YU’s Home Makeover
It All Began With a Doormat is the title of my favorite children’s book. It tells the story of a woman who noticed that her doormat was tattered and worn. The woman, as most would do, chose to replace it. Her new doormat framed her home differently, and as she laid it in its place, the doorknob suddenly began to appear rusty by comparison, so the woman replaced her doorknob. The pattern continued as such, and soon enough the woman had overhauled her entire home. Proud of her completely renovated home she decided to host a Friday night meal in honor of her son's bar mitzvah. As she returned inside from walking out her guests, she noticed that, once again, the doormat was tattered and worn.
As a kid, the book was just something funny I could read with my mom on rainy Saturday afternoons when playing in the park was out of the question. However, as I have matured and progressed through different stages of life, I find myself revisiting the story and drawing on it for wisdom and guidance.
Since my arrival at Yeshiva University last fall, I have been reminded of this story’s messages more frequently, and its lessons seem more poignant and applicable than ever before. At times it feels as if life and, more specifically, life at YU is a game of whack-a-mole where endurance is the most important skill. Once one issue is solved and we begin to feel confident in our ability to affect change, another issue pops out at us out of nowhere.
I remember what it felt like when I arrived at YU. I was quick to begin reading student publications and engaging with clubs and committees on campus. I recall feeling as if the student body was eager to air YU’s dirty laundry and to make public that which YU lacked without showing gratitude for the things which it provided us. However, I slowly realized that the students who were complaining were, very often, the same students who wanted YU to be better for themselves, their peers, and YU students who would come after them. These were student leaders who were not afraid to express discontent; they “leaned in” to the discomfort instead of running away from it. Elie Wiesel once said, “the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” The students who were lamenting YU were, for the most part, not doing it because they hated YU or because they wanted it to fail. They were doing it because they had a thorough understanding of the idea that when someone loves something they want it to live up to its potential, and sometimes the best route to achieve that is tough love.
There is so much to be done here; there are so many different clubs and committees through which one can leave an indelible mark on the university - whose outcomes will reverberate down these halls (or city blocks) for years to come. Yeshiva University is not just a few buildings in New York where we earn our degrees. It is, by nature of its small size, a place where students can transform not only themselves but their environment. Each one of us, if brave enough to face the fear that we are powerful beyond measure, can leave our marks on this campus.
Let us not come to resent the presence of the dirty doormat. Instead, let us heed the call of duty. There is a Mishna in Masechet Avot which states, “Lo Alecha HaMelachah Ligmor VeLo Atah Ben Chorin Levatel Mimenah” - the work is not yours to complete, nor are you free to absolve yourself of responsibility to it. We will all inevitably come across our dirty doormats here at YU; we are tasked with acquiring new ones and changing the status quo. Do not be discouraged. The doormat will get dirty again, but isn’t a soiled doormat the mark of success? Wear and tear are an indication of exhaustive use. We may leave this place feeling like the bathroom and kitchen are still in shambles. At the same time, though, we should remember that the foyer and the dining room are more beautiful because we were here. The needs of our community are always evolving, and we will all need to leave work for those who come after us.
So here we are either returning to or arriving at YU for the first time. As much we poke fun at YU’s slogan, there truly is “Nowhere But Here.” YU affords us opportunities, both academic and extracurricular, that we could not get elsewhere. Yeshiva University, like any institution, is not perfect, and it is our responsibility to make it a better place, both for the remainder of our time here and for those students who will come after us.
I challenge us all to continue to criticize YU with good intentions. I’m am not demanding that we go through our careers here seeking out the flaws of this institution to make them more well known. What am I asking of all of us, however, is to be honest with ourselves. To try and discover our strengths, to identify those areas in which we feel we can affect change here at YU, and to use that knowledge as a springboard to spur productive, meaningful conversations. I ask us not to ignore the tattered carpet but to repair it even at the risk of it getting soiled once again. To keep calm when the administration, like contractors or interior designers, prove difficult to work with. This place will never be perfect, but it can achieve great things with our support.
We find ourselves in a particularly special time here at YU. While none of us knows what the future will hold under the leadership of Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman we are hopeful that it will be great. We have arrived at Rabbi Berman’s first “90 days in office” which are known to be the most productive. So, when we engage on campus we must not get bogged down by the criticism we will inevitably hear. While some might actively seek things to be upset about (yes, we all know those people) many of us voice the flaws of the university because we care. We are home, and when our home is not meeting our expectations, we have a right to ask it to change. That power, however, comes with responsibility. We are blessed to be students at a university where we are invited to play the game of whack-a-mole and to be the architects in the continued renovation of our home. So grab your gavels or head to Home Depot and get to work.