Clarifying Details About the Recent Uptown Shabbaton
It has come to The Commentator’s attention that some readers in the extended YU community would benefit from a short article clarifying certain details about the recent Uptown Shabbaton, which generated much discussion in recent weeks. This article will attempt to succinctly and precisely present the manner in which the Shabbaton was approved and the details regarding how the Shabbaton itself played out.
In seeking out clarification, The Commentator spoke with student council leaders who, along with YU administrators, were involved in planning the Shabbaton. Dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) Rabbi Menachem Penner and Senior Director of YU’s Office of Student Life (OSL) Rabbi Josh Weisberg both declined multiple requests for comment.
THE APPROVAL PROCESS
The planning for the recent Shabbaton began in the first week of Oct. 2018, with a meeting between Yeshiva Student Union (YSU) President Nolan Edmonson, Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY) President Moshe Spirn, Rabbi Josh Weisberg, Rabbi Menachem Penner, Dean of Undergraduate Torah Studies (UTS) Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program (SBMP) and RIETS instructor Rabbi Etan Schnall, and University Dean of Students Chaim Nissel.
At said meeting, the preliminary schedule of the Shabbaton was discussed, with the initial plan to have all programming at the Mt. Sinai Jewish Center, located on Bennett Ave. roughly five blocks from YU’s Wilf Campus. According to student council leaders, the members of RIETS at the meeting believed that having women from the downtown campus too close to YU buildings would make some men who prefer a yeshiva environment uncomfortable and unwelcomed. They specifically pointed to the fact that women would be around the plaza right outside the Glueck Beit Midrash. Edmonson in turn argued for the Shabbaton to take place on the Wilf Campus. That first meeting ended with no final decision on venues or programming.
A second meeting occurred on Oct. 24, 2018 with Edmonson, Spirn, Rabbi Weisberg and Rabbi Penner in attendance. A new itinerary was presented in which seudat shlishit was scheduled to take place in the basement of MTA, while all of the other activities would be hosted at Mt. Sinai. Rabbi Weisberg noted that, as women would inevitably enter yeshiva buildings, this proposal would still not solve the concerns raised by RIETS administrators. Once again, no final decision was made at that time, although the involved parties were willing to confirm to The Commentator that the Shabbaton would indeed happen in February.
Over winter break, the Yeshiva Community Shul at Shenk, located on 185th St. between Audubon Ave. and St. Nicholas Ave. — exactly one block away from the Glueck Beit Midrash — was suggested as the home base of the Shabbaton’s meals, activities and shiurim. This was determined to be a fair compromise by all parties, as the Shenk Shul is close enough to the Wilf Campus to honor the spirit of the Shabbaton desired by some student leaders, but also far enough such that the staff of RIETS were comfortable. Both the OSL and RIETS approved this arrangement, which concluded the planning stage of the Shabbaton.
By the time that negotiations had concluded, the OSL, RIETS, Dean Nissel and members of the student government had all approved of the plans for the Shabbaton. It remains unclear when exactly the roshei yeshiva were informed about the Shabbaton, but it seems that at least some learned of its existence only the week before it occurred.
The Shabbaton itself took place on the weekend of Feb. 15-16, 2019 (Parashat Tetzaveh). Around 120 students attended the meals, which included roughly 65 men and 55 women. In the weeks before the Shabbaton, the OSL reached out to females who lived in Washington Heights who might be able to house Beren Campus students, which is where many of the latter students wound up staying. Other Beren students decided to arrange for their own housing for the Shabbaton.
The Shabbaton began with Kabbalat Shabbat in the Fischel Beit Midrash, located in Zysman Hall on Amsterdam Ave. between 186th St. and 187th St. Dinner, which took place in the Shenk Shul, was attended by students along with several members of the OSL. Dinner was followed by “Cholent and Chill,” which featured cholent, kugel and snacks in the Schottenstein Lounge, located in the building of the Shenk Shul.
Davening Shabbat morning took place once again in Zysman Hall, in the basement. Shabbaton attendees then walked back to the Shenk Shul for Kiddush in Shenk’s Schottenstein Lounge, a round robin of chaburot in the sanctuary and lunch in the Shenk building. Afternoon activities included the option to walk to Washington Heights’ Fort Tryon Park, learning in an open beit midrash in Shenk and board games in the Schottenstein Lounge. Mincha then took place in the basement of Zysman Hall, followed by seudah shlishit and maariv back at Shenk.
After havdalah, students were invited to the Furman Dining Hall — located in the basement of the Rubin Residence Hall located at the corner of Amsterdam Ave. and 185th St. — for an ice cream bar.
None of the Shabbaton’s activities took place in the Glueck Center or the Gottesman Library, which are located on 185th St. between Amsterdam Ave. and Audubon Ave.
Photo Caption: The Yeshiva Community Shul at Shenk
Photo Credit: The Commentator