Friday, December 14, 2007

Controversy at YU - Response to "A Not So Yeshiva College"

The following was originally written by Shalom Isaacson, a YU student, as a response to a recent editorial in The Commentator entitled "A Not So Yeshiva College." I thought his points were valid and well-argued and received his permission to repost this on my blog with the following proviso, in his words:

"Blogs/facebook groups/notes accomplish nothing. Words are not action...they should lead to action. Our generation seems to have forgotten that...and YU especially has forgotten that. My piece was not meant to seriously bring about change, its merely an expression of my views. If you want to change something, I suggest talking to faculty, administration, other students, and maybe actually taking action...whatever you think is appropriate. YU (and Stern) students should be in control of their papers."


Controversy - The Life-Force of YU

I returned to my room around 1:00am Thursday morning and, like any computer-addicted college student, checked my Facebook. Lo and behold, I had been invited to a group calling for the resignation of The Commentator's Editor-in-Chief. (Less than a day after its creation--along with a blog dedicated to the same purpose--it was disposed of.) I thought about writing as to how The Commentator could become a better paper, more accountable to the student body, and more representative of all YU students, but I thought, nah, forget it. Then I thought about writing an article expressing my own ideas about the various Judaic Studies tracks and how I would "solve the problem" and also thought better of it* - after all, I didn't want to deal with the same type of backlash directed toward the Editor-in-Chief.** Instead, like many before me, I wanted to write about controversy at YU, but particularly how YU feeds off of controversy.

It seems for years there has been conflict between the different Judaic Studies tracks at YU. Let's be honest though, at the end of the day, YP guys have been switching to IBC for years to fulfill requirements. On the flip side, I even know an IBC student who, after completing a full day in IBC, attends a YP shiur. Truthfully, I just dont care about any of it. There are plenty of IBC people who should be in BMP/YP and vice versa. How an individual student chooses to use the system is his choice as an adult. The only person they have to answer to is themselves - did they learn as much Torah as they could have? Did they focus on their secular studies as much as they could have? In what track does someone really belong in? Not everyone is made for YP and not everyone is made for BMP, IBC, or JSS - everyone is different. Two years ago I attended Yeshivat Har Etzion (Gush). Since I've been at YU, I have been criticized for choosing to be in IBC by numerous people. But I've gotten a lot out of IBC, particularly in my classes--and in my relationships--with R' Blech, R' Romm, and R' Schwartz. This year, I wish my class attendance was more regular because Professors Orlian and Berger have provided some great YC level courses in IBC. Professor Sober has strengthened my interest in history and provided me with a basis for walking out into the world and knowing what others are saying about our Torah. A part of me still wishes my day was filled with more gemara, but that is my choice at this time in my life. Where the Editor-in-Chief went wrong was not realizing that everyone needs different programs because we're all different people with different makeups and different abilities at different points in our lives.

We all step into college with these differences in our makeups and we do a lot of changing in college. Part of the process of college should be figuring out who we all are and what we all think and believe. I want to focus on my secular studies more at this juncture - it is where I want my energy to be - and there is nothing wrong with that. Not everyone is "50% Yeshiva and 50% University" (or necessarily should be). Some are 70-30, 30-70, 86-14, or other makeups. The battle between the "yeshiva" and the "university" is really this battle in ourselves. Most of the students (and teachers) here are struggling to find themselves, where their own balance is between Torah and Maddah. A school comprised of these types of people will always find itself in flux, because the students and teachers here are always going to be struggling. The Rav started this place not for "the _____ (fill in the blank YP/BMP/IBC/JSS/YC/SSSB) student, but for the Jew who looks at his faith honestly and meaningfully. Whichever track helps you do that best is where you belong. From the guy who wears black and white to the guy who walks around without a kipah, we're all YU students, and we each share the same struggle in searching for our personal center.

