James Ponet admires Yale’s Jewish students for their adventurousness.
“One of the wonderful things is that the Jewish students do a lot of experimenting,” Ponet, Yale’s Jewish Chaplain, said.
The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life is home to many denominations. Reform, conservative and orthodox services — all student-led — are held there, as well as a fourth, called the New Minyan, which mixes many conservative and orthodox tenets and meets every two weeks. As a result, Slifka draws an amalgamation of Jewish students from all denominations to its doors each week.
David Gershkoff ’06 said he appreciates the wide range of services.
“It’s all about figuring out what works for you and trying not to let what doesn’t, bother you,” Gershkoff said.
About 200 students total attend the services on an average Friday night, Ponet said. He said Slifka gives students a unique forum to learn about different denominations, particularly at the Friday night dinner, where around 200 students from all denominations come together to celebrate the Sabbath.
“While we break into denominations to pray, we can come together to eat,” Ponet said.
Gershkoff said lots of the students who attend the dinner do not attend the services beforehand, and many are not even Jewish.
“It’s a time to sit and have a day to yourself. You eat, you talk, and you relax,” Gershkoff said.
Most of the students who attend the Friday dinner come from one of the other services.
Zvika Krieger ’06 said the same sense of community that is present in the dining hall pervades the orthodox services at Slifka.
“I really like the orthodox services here more than at home since I’m friends with all the people here, so it has a warmer feeling,” Krieger said.
Noam Greenberg ’07 said he, too, appreciates the close-knit community at the orthodox services.
“It’s a smaller community than at home and probably more homogenous,” Greenberg said. “It gives it a more intimate feel.”
Both Krieger and Greenberg said they were raised orthodox and continue to practice orthodox Judaism. Krieger said he considered different denominations in high school but ultimately decided to stay orthodox. He said he did not feel the need to experiment with other services at Yale.
Gershkoff said his own beliefs led him to the conservative services, but he still worships in the orthodox services during the week when there are not enough conservative students at Slifka.
Gershkoff said the New Minyan fit what he was looking for better than either the conservative or orthodox services, as it demonstrates “the love of text and prayer in the orthodox with the sense of the egalitarian of the conservative.” He said he attends the New Minyan when it meets.
Isaac Sasson M.D., Ph.D. ’04, who started the New Minyan, said he wanted to create a group that would “fill a niche that was not provided by either service but still stay within Jewish observant law.”
Sasson said the group keeps many of the orthodox tenets while it takes a more progressive stance towards female participation in the worship. He said in each service there is female cantor who leads part of the worship.
“My needs weren’t being completely met in the orthodox service so we were looking to start something new where people like myself could feel more comfortable,” Sasson said.
Jennifer Shields ’06 said she immediately felt comfortable at the reform service. After she attended one last year, she was drawn in and kept returning, she said.
“It’s something people look to at the end of the week for self-reflecting,” Shields said.
Shields, who now organizes the reform services, said one of the most attractive facets of the reform services is their openness. She said at the start of each service, all introduce themselves and welcome new attendees.
“There are people who come when they can, people who stop by to check out all the Minyans,” Shields said.
Last year, conservative services were the most well-attended, Ponet said, but now New Minyan and orthodox Friday night services draw more people.
Conservative and reform services are held every Friday, the New Minyan meets every other Friday and orthodox services are held daily.
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