By: Adina Cohen | Features  | 

From the Torah Activities Council Vice President’s Desk: Finding Common Ground

Over the years, people have asked me what it is like to be the daughter of a rabbi. Each time, I respond that I am lucky--I never really felt the pressure that stereotypically comes along with being the child of a communal leader. My parents did their best to make sure that my sisters and I were seen no differently nor judged to higher standards than our peers who surrounded us.

Recently, I have begun to think about my identity as a rabbi’s daughter differently. This year, I am involved in the planning of Shabbat on the Beren campus. For the first time, I have gotten a glimpse into what my parents do on a weekly basis and have gained insight into how complicated it is to put all the pieces of a community together into a finished puzzle.

When I decided to run for VP of Shabbat, I did not realize just how complex the Beren community is. If the campus is a puzzle, then there is one puzzle piece for each student with no reference picture for guidance. Trying to put the image together sometimes feels impossible. Parts of the puzzle have been completed but this is not a puzzle that can be finished in one long Shabbat afternoon--this is a puzzle that will take weeks, months and maybe even years to perfect.

As I began to work on the Beren Campus puzzle, I looked back to my community for direction. My shul is a special place. On any given week you will find a mix of Shomer Shabbat and Shomer Kashrut Jews, Yeshivish Jews, traditional Jews who drive to Shul, and those who will likely be going to the mall after Shabbat services. Occasionally, a Chassidish Jew with a bekeshe and a streimel will join us. Somehow, even with all of our religious differences, the community is extremely strong and quickly growing.

Over the years, I have wondered what it is that makes my community successful. My time in Stern has pushed me to think about this question more seriously, as I have been faced with the challenge of trying to unify a community that, in many senses, is equally as diverse.

There is an understanding in my community that anyone who walks through the doors of the shul is welcome. There are no questions and no judgements. Come as you are, strive to grow, and care about others. Those are the expectations, and the lay leaders of the community practice what they preach.

My Shabbat meals have been filled with the most colorful guests; people with fascinating life stories, those who have never experienced a Shabbat meal as well as guests who have an Orthodox background. Oftentimes, my family’s meals consist of a combination of all of these types of guests, each of us enjoying each other’s company and unique perspective. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my community is built on finding common ground. While there are programs that cater to different groups, at the end of the day the focus is on what we share with one another and not what makes us different.

In my time at Stern, I have not found this basic understanding to be prevalent within the community. There are sub-communities within the greater campus, but little effort is made to become a cohesive community where we can learn from those with different backgrounds. I have yet to see a movement of reaching out to others in order to create a sense of unity and respect. In fact, there is a sense of complacency on campus--a feeling that while the status quo is not good enough, the energy required to make a change is not worth the time and effort. Time and time again I am struck with a recognition of the enormity of the problem and a sinking feeling that too few people care enough to fix it. I  have become disheartened, as I truly believe that our success as a community and as a university is dependant upon achdut, and, without an appreciation for every individual and what she brings to the table, we will never be able to achieve communal goals. Shabbat, however, is one of the places where I see the potential for positive change.

When I think of the best way to utilize Shabbat as a means for community, I am immediately drawn to the concept of tefillah b’tzibur, davening as a community. While there are countless permanent minyanim that exist, each minyan has a unique spirit that draws in different types of people and approaches the goal of creating an environment that will best allow its attendees to connect to God in a different way. Having a permanent Shabbat minyan on campus allows the Beren community to take ownership of the religious experience on Shabbat. It allows every woman to feel a part of something greater, even on the weeks where she is eating with friends in one of the dorm lounges and skipping out on the programming. Having a minyan on campus creates a center around which to rally. It creates a forum for people to see other types of people who live on campus and think about their needs. It also attempts to create a davening experience that is comfortable and meaningful for everyone who attends.

When a community is established through the tefillah b’tzibur experience, there is a hope that the shared experience will remind each community member of the imperative to reach out to her peers at all other communal Shabbat events such as kiddush and meals. It is through the minyan initiative that the roots of a caring community can take hold on the Beren Campus, and hopefully the community will grow beyond the bounds of Shabbat and into the week as well.