By: Shlomit Ebbin  | 

The Biggest Shabbat Ever on Beren Campus

About 375 Beren students stayed on campus for the first Shabbat of Fall 2021, marking it the biggest single-gender Shabbaton recorded on the campus in history. The first Shabbat of the semester was Aug. 27-28. 

Of the 375 students, over 100 were “first time on campus” (FTOC) students. FTOCs — which includes any freshman or sophomore who is on campus for the first time — were able to sign up for this first Shabbat for free. They were joined by various guests, including Yeshiva University President Rabbi Ari Berman, Associate Dean of Torah Studies and Spiritual Life Shoshana Schechter, Director of Spiritual Guidance Rachel Ciment, Beren Campus Rabbi and Rebbetzin Jacob and Penina Bernstein and Beren Campus Av and Em Bayit Rabbi Yisroel and Dr. Elisheva Rosenzweig. 

The Shabbat meals, “gladly” subsidized by the Office of Student Life (OSL), cost $15 dollars for two meals if registered before Tuesday. After Tuesday, meals cost $25, and after Wednesday they cost $50. Students also have the option of signing up for only one meal. Seudat shlishit is included for free with any meal sign-up. 

The first Shabbat on campus of Fall 2021 did not involve any COVID restrictions; however, this changed for the second week on campus as per YU’s new masking policy which began on Monday, Aug. 30. Some of last year’s restrictions which were lifted for this semester include requirements to sign up in a pod of six people to eat with and sit with at davening, and to specifically sign up for individual programs over Shabbat to ensure a spot. The Beren minyan — which returned to campus in April 2021 when COVID-19 restrictions were lightened — continued into this semester.  

Changes were made to the normal pre-COVID Shabbat locations due to the considerable number of students. In previous years, davening took place in the Beren Campus Leon Eisenberg Beit Midrash in Stanton Hall. However, davening had been moved to the Koch Auditorium last year to enable social distancing. On this first Shabbat, Kabbalat Shabbat and shacharit/musaf remained in Koch despite no social distancing due to the room’s ability to accommodate more people. Mincha took place in the beit midrash. Additionally, a meal location in Yagoda Commons was added after sign-ups “due to an amazingly large group of students who signed up for meals,” OSL Rabbinic Assistant Daniel Albert emailed the overflow students on Thursday, Aug. 26. There were four meal locations in total: the Kushner Dining Hall, classrooms 101/102, Le Bistro Cafe and Yagoda Commons. 

Dean Schechter reflected on the Shabbat. “Our first Shabbat back on campus was just beautiful. We had the largest number of women in the history of Stern College join,” she said. “There were students from a variety of different backgrounds, many geographical locations — at least 15 countries represented — and different hashkafot all coming together to celebrate Shabbat and to connect to each other and to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”

Many attribute the trend of staying in for Shabbat largely to the group of students who made an effort to stay in last year. The university encouraged students to stay in for Shabbat in Fall 2020 to decrease the exposure to COVID-19 through student travel off campus. 

“The sign-ups were in a sense expected,” Beren Shabbat Coordinator Adina Passy (SCW ‘21) told The Commentator. “I think last year, because staying on campus became a necessity, people saw how amazing it was to stay in so there was a lot of hock around staying in and people really wanted to.”

“I think part of the reason people stayed in is coming off of a year of COVID, and a year where we didn’t necessarily have opportunities like this to be together with hundreds of friends. I think that there was an immediate kind of reaction to that,” said Rabbi Bernstein. “We’re in the new era of the Beren Campus for Shabbos.”

“Before Corona, the culture on campus was that most people left campus for Shabbos,” said Resident Advisor Leah Feder (SCW ‘22). “The culture is now different. Instead of the norm being to go home, the norm is now to stay. Shabbos was packed with students who wanted to be here.”

Feder continued, “it was a weekend filled with old and new friends, amazing administration, delicious food, inspiring Torah and all around fun. I cannot wait to see what Shabbos this year on campus looks like. I can’t believe this is just the start!”

FTOC Yaffa Goldkin (SCW ‘24) shared her experience. “My Shabbat was awesome,” she said. “I was able to run into a lot of people in my classes and we are all very friendly now. It was a great first Shabbat, and I even got to connect with my roommates after we all got back from Friday night dinner.”

“It was definitely a little crazy as the Shabbos coordinator, trying to do both buildings and coordinate everything, but thank God I’m so happy we were able to,” said Passy. “I think people really enjoyed it and had an incredible time. This was our chance to grab the FTOCs’ attention of how amazing Shabbat on campus could be, and I think that’s really what we did. I’m hopeful that we’re going to see an upward trend of staying on campus.”

“I think the hope and goal has always been since Penina and myself joined the campus was to try to have…opportunities for students to feel connected to a community, to see Beren Campus as not only a place where courses take place and where other clubs happen, but where a community can be built and felt,” shared Rabbi Bernstein. “People really have a sense that there’s something happening on campus they don’t want to miss out on…it’s really true that people who don’t stay in for Shabbat are really missing out not only on the incredible opportunity, but also on an incredible component of their Beren Campus college experience.” 

“We have an amazing staff, led by our campus Rav and Rebbetzin, the Bernsteins, who help create this wonderful environment,” Schechter added. “It was particularly meaningful having President Berman join us for Shabbat, and students had the unique opportunity to spend personal time with and learn from the president of the university. Shabbat is an essential part of the campus experience and we are looking forward to continuing to have meaningful and uplifting Shabbatot together during this upcoming year.”

Photo Caption: Dean Schechter addressing students in Koch Auditorium at orientation

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University