatonim range in size and attendance, notably including large themed shabbatonim that typically draw over seventy uptown students such as the TAC/SOY, Athletics, Sephardic, and Syms shabbatonim. However, recent developments in the university’s hotel arrangements have called the future of these joint shabbatonim into question.

Over the past few years uptown students slept over Shabbat at the Hotel Bedford, located on E. 40th between Lexington and Park, and enjoyed joint meals and programming on the Beren Campus. The Hotel Bedford had a great relationship with YU and was extremely helpful with the Shabbat needs of the university. However, this year the Hotel Bedford has begun a renovation project on select floors, and at this time is unsure when the project will be completed. The ongoing construction has caused a restriction in the supply of available rooms and has made it impossible to accommodate large groups like YU, forcing the university to look elsewhere for hotel accommodations.

Throughout the summer, the Office of Student Life (OSL) worked tirelessly to find a replacement hotel in time for the school year. Although there is no shortage of hotels in the midtown area, there are few that met all of YU’s necessary specifications including a tight budget, access to rooms with non-electronic keys, and late-in-the-week final reservations, among others. This past Shabbat, OSL tried out a new venue, the Park South Hotel, located on E. 28th Street between Lexington and Park. According to Hezzy Jesin, the Director of Student Life on the Wilf Campus, “the Park South Hotel was the best match for the university’s very specific needs.” For instance, the hotel has agreed to work with our last-minute scheduling and to manually open doors for students during Shabbat.

There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction among students to the new hotel. One of the most noticeable improvements was the larger size and stylish decor of the rooms. In stark contrast to the Hotel Bedford, which allowed up to six students in a room, the Park South Hotel’s policy only allows two per room. Raphi Ozarowski (YC ‘15) “greatly appreciated the accommodations in the new hotel. With only two students per room, I no longer had to worry about fighting for one of the beds or getting stuck sleeping on the cot.” The staff of the Park South Hotel was also friendly and quick to accommodate particular Shabbat needs.

However, with the improvements come additional costs. While OSL will continue to heavily subsidize the costs of Shabbat, in order to absorb some of the increased expenses of the more upscale hotel, the price of Shabbat for students has been raised from $30 to $35. There will also be fewer available hotel spots at some of the smaller shabbatonim to further cut costs. Moreover, to ensure that students who will actually participate in the programming have access to the limited hotel spots, the OSL sent out an email on Friday to shabbaton participants warning that OSL will track participation throughout Shabbat. The email stressed that “the Office of Student Life reserves the right to restrict access to future Shabbatot at Beren for students who do not participate in all aspects of the Shabbat program.”

Even with the additional hotel expenses, OSL is proud that the rich shabbaton programming has not been compromised. This past Shabbat, the students were joined by a charismatic quartet of guest speakers: Aliza Abrams, the Director of Student Life on the Beren Campus; Dr. Selma Botman, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs; Dr. Scott Goldberg, the Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning; Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, the David Mitzner Dean of the Center for the Jewish Future. In addition, at Seudat Shlishit the students were treated to an inspirational speech by Shmuel Goldis, a new student at YU who just finished his service in the IDF and participated in the recent military campaign in Gaza over the summer. As the programming only continues to improve, and with the exciting new hotel accommodations, all students are highly encouraged to come to some of the Stern shabbatonim this year.