Living in fear of the squalid living conditions that await you next semester? There may be another option, and one that you’ve probably passed by dozens of times without noticing. The Bayit, Columbia’s pluralistic Jewish living community and food co-op, is accepting applications for Fall 2013. Intrigued? Don’t know where — or what — the Bayit is? Bwog was hosted and fed by Sarah Stone, the Bayit’s external manager, Deborah Sachare, and Kevin Siegel, to learn about one of Columbia’s most unknown housing gems.

The Bayit, tucked away on 535 W. 112th street right across from Book Culture and recently covered by NYMag, houses CC, Barnard, SEAS, GS, JTS, and grad students of various ages who identity as Jewish and agree to participate in a kosher co-op. The dorm is owned by the University, and acts as University Apartment Housing; monthly rent at the Bayit (Hebrew for “house”) comes out to around $1200, which includes cost of food, utilities, newspaper and magazine access, Internet, Netflix, and other features of the house. Most people make the Bayit their home for around two years, but several people we met had lived in the house for three years, or were newcomers to the space — and because the Bayit is open to all Columbia schools, the ages in the house range from 19 to 25 or sometimes older. (Hardly the homogeneous population of McBain.)

The most impressive aspect of the Bayit’s set-up is just that fact: it feels like a real living space shared with friends, not a college dorm or even a college brownstone. Each member of the Bayit has their own spacious single (and when we say spacious we mean our jaw dropped) that comes with all the standard Columbia Housing furniture, plus any extra leftovers: Sarah got a sofa left in her room by its previous occupant. Other amenities the Bayit boasts: a TV room, a library, free laundry in the house, guest rooms that are available to anyone for $5 a night, and what’s perhaps one of the most epic kitchens ever.

Since the Bayit is first and foremost a kosher co-op, the kitchen is literally and figuratively the hub of the house. The house makes multiple Costco runs a month and hits Westside three (!!) times a week to stock up on their massive amounts of food. As all the shared meals are kosher, the kitchen needs to be divided into meat and dairy sections for preparation, cooking, clean-up, and storage. Because the Bayit is a pluralistic community, residents don’t have to keep kosher or keep Sabbath in their rooms, although they’re asked to do so in all shared spaces. There’s even a private fridge in the kitchen that has any people’s non-kosher food kept separately. As for the food in that kitchen — yes, everyone in the house cooks. “There are definitely people who are better cooks than others,” the four admit, but Sam Schuman’s eggplant parmigiana that Bwog demolished was damn fine, so things seem to be going well in the cooking-for-almost-30-people plan.

What have the Bayit residents learned about living with people in this non-traditional (read: more human) Columbia housing set-up? Knowledge of “who eats their cereal with milk, with milk on the side, or with no milk,” according to Sarah, Deborah, and Kevin. ¬†They also mentioned the democratic nature of the Bayit — “we vote on literally everything!” — and the value of the daily 7 p.m. dinner. Carolyn Ruvkun, another member, highlighted those times, especially Shabbat dinner, as “moments where we check in with each other” and the house takes time to reconnect after a week of Columbia life. The four agreed that Shabbat dinner was “the best part of the house…[it’s] a benchmark to the week [where] you get to see everyone in the house” and a “celebration.” Everyone who passed by the kitchen and shared their opinion with us that evening emphasized their love for that sense of community, sustained by everyone in the Bayit’s “common bond of Judaism” — and, of course, all that food.

Fallen in love with the Bayit? They’re accepting housing applications that come in ASAP for Fall 2013 ¬†— apply here!