By: Elliot Heller  | 

New Shabbat Minyan Builds Community at Beren

For many students at Beren, Shabbat on campus left something to be desired. Despite a full schedule of programming, a large percentage of students spent the majority of their shabbatot off campus. That all changed at the beginning of this semester, with the launching of a new weekly minyan in the Beit Midrash on the Beren campus. 

The initiative was a joint effort, spearheaded by TAC Vice President Jen van Amerongen (SCW ’17) and President of Shabbat Enhancement Committee Avital Habshush (SCW ‘17). After working with faculty members Naomi Kohl, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, and Rabbi Daniel Lerner on logistics, and coordinating a successful trial run in the fall, van Amerongen and Habshush saw their vision become a reality this semester.  

“The idea was one that had been brought up and thought about for a while but really was worked on by Jen and Avital this year,” said TAC President Hudy Rosenberg (SCW ‘17). “It was part of our effort to help students feel that the Beren Campus was their home by avoiding student needing to go to the nearby shul and feeling like guests within their own community.” 

Van Amerongen first thought of the idea to have a minyan on campus every Shabbat last semester. While many students walked to Adereth El, a local shul, for services, many others chose to stay on campus and pray in their rooms. She thought that making a minyan on campus would lead to a greater – and more spirited – turnout, and decided to do something about it. 

“Shabbat is a day that is all about community and especially communal tefillah,” van Amerongen told the Observer last month. “Because we are a religious institution, it is imperative that we have a space for our own tefillah; Avital and I thought that bringing a minyan to the Beren Campus would be the perfect way to unite Beren students as one religious community.”

The minyan’s inception has spurred a spike in Shabbat attendance at the downtown campus, and many students have said that it has enhanced their Shabbat experience.

Davening is a central part of the Shabbat experience, and having a minyan on campus allows us to create a real sense of spiritual community,” said Rachel Schuraytz (SCW ’17). “It brings everyone together for more than just the meals and infuses the entire Shabbat with a special ruach and energy.”

"Having a minyan on campus makes a tremendous difference to my Shabbos experience, added Rachel Fried (SCW ’19), “It is definitely a significant factor in my decision whether or not to stay in for Shabbos.”

The minyan usually consists of exactly ten male students, who are put up in a hotel and provided meals free of charge. The men eat the first two meals separately from the women, a decision Rosenberg says was made in order to accommodate the most students possible, but which has garnered mixed reviews among students.

“I think it's a great initiative in that it brings together the YU community and allows the women's campus to host complete tefilla services,” said Tzivya Beck (SCW ’17). “In some ways, however, it makes me feel as if men are being "imported" onto our campus in order to provide services for us. This notion is particularly noticed when the men who are leading our tefillot are sent downstairs to eat separately, thus not contributing to the community in any other way besides the services they provide. I would be much more comfortable with the minyan men if they were actually part of our community and were not just brought in to daven for us (which highlights my own inability as a woman to lead prayers).” 

Aryeh Blanshay (Syms ’17) concurred. “I'm not a fan of the premise of separate meals. YU is a community made up of men and women, and while we study on separate campuses, the true combined community nature of the school is realized when both men and women participate together in activities.”

Others were more understanding of the policy.

“While it would be nice to be able to eat with women at Beren that I know (especially my fiancée!), I understand the need to have the all-women's Shabbat experience, and that many women at Beren would be uncomfortable having a co-ed meal,” said Ben Kean (YC ’18). “Just like the men have an all-men's environment on campus for Shabbat, women are entitled to an all-women's environment as well.” 

“I get why there are girls who want it that way,” said Matthew Silkin (YC ’19). “It's still officially a girls-only Shabbos, and even though they are hosting us on their campus and benefiting from the minyan, they do want to keep the girls-only atmosphere as much as possible, which includes separated meals. Whether I'm happy about it or not is irrelevant; it is what it is.” 

Meals notwithstanding, students of all types have been very pleased overall by the presence of the minyan

“I have a great time going,” said Kean. “I often do it with people I'm friends with. The zemiros at the men's seudah are usually very beautiful. The student leaders at Beren who are responsible for Shabbat programming, the rabbi, and the waitresses do an outstanding job making us feel comfortable and welcome, and I am very appreciative of them and the difficult job that they have.”

"The minyan on shabbat transforms the Beit Midrash into a Beit Knesset, uniting all students present as a kehillah,” said Liat Clark (SCW ’19). “With the presence of the minyan, all members of the YU community can participate in the creation of a powerful tefillah betzibur experience on the downtown campus."