ASoG and I went to a panel discussion about Torah Umadda last night that was held on YU’s Wilf Campus. While that entire event probably deserves its own post, I’m going to hone in on one particular question asked to, and answered by, Richard Joel, the President of Yeshiva University.
The student moderator asked President Joel what he felt was the greatest problem that afflicts the Modern Orthodox community nowadays, and what we can do to solve it.
President Joel said one of the biggest problems we face is cynicism. People are too cynical – about everything in life, especially every Jewish aspect of their lives. It’s just “so fun” to be cynical, and thereby tear everything apart around us. Nothing is good – but everything is worth picking to pieces with criticism and nothing is ever validated in a positive fashion.
A young man from Beverly Hills, California named Aviv Kleinman recently posted a video on Youtube that features him, along with his mother, opening his acceptance letter from Yeshiva University and its Mechina program. Aviv is extremely excited to have been accepted, it was his first and only choice after all. Aviv attended a public high school, and based on his own growing sense of religiosity, decided that he would like to pursue his college education in the dual-curriculum environment of Yeshiva University where he can grow Judaically as well as pursue his degree.
You would think that people would be excited for this kid, and many are. Yet, there is also a rather vociferous group that have left vile comments on the youtube page and on the Facebook walls of various individuals who posted the video in their status. They speak about how Aviv is going to get “screwed over” by YU, how the experience will be horrible for him, that he’s wasting the 4 years of college, which are meant to be enjoyable, by attending YU. Basically, these frustrated, immature individuals are giving voice to their own aggravations, jumping at the opportunity to bash YU, at the potential expense of ruining the perception of an innocent person who truly believes in the good that can be accomplished by attending YU.
No one is telling you that your negative experiences weren’t legitimate, but what gives you the right to discourage someone else who is looking forward, with great optimism, to their undergraduate college career at YU? You want to make him feel awful, to discourage him, to make him think he was duped into attending a university that wastes the “best years of your life” because YU isn’t your typical co-ed college, rife with opportunities for raucous partying and whatever other physical pleasures you imagine represent the epitome of the college experience?
After reading numerous comments, from both sides – those that support and encourage Aviv, and those that disparage YU and tell him to prepare for the worst – I’ve come to an observation about the detractors. It seems to me that those that are so inherently virulent about disparaging YU, by and large, attended yeshiva high schools. Whether local (New York/New Jersey) or not, they didn’t enjoy their years spent in high school, and enter YU with a very closed mind. For these unfortunate students, who choose to limit their perspectives, YU cannot and will never be a positive experience for them. No matter how good things are, they choose to ignore the benefits that are handed to them on a silver platter, and focus exclusively on the negative aspects of their lives at YU.
I’m not, in any way suggesting that life at YU is perfect. Visiting the registrar’s office has almost always been an awful experience. Administration in general can be difficult to deal with. Not every single class, or every shiur I attended was worth my time. Both my honors English seminars paled in comparison to my AP English courses from junior and senior year in high school.
But, nothing is ever perfect. I think these few negative aspects do not truly invalidate my educational career at YU. I have loved being in an environment that is flourishing in Torah, where my secular classes often directly or indirectly have some sort of impact in my general religious experience. My college experience was absolutely unparalleled when compared to any other institution I could have attended. Indeed, I turned down acceptances to other, respected universities I applied to, in order to specifically take advantage of the opportunities unique to YU.
Nowhere else could I ever have taken a class in biology where one lesson was totally devoted to going through Talmudic and rabbinic sources that discuss the notion of evolution. I could never have taken a literary methodology course where the gentile professor declared that his favorite book was “Halachic Man.” Where else could I have taken, on a lark, a course in Jewish singing (courtesy of the Belz School of Music)? I certainly couldn’t have taken courses about medical halacha, bio-ethics (Jewish and not), Jewish history, Jewish philosophy and Tanach of the caliber that I enjoyed immensely – which have also helped me develop my worldview within Modern Orthodoxy.
And all that is separate from my Judaic studies. At no other university could I have enjoyed the above courses in addition to having a serious morning seder, shiur, and night seder. At any “regular” college, you are forced to use find moments of free time to learn, which may or may not exist. And even if they do, it’s much harder to make yourself be kovea itim when everything is optional versus a situation where learning is built into your everyday schedule. Yes, it can be easy for anyone to just blow off opportunities to learn, but I speak from experience, having attended a secular high school: being immersed in the Torah environment that YU provides makes all the difference in the world.
Complain all you want about the non-coed environment. Honestly, it’s much easier to get my work done and pay attention in class when I’m not distracted by attractive members of the opposite gender. Plus, there’s no shortage of co-ed social events (kosher of course, no dances of drunken frat parties) for you to meet your potential bashert – and that’s aside from the fact that at any given time there are Stern girls in our library and new lounge.
Complain about the food in the caf all you want, but all the spoiled in-towners have no clue what it’s like to live in a place without a restaurant and suddenly be able to go get freshly prepared, (mostly) delicious food 3 times a day without fail. For salad lovers like me, relishing in the ability to enjoy vegetables and various kinds of lettuce without having to worry about checking for bugs at every meal is absolutely amazing.
You think the courses you’re taking are a joke? I guarantee you that there are more involving, challenging, rewarding courses that can fit your caliber of intelligence. Not every course is the most stimulating, but I know that there are students in every class that you find boring who are actually learning and benefitting from the experience.
To all those guys out there that feed off of cynicism and take every chance they get to criticize and bash YU, yet choose to attend YU in spite of their issues, or are forced to attend YU by their parents, I honestly feel bad for you. Why? Because clearly you shouldn’t be here. YU isn’t for everyone. President Joel himself said that. There is no one model of university education, or variation of Torah-observant Orthodox Judaism, that the inherent right way for every single person out there. My rosh yeshiva in Israel would counsel certain guys to specifically not attend YU, based on his knowledge of their personality.
You folks may be stuck going to YU because of your parents or whatever, but why revel in your misery – or choose to inflict others because you don’t feel like things are going well for you? Why can’t YOU choose to make you own life better instead of wallowing in your perceived wretched situation? It isn’t emotionally/psychologically healthy for you to be so consistently negative, and why should you lash out at others who actually find the very things you despise to be not only enjoyable, but extremely beneficial to their lives as Jews?
If you have complaints, if you seen areas that could use some improvement, do something about it. Run for student office and work with the university’s administration, join or create a student group that focuses on specific issues, or even do something more grassroots based. Who knows what positive changes you can accomplish when you put in the effort? So many positive things have been done on campus at the suggestion or through the actions of students. If all you can do is sit there and mouth off, then there is little hope for you. Go talk to a tree or something that could care less, but don’t waste your energy by harming others.
Put simply: I love YU. I always have, since I first discovered it when I met NCSY advisors who went there, through my time in Israel, and especially while studying as an undergraduate here. I admire the rabbeim, teachers, and even, or should I say, especially, President Joel. I could not have gone anywhere better suited for me. YU isn’t perfect, but no college is. Deal with it. The cup is certainly more than half full at YU, it just takes the proper perspective to see it.
To Aviv: you’re going to do great. I congratulate you on your acceptance to YU and the Mechina Program. Enjoy every single moment of your time here, because it’ll be over before you know it. These WILL be the best 3-4 years of your educational experience. Savor it, don’t rush, learn as much as you can. You won’t regret it.