This semester, TAC vice president of Shabbat, Jen van Amerongen, and president of the Shabbat Enhancement Committee, Avital Habshush, have spearheaded a weekly Shabbat minyan on the Beren campus of YU to bring together members of the Beren community during all-women Shabbatot on campus. The initiative began with a trial run last semester, and after an initial, generally positive reception, is continuing to thrive.
“Shabbat is a day that is all about community and especially communal tefillah,” said van Amerongen. “When Shabbat davening took place at Adereth El,” a local synagogue that some Stern students previously attended for minyan, she noted that “attendance was low because many students chose to daven by themselves instead of making the trip. Because we are a religious institution, it is imperative that we have a space for our own tefillah; Avital and I thought that bringing a minyan to the Beren Campus would be the perfect way to unite Beren students as one religious community.”
Habshush also stressed the value of community as motivation for the initiative. “Having our own tefillah in our own Beit Midrash will help to add to the ruach and feeling of community on the Beren campus on Shabbat,” she said. “Tefillah is an integral part of Shabbat and the covenantal faith community in general—see “Lonely Man of Faith”—so we wanted to enhance the religious experience here on campus.”
Both van Amerongen and Habshush said that they received guidance from Naomi Kohl, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, and Rabbi Daniel Lerner, faculty members at YU who also wish to create a more united Beren community. Said Rabbi Lerner, “The minyan began as a way of enhancing the ambiance and spirit of Shabbat on the Beren campus.” It seems to be doing just that. “It’s nice to feel like you are part of a community,” said Shira Wein, a sophomore at Stern. “While I enjoyed the davening at Adereth El, I often felt like a guest in someone else’s shul. This minyan is geared towards us and really makes you feel like a part of the davening experience.”
The minyan is advertised through word of mouth, and the men who come to participate in it stay for free in a hotel close to the Beren campus and receive free meals on Friday night and Shabbat day, separate from the women. Though the minyan can sometimes be difficult to coordinate, van Amerongen and Habshush are committed to the initiative because it allows for a communal Shabbat experience without sacrificing the all-women’s atmosphere of Beren Shabbatots.
“I thought the minyan was really great,” said Yisroel Schatz, a student at Yeshiva College who has come to the Beren Campus to participate in the minyan. “The people that came along with me were very into it, and even though we were small in number, the davening was very vibrant. I think the initiative is a smart idea because it adds something that was sorely lacking in a Beren Shabbat without being intrusive on the atmosphere people that stay in want. I had someone come up to me after, thanking me for enhancing the Shabbat for her, and I think that’s just one example of the impact the initiative has made.”
Zach Spero, another Yeshiva College student who has also participated in the minyan, agreed that the minyan is enhancing the Beren community, and reflected on his positive experience being involved. “I think it’s a great initiative and a win-win for everyone involved. It seems like there’s a real demand for it from students on the Beren campus, and all of the women who I’ve spoken to really appreciate having a minyan there. Also, it gives the guys an opportunity to stay at a hotel for free and hang out with friends for a nice and laid-back Shabbat experience. It’s great that we can help give the students on the Beren campus an opportunity to daven with a minyan on Shabbat in a location that is close and comfortable to them and I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences participating in the minyan; I look forward to coming again in the future.”
So far, the minyan has been received extremely well by many students. “The number of women that show up to the minyan is truly inspiring,” said Habshush. “More students are participating in tefillot than ever before!” If the rise in attendance is any indication, van Amerongen and Habshush have succeeded in their mission of creating a more united Beren community—a trend that will hopefully continue for years to come.