$50,000 of New Student Activity Fee Funds Spent on Shabbat Minyan Initiative at Beren
Almost a quarter of the $204,400 composing the raised student activity funds this year, or $50,000, has been directed towards stabilizing and concretizing the “Minyan Men” at Beren Shabbat initiative, which brings a quorum of ten men downtown each week to ensure the midtown campus has a minyan.
For this academic year, the student activity fee, the charge that raises funds for most student-run programming on campus, was raised 67%, to $250 a year. Between 2,044 undergraduate students on the Beren and Wilf campuses, this increase amounted to over $200,000 for increased and enhanced programming.
However, for much of the year, it has remained unclear in where and how these additional funds were being spent. Now, after investigation, it appears one quarter of those funds is being used for the weekly minyan at Beren.
The main expense for the minyan is housing the men in midtown Manhattan. The Office of Student Life arranges for the students to be placed in five hotel rooms at the nearby Court Hotel, the same hotel where students are put up for the larger, monthly, co-ed shabbatonim throughout the year.
“At the end of the day, it’s about how much we are willing to support our values. We are strongly committed to offering everyone on the Beren campus a chance to experience Shabbatot with tefilla b’tzibur (prayer with a minyan), with a “Tzibur” that is their own,” said Shira Krinsky, the Minyan Coordinator on the Shabbat Enhancement Committee at Beren.
The minyan initiative began last year, the brainchild of Jen van Amerongen, former Torah Activities Council (TAC) Vice President of Shabbat, and Avital Habshush, the former President of the Shabbat Enhancement Committee. Starting in the spring semester, the minyan ran semi-regularly, bringing men downtown just about every other week.
“The idea was one I had spoken about with friends throughout my years at Stern. Basically...that communal tefilla, especially on Shabbat, is integral to a Jewish community,” said van Amerongen. “We were not able to function as a religious community on Shabbat and instead had to be guests somewhere else. Any other college with a considerable population of Orthodox Jews has a Shabbat minyan. So the plan was to try and recruit men to make a minyan every Shabbat so that there would be communal tefilla for the Beren campus.”
Students at Beren had the option of davening at the nearby Adereth El synagogue, but few would actually attend services there. “It is much easier to daven on your own in a dorm lounge, or sadly, skip davening altogether, than to walk ten blocks to a shul that is not really your own community and you don’t feel a part of,” explained van Amerongen.
Dean of Students, Dr. Chaim Nissel described the program’s significance and the reason to formalize it as a weekly program this year. “We started bringing the minyan to Beren in Spring 2017 as a pilot program and it was very well received. The Beren student Shabbat Enhancement Committee felt that having the weekly minyan on campus significantly enhanced the Beren Shabbat experience so beginning in Fall 2017, we have had a minyan there practically every week.”
Further, Dr. Nissel emphasized the importance of utilizing a large portion of the new funds towards strengthening programming that directly affects about half of the undergraduate student community.
And in part, the minyan seems to be contributing to a significant uptick in Beren students staying in for Shabbat this year. Shabbat attendance is up over 57%, with an average of 175 students on the Beren campus each week in the Fall semester. During the 2016-2017 academic year, just 111 students stayed in for Shabbat, on average.
“The biggest thing that the Beren Community gains from having a minyan on campus on Shabbos is a communal center” said Adina Cohen, current TAC Vice President of Shabbat. “The minyan transforms 245 Lexington from a place where women go for their meals and programs into the place they go for their entire Shabbos experience.”
Cohen continued by stressing the significant increase in women attending minyan Shabbat morning as a result of the initiative, crediting it in large part to the tone having a weekly minyan sets on the Beren campus. “It is in large part due to the sense of ownership that having a minyan on campus creates. Davening tefillah b'tzibur within the four walls of our school building fosters a sense of community and has created an important foundation for the community to be able to thrive.”
One of the men who regularly goes downtown for the minyan, Junior Doniel Weinreich, said in support of the program, “it seems obvious that davening is integral to the Shabbos experience, and to any Shabbos program. As someone who partially has the power to alleviate the predicament [of not having a minyan], I have a sense of responsibility.” He added “it’s also generally a quite pleasant experience.”
Based on the program’s success this year, the Office of Student Life is planning to continue the program next year and is currently in the process of planning the program’s future logistics.
Krinsky, reiterating the minyan’s importance, stressed the signal the budgeting of such a large sum for the program sends. “We show just how much we value [the minyan initiative] by spending the necessary money to make it a reality.”