06 Sep BCHA Alum Ben Marcus Brings Daily Minyan to Brown University
Meet Ben Marcus from Westport, Connecticut, a distinguished alumnus of Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy. Ben’s unwavering support for his alma mater stems from his strong connection to the Jewish school. His mother, Bonnie Marcus, serves as the director of admissions, and in just under a year, the school has witnessed a significant increase in new student enrollment. While Bi-Cultural has played a pivotal role in Marcus’ upbringing, he also actively participates in his local synagogue, Beit Chaverim, and in a variety of other local organizations.
During his high school years, Marcus’ experience led him to Yeshivas Aish HaTorah in the Old City of Jerusalem. Currently, Marcus is pursuing his studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Known for its inclusive and collaborative environment, Brown University encourages students from diverse backgrounds to explore and pursue their passions. According to Marcus, this experience is “truly one of a kind.”
Under the visionary leadership of President Christina Paxson, Brown University has made it a mission to provide unequivocal accommodation for students of all religious backgrounds, prioritizing inclusivity over any challenges that may arise. Marcus proudly wears his kippah and tzitzit around campus, experiencing a peaceful and non-discriminatory environment free from any personal encounters with antisemitism.
Moreover, Brown University has demonstrated its commitment to supporting Jewish students. The Beit Midrash has been enhanced with new books, and the main dining hall, “the Ratty,” is now undergoing renovations and will feature a large selection of kosher food in the fall. Additionally, Hillel and Chabad have created opportunities for learning and engagement, welcoming individuals from various religious levels. Shabbat meals at Brown University, hosted by Hillel and Chabad, attract an impressive gathering of nearly 300 members, offering diverse prayer options. Marcus enthusiastically described Shabbat at Brown as a joyful experience, even mentioning that the Chabad and Hillel work harmoniously and the Chabad rabbi even delivers shiurim in the Beit Midrash at Hillel. However, the one religious challenge Marcus faced at Brown was the absence of a daily minyan on campus.
During his first semester at university, he would travel with the Chabad rabbi to a local day school for a minyan, waking up as early as 5:45 a.m. While this experience was positive overall, Marcus realized the need for a more practical and beneficial solution — a minyan on campus. Thus, with the support of others, he initiated Sunday morning minyans followed by breakfast. Encouraged by the success, the initiative was expanded to include Monday and Thursday minyans, each accompanied by a breakfast. Finally, during the last three weeks of the semester, Marcus achieved his goal of having an on campus minyan every day of the week.
How did Marcus manage to establish a minyan in a bustling Ivy League college campus with busy students? When asked about the successful initiative, Marcus replied, “My time at Bi-Cultural and Yeshiva taught me the value and benefits of a structured morning starting with davening, and I knew others would see it too once given the opportunity.” His belief held true as he progressed from having no minyan to a daily one during his second semester. Through effective advertisement, personal outreach and team determination, Marcus’ dream of a daily minyan on campus became a reality.
As more people began attending morning minyan, they recognized the value of starting their day early, leading to increased productivity — a crucial aspect of college life. Looking ahead, Marcus envisions expanding the initiative to include learning sessions after Shacharit and introducing evening study sessions during the week. According to Marcus, “This is critical to the continuous growth of religious life on campus and aims to create an environment where students can deepen their religious knowledge and strengthen their connection to Judaism.”
Reflecting on his upbringing at Bi-Cultural, Marcus acknowledged the school’s profound impact on shaping his values, specifically regarding Judaism and Israel. He also credits the school for fostering his leadership skills, which became evident during his high school tenure. Marcus proudly declares, “BCHA played a pivotal role in molding me into the person I am today, providing individualized attention from exceptional staff members and a wide array of extracurricular activities that allowed students to reach their full potential.” He commended the significant improvements in Jewish education at Bi-Cultural under the leadership of Rabbi Naftali Wolfe and Rabbi Josh Rosenfeld, which transformed the school into a feeder institution for esteemed yeshivas and seminaries. Consequently, Marcus wholeheartedly recommends Bi-Cultural to students of all religious backgrounds, emphasizing its ability to cater to each individual’s needs in the most effective manner.
When asked about the driving force behind his determination to establish a daily minyan at the university, Marcus attributed it to his time at Bi-Cultural and the ongoing influence it has on him. Being joined in the fall by his brother and fellow BCHA alum Josh Marcus, the future of Orthodox life at Brown University has a very positive outlook.
Through his tireless efforts and the support of others, Marcus has helped transform the religious landscape on campus, enriching the lives of Jewish students and fostering a vibrant Orthodox community. His determination serves as an inspiration to others, encouraging them to pursue their passions and actively contribute to their university’s cultural and religious fabric.
The author of this article, Julianne Katz, is a 2022 graduate of BCHA.