By: Yonatan Kurz  | 

YU Launches “Satellite Batei Midrash” for Elul Zman

Faced with the lack of in-person Torah learning from the undergraduates on the Wilf Campus during Elul Zman this year, Yeshiva University set up a series of “satellite batei midrash,” utilizing several locations in the Five Towns and Bergen County communities for students to learn over the month, and even providing accommodations for several Mazer Yeshiva Program rebbeim to give daily shiurim and serve as guest speakers. Over a hundred talmidim attend the program, both in the morning for seder and shiur as well as at night for the night seder bekius program.

In late August, a Google Form was sent out by Rabbi Ely Bacon allowing students to sign up to learn in-person in either Teaneck, Bergenfield or Woodmere. For the students in the Five Towns, learning took place in the Young Israel of Woodmere (YIW), and for the Bergen County option, Congregation Bnai Yeshurun (CBY), Congregation Beth Abraham (CBA) and Congregation Ohr Hatorah (OHT) were offered as potential locations for in-person learning. A total of 126 students signed up to learn in-person: 72 for YIW, and the other 54 split among the three New Jersey locations. The interested students in NJ were divided by their respective morning shiur, to enable students to “be around each other for morning seder and hock through the Sugyas together,” according to Rabbi Bacon.

Learning began on Aug. 25 and continued daily. “I’m very thankful that in these unusual times, YU has provided students with the opportunity to continue their learning in a Beis Medrash,” said Hudi Aronovitz (YC ‘22), who has been learning at YIW over the last few weeks.

Several roshei yeshiva and maggidei shiur gave shiurim on a weekly or even daily basis. In YIW, Rabbi Avi Sarfaty, Rabbi Elchanan Adler, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, and Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman gave one in-person shiur a week; in Bergen County, Rabbi Yaakov Werblowsky, Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger and Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky gave daily shiurim at CBY, CBA and OHT, respectively. Rabbi Adler was the only rabbi to give a shiur in both areas, speaking in YIW on Mondays and CBY on Wednesdays.

“After experiencing the deep darkness of COVID, this initiative has been the most invigorating, uplifting and encouraging sight to see,” shared Rabbi Shay Schachter, Rosh Bais Medrash at YIW. “A Beis Midrash filled once again with sweet sounds of Torah reverberating throughout our Young Israel of Woodmere campus. This has elevated not only the students who have come to learn, but all community members who have stopped by to observe as well.”

Additionally, many safety precautions were taken to ensure a safe atmosphere that was conducive to the students’ learning. Students were limited to two socially-distanced people per table, and were required to wear masks or other forms of facial coverings. “I felt very safe everyday when I was learning in the Beit Midrash,” remarked Yitzchak Tollinsky (YC ‘23) of learning at CBY. “There was hand sanitizer on every table along with a daily temperature check, and everyone was keeping with the social distancing protocols, whether it be by using the available sanitizer, or the constant wearing of masks. The overall safety and care allowed me to learn each day without worry.”

There were several guest speakers that visited the batei midrash. Rabbi Binyamin Krohn spoke at both CBY and CBA one morning, while Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz and Rabbi Shay Schachter each gave a shiur in YIW related to the Yamim Noraim and halacha. One Sunday, President Ari Berman made an impromptu trip to CBY, giving a filmed speech at the shul’s beit midrash before sitting down to speak with various groups of students. 

Programming for night seder was also offered to students, as the batei midrash remained open deep into the night. One Thursday evening in CBY, Rabbi Zahtz gave chizzuk to the students in attendance, followed by a mishmar with cholent after maariv. Additionally, several of YU’s shiurim and sichos mussar given over Zoom were projected for viewing in YIW.

YU has also hosted in-person learning opportunities for undergraduate women, with four “community shiurim” held Sept. 13 in Queens, Teaneck, Chicago and Boca Raton. Additionally, Rabbi Jacob and Penina Bernstein, Beren Campus Rabbi and Rebbetzin, gave a parsha shiur for Beren students at YIW on Sept. 10.

The men’s program is expected to continue until Sept. 24, when Fall Break begins for the chagim.

Photo Caption: Young Israel of Woodmere is one of four locations hosting YU undergrads for in-person learning over Elul.
Photo Credit: Adam Frenkel