Oct 11, 2007 — Daphna ’97S and Shai Secunda ’07BR, PhD, are a perfect fit for their position as Stern College for Women’s “campus couple.”
Daphna, herself a Stern graduate, says their new role is a continuation of their experience in Israel over the past three years. Daphna taught Jewish philosophy to women at two yeshivot in Israel that are part of YU’s S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. They hosted students for Shabbat, chagim [Jewish holidays], and social get-togethers, developing relationships with numerous Stern students, some of whom are now seniors.
Since returning to the United States this past summer, Daphna has worked as a director of programming for the Beren Campus at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future and Shai as a postdoctoral associate in Jewish studies at Yale and Harvard Universities. While he is off campus most days during the week, he is enjoying the job of injecting ruach [spirit] into Shabbat life.
“Our goal is to strengthen the community on campus by imbuing Shabbat with energy, warmth, and a sense of intimacy—even with the record numbers of students staying on campus for Shabbat,” says Shai, a scholar of the Babylonian Talmud in its original Iranian context.
“We want to ensure that Shabbat at Stern becomes a real destination, socially and intellectually,” adds Daphna.
“We eat and sing with students at the large Shabbat meals held in the auditorium,” says Shai, “but we also invite students to our apartment for an oneg [get-together] and to hang out, bond, and talk about what’s on their minds.”
Students have responded with particular enthusiasm to the couple’s two children—Sarielle, 4, and Ravital, 18 months—with some stopping by to play and others offering to babysit.
“My four-year-old talks about ‘her friends,’ who are college-age, as if they were in the same class,” says Daphna.
Zelda Braun, associate dean of students at Stern, says that Shai and Daphna were “the best candidates for the job. They understand that we’re developing a community here.”
The work of the campus couple is not only to serve as role models to the women on campus but to “reach out to students, to create and enhance the community.”
“They’re adding a tremendous presence,” Braun says. “It’s a critical piece of what we’re doing here.”