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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What Jewish Life Will Look Like on College Campuses This Fall

This is part three of a three-part series outlining what four different college campuses and Jewish-life organizations are implementing to accommodate students this fall.

Similar to the colleges mentioned in parts one and two, NYU will be offering a mix of online, in-person and hybrid classes for the fall. Classrooms will be sanitized more frequently and classroom occupancies will remain at less than 50% to maintain social distancing.

NYU has prohibited nonessential school-related international travel, and encourages that domestic air travel be kept to a minimum.

Students must be tested for COVID-19 before arriving on campus, and fewer students will occupy each residence-hall floor to reduce overall density. Off-campus accommodations will be provided to meet the need for additional rooms. Certain rooms on campus will be set aside for isolation or quarantine should they be needed. According to its site, NYU will provide lower cost housing this semester.

Tuition and fees, which vary for each student based on their major and program, are set for the semester regardless of virtual or in-person instruction, according to NYU’s website.

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the executive director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, will run programs online and outdoors for students come September. His ideas right now include potluck picnicking in local parks or walking tours of Jewish interest in the city.

He also wants to continue the chesed work students were taking part in last semester. They staffed food pantries, made calls to seniors and delivered food items to healthcare workers during the chagim.

“I want everyone who’s coming of age during this historic moment to be able to tell their children or grandchildren that when the pandemic hit, they didn’t just retreat in fear, but that they did everything they could do to service others,” Rabbi Sarna said.

There won’t be any formal events held inside the Bronfman Center, but Rabbi Sarna said that students are welcome inside to study so long as they’re wearing masks and social distancing.

Rabbi Sarna also hopes to continue the remote Shabbat programming, which includes a Shabbat Toolkit. In that kit students will find questions on the parsha and divrei Torah meant to spark discussion.

While The College of New Jersey was initially going to operate on a hybrid schedule, on Aug. 3, the school’s president, Kathryn Foster, released a memo announcing that TCNJ will only offer remote classes, and that only a small population of students will be granted housing. Those allowed to live on campus include those with housing insecurity or accessibility issues, international students and student employees.

The school’s office of student involvement, which supports student extracurricular life, is working on a risk-assessment tool for student organizations to use when planning events, which will be further limited.

Freshman orientation will be held remotely.

Additional information, including tuition, COVID safety procedures and semester scheduling are currently being revised on the school’s website.

Some Chabad programs operate on smaller campuses and support fewer students, especially compared with an institution like Rutgers-New Brunswick or Binghamton. The College of New Jersey’s Chabad program usually expects about 50 students on a busy Friday night and fewer students during its weekly events.

Rabbi Akiva Greenbaum, director of Chabad at TCNJ, is brainstorming different ways he can keep students engaged while remaining within school guidelines, which currently prevent religious gatherings. While Rabbi Greenbaum initially wanted to hold small events on campus, he might not be able to any longer.

In the past, Rabbi Greenbaum has run an “Amazon Shabbos,” where students can pick up boxed meals and enjoy a Shabbat dinner in their dorm rooms. Other weekly programming, such as Sinai Scholars, will happen virtually.

While virtual sessions have become the most common way to continue this sort of programming, Rabbi Greenbaum knows how hard it can be to keep students engaged during long Zoom sessions and online lectures. Over the summer, he has been doing his best to keep these online sessions interesting by posting Facebook live videos where he interviews with different Jewish personalities, and invites a variety of musicians and singers to entertain.

He is also looking to incorporate Chabad national’s mitzvah quizzes, where students can text in answers to questions about Judaism and enter a chance to win a prize.

For Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Greenbaum is planning on hosting a virtual shofar-blowing class, where he’ll teach interested students how to blow the shofar, and the meaning behind the practice. Students can also expect hand-delivered boxes of treats, such as apples and honey and round challah.

Despite the gray areas he faces this fall, Rabbi Greenbaum has high hopes for a lively semester.

“Jews have always had to adapt throughout history and learn new ways to continue living,” he said. “This is just another step in that journey of being mobile––it will be like Judaism on the go.”

How are students handling this change? Most are trying to make the best of it. Yaacov Davidowitz, a sophomore engineering major at Cooper Union in New York City, is on the board of the Orthodox student group at NYU and on the board of the Cooper Union Hillel. Since the Cooper Union Jewish community is small, the organization partners with NYU’s community of Jews.

Instead of welcoming incoming and prospective students in person for a shabbaton, Davidowitz and other students organized a virtual event to help everyone get to know each other, and has been organizing post-shabbat meals that the students can enjoy together. He and other student board members are still deciding how to hold services for the fall.

All of Davidowitz’s classes are online in the fall, which will be difficult for an engineering student.

“One of the reasons I chose Cooper Union was because of how interactive the classes are––most are project and lab based,” he said. “That went out the window this semester.”

The school is doing its best to make up for such challenges. Davidowitz is set to receive boxes of materials he will need for his lab classes, so that he can conduct experiments remotely.

Elliot Roman, a rising senior at Manhattan School of Music, is also in a field that requires a lot of hands-on experience. His school is going to implement a hybrid learning system, where academics will be available online, private lessons will be available online or in person and performance-based courses will be held in person (but socially distanced).

Roman won’t be living on campus in the fall because most of his classes will be online.

“If this were a regular school year without a worldwide pandemic at hand, commuting from home would mean missing out on a lot of the wonderful social opportunities my school has to offer as well as opportunities to perform and listen to live concerts in New York City,” Roman said. “However, with distancing restrictions in place on my school campus and with large performance ensembles and venues closed for the foreseeable future, I don’t think I will be missing out on quite as much this year.”

What Roman will miss, however, is his school’s Jewish community. It’s a small community––most students participate in activities going on at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, but it became a significant part of his college experience.

“I will really miss the Hillel experience this year, especially seeing and davening with my friends every Shabbat,” Roman said, “but I am happy that the community continues to thrive virtually and that the leadership at [Columbia/Barnard Hillel] has been engaging with students during these challenging times.”

Please note that this article only provides an overview of what current services colleges are providing this fall, which are all subject to change. Students and families are encouraged to check their respective schools’ websites for any updates to its COVID-19 protocols.

By Elizabeth Zakaim

 

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