The Commentator, whether truly representative of the student body or not, contributes to this sense of controversy and struggle that we all deep down love and feed upon. It adds to that sense of things being in flux and keeps it going and burning. A good part of the memorable times for many of us have been, are, and continue to be Commentator-driven controversies. Radio shows (for those who listen) wouldn't be the same without "the commie" as fodder. The paper affects us all. Last year, I took Media and Politics with Professor Pimpare, an informative and exciting class (with an informed and exciting professor). For a special night another student and I presented interviews we had done with the editors of The Commentator***, The Observer, Brooklyn College's Nightcall, and NYU's Washington Square Post, highlighting the differences between them. In a way, I too fed off the controversy The Commentator contributes to (and continue to do so in this article).

While I understand the good intentions in printing "A Not So Yeshiva College," I hope one day, the author will have a new-found understanding of what these tracks can and do mean to many of us. It takes a big man to write his feelings, knowing the backlash he will receive. It takes an even bigger man to admit he was mistaken. At the same time, I want to thank the author for the article, because it opened my eyes a bit more as to why I am where I am - or why Hakadosh Baruch Hu placed me in IBC. I hope he knows that as Editor-in-Chief, he is essentially part of this larger struggle, part of us all here at YU, and helping us find ourselves. I wish him and everyone else the best of luck in their own personal journeys.


*Let's be honest, writing a stupid Facebook note accomplishes nothing in the real world. In fact, it may be worse than doing nothing, since it makes the person feel like he/she did something when in fact, they didn't, and no one really cares. It seems our generation solves problems with blogs...and not with action. This piece is not about solving anything. It's just my feelings.

**At the end of the day, this very article was rejected from The Commentator. The version submitted contained the Editor-in-Chief's name.

***Last year's editor was someone else, but the dictatorial "governing" style of the paper remains the same.


Josh said...

Great post, a few notes:

1. Back in my day people did in fact use IBC to get out of Judaic Studies requirements, specifically Hebrew. I know that efforts were made to change this, but I don't know what happened on the ground.

2. At the awards ceremony my year (1999) R. Charlop announced the YP awards calling YP "The real 'Yeshiva' of Yeshiva University."

3. Realize that YU is 1/3 University 1/3 Yeshiva and 1/3 ideological movement (however people define). Most of the discussions about YU generally involve confusing two or more of those three parts. Case in point, some may complain that IBC isn't Yeshivish/serious enough, others won't care because college is about making your own educational choices, and others will question the utility of how it fulfills YU's larger mission.

I tend to stay out of such YU discussions for this very reason.

Mordy said...

Words don't accomplish anything?

Wow, too bad the writer isn't familiar with the history of mankind. (Maybe he's in Sy Simms? I kid! I kid!)

Anonymous said...

Great article. If only more people at YU believed this, we would have peace on earth...or at least at YU.

Anonymous said...

Mordy, if you're even in YU, I suggest you take a class with Professor Pimpare called "Media and Politics." My point isn't that words are meaningless. The point is that the phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword" is ONLY true if that pen causes other people to pick up swords and kill the first guy (maybe thats a lame analogy but I came up with it right now). (Take Putin's current control of media in Russia - he has no problem letting the newspapers run whatever they wish because almost everyone gets their news from television and radio. The newspapers are some of the only places you can see real opposition to his government, but that's because he just doesn't care, because no one reads them!)

You probably won't even read this lame comment...because blogs exist ALMOST in vacuums, and unless your blog is read by a significant number of people, your words are meaningless and you're wasting your time. (The only reason I heard about this blog is because SOMEHOW my piece spread to the person who owns it and the only reason I checked the comments is because I have no life.)

Additionally, your joke about Sy Syms (learn to spell btw) just isn't funny. I happen to be in YC, but I know MANY Sy Syms guys who know a lot about history, politics, and media. There are a lot of Sy Syms marketing courses I would love to take that would probably give me a better understanding of what our media is all about.

But perhaps I should change my mind about how I view words, in light of your comment. Your disrespectful words about my article, your complete misunderstanding of and focusing on one small sidepoint, and your pathetic attempt at a joke about many of my schoolmates (the very thing I'm battling against in my piece) have had a small impact - namely that even though I dont know you, I can tell I probably wouldn't want to.

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