By: Uri Shalmon  | 

Students Unite at Beren Campus for Sephardi Shabbaton

Beren Campus – On Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim, February 6th, 2016, the YU Sephardi Club ran their annual Sephardi Shabbaton. Advertisement for this Shabbaton, one of the most popular, started way back in December, before the semester even started, when President of the Sephardi Club Solomon Anapolle (YC ‘17) sent out numerous emails publicizing the event and the Sephardi Club. St. Giles Hotel, on 39th Street, hosted the YU men for the Shabbaton.

This was a Shabbaton of firsts. For the first time, YU scheduled an official time to sign-up. Registration for the shabbaton began at 6:00 PM the Sunday before the Shabbaton--a new policy that the office of Student Life intends to use for future co-ed shabbatons to ensure everyone has an equal chance to sign up.. The Sephardi Shabbaton’s 49 spots closed out in record time, filling up in 24 seconds. The rush to sign up left more than 100 students on the waiting list. The Tuesday before the Shabbaton, students who failed to pay for the shabbaton lost their spots to students on the waitlist, who had to wait by the OSL to claim one of the few reservations that became available. Some students waited over an hour and a half to ensure they could make it. A few students who didn’t make the cut even rented their own rooms in St. Giles. Several Touro students attended as well, also renting rooms in the hotel.

For the first time, Graduate Advisors were posted in the lobby at the entrances to the hotel rooms – at the elevators and at the stairs – to stop women from going upstairs. However, the women were still permitted in the hotel lobby as in past Shabbatonim.

Friday night, after a beautiful Tefillah led by Yaacov Sultan, Rabbi Dan Cohen spoke a few words of Torah discussing Naaseh V’Nishmah, performing and listening to the commandments. Avi Kohanzadeh, a proud Persian, spoke about Bernie Madoff and the laws of Jewish slaves.

Following the meal and an Oneg led by Rabbi Richard Hidary, came the much anticipated and novel Sephardi Comedy Roast.

Yosef Nemanpour, a Persian participant of the Roast, thoroughly enjoyed it. “Although the Roast highlights our differences, it really allowed us to embrace our collective Sephardi similarities and experiences,” he explained, “we all come from a similar background of delicious foods, intense facial hair, and a traditional lifestyle and on the Roast we got to really see that first hand.”

Facing a panel of a few Sephardic ethnicities, and of course, to be politically correct, an Ashkenazi delegate, Daniel Lazarev and Jacob Pesachov, the mediators, asked very pointed questions to the representatives which sparked heated – and sometimes hilarious – debate between all the groups.

The Roast elicited many hearty laughs from the crowd and a few gasps as well. According to Anita Levy, the women’s president of the Sephardi Club, “the roast was definitely the most memorable part of the shabbaton, which Ashkenazim and Sephardim enjoyed alike.” Among the Sepharadim represented were Bukharians, Syrians, Yemenites, Moroccans, and Persians.

Shacharit, led by Meir Cohen, and Musaf, led by Ellie Takhalov, a Bukharian and the Sephardi Club President on the Wilf campus, brought everyone together again. Rabbi Yosef Bronstein spoke after Shacharit and Rabbi Cohen spoke again after Kiddush. Each of the meals featured Sephardi-themed food. “The Sephardi food and really the Shabbaton as a whole,” commented Isaac Cohen, “gave students from other cultures a chance to see what Sephardi culture is all about, which is something they can only find at the Sephardi events.”

Another highlight of the Shabbaton was Rabbi Elie Abadie’s engaging Shiur about the trials and tribulations of Middle-Eastern Jewish refugees. “Hearing Rabbi Abadie’s Shiur about the history of different Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews, and especially hearing his own personal story and involvement in raising awareness of the Sephardic refugee issue really opened the eyes of many students, including myself,” Ms. Levy said. Students filled rooms 101/102 in Laulicht Commons and some even stood just to hear him speak.

Odeya Barayev starred at Seudah Shlishit, where she considered the two seemingly opposing Halachic aspects of following the majority and “fighting for what we feel is right.” Yaacov Sultan recited a traditional Sephardi Havdala, highlighting a few favorite cantorial melodies. The Shabbaton concluded with a wonderful game of dodgeball and Bravo’s pizza. “I really enjoyed the Sephardi Shabbaton,” Benji Wajsberg explained, “it showed me much more of Sephardi culture and exposed a side of Judaism with which I was not as familiar.”