By: Elisheva Kohn  | 

Uptown Coed ‘Shabbat Experiences’ to Launch with Joint Commentator, Observer Shabbaton

A new initiative to bring a coed Shabbat experience to the Wilf Campus is launching this weekend with a joint Observer/Commentator Shabbaton. As part of the effort to expand the “Community Shabbat” model to the uptown campus, student leaders and the Office of Student Life (OSL) have created a framework to invite clubs to run Shabbatonim where students can participate in coed meals and programming in a smaller setting. This is in contrast to the major coed, club Shabbatonim that have taken place on the Beren Campus in the past. 

The Observer/Commentator Shabbaton will take place as a parallel event to the main Shabbat meals and activities on the Wilf Campus that are open to men only. Meals will be held in the Yeshiva Community Shul at Shenk, and JTA’s Opinion Editor Laura Adkins and RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Jeremy Wieder are scheduled to speak to the students participating in the Shabbaton. Adkins, who previously served as Deputy Opinion Editor at The Forward, will be teaching an advanced writing seminar titled “Columns and Editorials” at Stern College for Women in the spring. Approximately 20 editorial board and staff members from The Commentator and The Observer are expected to attend. Accommodations will be provided for any students who need in Washington Heights. 

The first of its kind, this week’s Shabbaton is the product of cooperation between student leaders and the OSL. OSL Senior Director Rabbi Josh Weisberg, TAC President Bella Adler (SCW ‘20), SOY President Yoni Broth (SSSB ‘20), TAC VP of Shabbat Ariella Etshalom (SCW ‘20) and YCSA President Leib Wiener (YC ‘20) aimed to find a way to make the Shabbat experience on campus more appealing to a wider range of students. Taking student feedback into account, they concluded that to accomplish this, it would be necessary to offer a “normal social coed environment for people who want to be in that environment,” according to Etshalom.

Unlike previous major coed Shabbatonim on the Midtown campus, this new model will allow only members of specific clubs to participate in shabbat meals and activities. This is intended to allow clubs to expand their regular coed programming to the weekend while avoiding an overwhelming social experience for the rest of the students on campus who prefer to remain in a non-coed environment. These new Shabbatonim will effectively bring the new Beren “Community Shabbat” model to the Wilf Campus. According to Etshalom, keeping the meals and activities “normal-sized” will “make sure that everyone feels comfortable on campus.” 

“Yeshiva University has a diverse student community,” said Wiener, “and providing different shabbat options to keep students on campus and foster our community is important and essential for the continuity of our Yeshiva University ecosystem.”

Last year, the announcement of the first uptown coed Shabbaton in decades led to controversy after Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman encouraged male students to leave campus for that weekend. This year, “the OSL met with different Roshei Yeshiva to discuss future shabbaton programming on Wilf campus,” explained Wiener. According to Wiener, the Roshei Yeshiva are constantly being “updated” on new Shabbat programming ideas.

Upon hearing about the initiative to bring smaller coed groups uptown for Shabbat, Eliana Lindenberg (SCW ‘21) commented, “I am happy to hear they are expanding the community uptown for the women as well. It is our university, our campus, too. We should feel welcome here.”

The upcoming Observer/Commentator Shabbaton was also very well received by the newspapers’ staff. “After the controversies surrounding women on the Wilf Campus for Shabbat arose last year, I am proud that student leaders are taking the initiative this year to provide the YU undergraduate student body with diverse Shabbat experiences,” commented Molly Meisels, editor-in-chief of The Observer. “YU is not one thing. Its students do not belong to one religious subset. Allowing students to choose their version of a meaningful Shabbat is an integral aspect of their experiences on campus.”

When reached for comment about the new Shabbat programming, Dean of Students Dr. Chaim Nissel said, “The Office of Student Life works closely with student leaders and YU administrators to create programming that meets the diverse needs of our student body.” 

Photo Caption: The Wilf Campus
Photo Credit: The Commentator