By: Isaac Bernstein | Opinions  | 

Extremism: Thoughts From a Religious Zionist in YU

I write this article with a little more than two months until Yom Ha’atzmaut, so there’s still time to daven for the situation to change.

When I first arrived in YU, it was post-Pesach of 2016. The infamous “Yoms” were the atmosphere that I was thrown into. The first “Yom” was Yom HaShoah, a day commemorating our ancestors who were brutally murdered by the Nazis. I thought, of course I am going to the program. A survivor was speaking, and I thought that it would be a moving memorial. As I asked my friends if they were also planning on attending, I was shocked by their response: “You’re going to miss Night Seder?!”

Let me preface this by saying that I am a person who values Talmud Torah very much. I do not mean to boast, but I attend Night Seder. I think Night Seder is the most important ingredient to a successful Yiddishkeit at YU. So, none of this article is coming from someone who does not understand what it means to learn in the mornings and at night.

There is a stigma associated with participating in YU programs. I am not talking about all of the programs, because I too believe that some are environments not conducive for a yeshiva bachur. But I do expect Yom HaShoah to be a day where at the very least, those who choose to participate are not put down.

I’m not asking anyone to attend the events. I ask only to respect others’ choices.

Now let’s move on to the days where this issue is most problematic. I am talking about Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. I sometimes feel like running away from Washington Heights during these days. In no way is that a political statement. It is a personal statement which stems from my inability to watch sinas chinam.

I’m not asking anyone to support the State of Israel. I am not sure where so many students received their anti-Israel education, but I am not writing to persuade anyone.

Believe what you want.

But, if you don’t think that Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut should be celebrated in YU, then:

1. Stop mooching off of the Yom Ha’atzmaut lunch in the gym.


2. Ask yourself why you came to YU.

If you think that in order to be frum, you need to be anti-everything, you are wrong.

There is a very scary trend of extremism in YU.

After my experience with being “put-down” for attending the Yom HaShoah presentation when I first came to YU, I unfortunately fell into a trap.

When Yom Hazikaron came around, a day which I had commemorated my entire life, I did not attend the nighttime event. I fell into the immense peer pressure to be anti the “tziyoynim.” The problem was not that I did not attend. The problem was not that I learned Night Seder. The problem was that I started to look down on those who did attend.

Never before would I have put down Yom Hazikaron. Before this incident, I would jump through hoops to commemorate soldiers and citizens of Israel who have either lost their lives in war or in acts of terror. I went to a very Zionistic high school, and was very active in Bnei Akiva. When I went to yeshiva, I realized that certain aspects of Bnei Akiva I disagreed with, but my overall love for Israel was something I knew I still believed in. So now I come to Yeshiva University, the Orthodox Zionistic Yeshiva, and I begin to lose my passion for Israel? Why would something like this happen?

I believe that extremism is a very easy coping mechanism. What students need to “cope with” is finding their identity, and deciding who they are. I believe students lack the self-confidence to go against the mass. Students come back from yeshiva and see older students joking about Zionism and YU, so they join in. They don’t question their own beliefs or fight back because it’s easier to join in. I know this is true because it happened to me.

When I’ve complained to friends about incidents that I’ve seen, I have always received the same response: “They’re just joking. Don’t take it too seriously.”

When people hear the words “Dati Leumi,” they make faces and laugh. “Tziyoynim!” Are they joking? I know they are. But why is that a joke?

When the Yom Ha’atzmaut posters go up around campus, students sometimes laugh or take them down. Are they joking? I know they are. But why is that a joke?

When people sing an awful remix to the beautiful song “baruch hu” by replacing the words “vehivdilanu min ha’toim” with “vehivdilanu min ha’tziyoynim,” are they joking? I really hope they are. But why is that a joke?

I know people in YU who, if they see a video on Yeshiva World News of Neturei Karta fanatics burning Israeli flags in public or of Mea Shearim residents throwing garbage at women, they would respond, “Ah, geshmak!” Are they joking? I know they are. But, once again, why is that a joke?

These are people who I have seen jokingly sit down or fake spit during the Tefilla Lishlom Hamedinah and Mishebeirach Lechayalei Tzahal.

These are the same people who may have gone to a yeshiva in Israel, and go back to visit at any chance they have. Do they know why they are able to do that? Do they know who is responsible for their safety? Do they know that the same soldiers they jokingly mock are the same ones who are risking their lives every day so that they can enjoy their vacations without missiles showering down on them?

I really hope that I am right, and that these students’ actions are just jokes. I hope it’s just “laytzanus.”

I really hope that those who romanticize the extremist chareidi lifestyle have asked themselves why they are in YU.

There are many reasons to come to Yeshiva University. If you’re here for the academics, you may be the only one. Most people come here to be surrounded by Jews, to learn Torah, and to soak up the wisdom of our Roshei Yeshiva. YU is a very unique place which for decades has been put down by right-wing yeshivas, and has been looked down upon as not among the “serious yeshivas.” When someone walks into Glueck, Zysman, or Klein, the same kol Torah that’s heard in other yeshivas can be heard. We’re learning the same masechtos, learning the same Rishonim, and arguing over the same Rav Chaim. What makes us different is that we are outright supporters of the State of Israel. This is who we are!

We do not believe in secular Zionism.

We do not believe that the Knesset is the highest power. Hashem is!

We do not believe that if you live in Israel, you can throw away the Torah. That is not who we are.

We believe in Am Yisrael living in Eretz Yisrael according to the laws of Torat Yisrael!

We are the face of Religious Zionism in America, and we only stab ourselves in the foot by putting ourselves down.

We need to end the jokes, and end the self-hatred.

We need to either find a different yeshiva, or start embracing our ideals and beliefs.

At the very least, we need to respect the views of the Yeshiva we are a part of.

I write this article because I am concerned about the extreme culture here in YU. I was a victim of the peer pressure, and I write this article to hopefully start a conversation and make sure no one else is.