By: The Commentator Editorial Board  | 

The Leadership Wheel (Vol. 70, Issue 3)

Unfit for Leadership?

It was a busy night on the Wilf Campus. The Beit Midrash was filled with night seder participants. The Political Science department was screening a movie on George W. Bush's year 2000 election campaign. And to top it off, it was game one of the American League Championship Series, a face-off between long time rivals, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Frankly, the Israel Club, who months prior invited the renown Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, to Yeshiva, could not have known the competition they would face drawing a crowd.

Thankfully, Weissberg Commons was practically full by the time Mr. Hoenlein began his remarks on the status of Jewish advocacy in America. But were it not for the women of Stern College, Yeshiva University, and the Israel Club, would have been embarrassed by a poor showing from Wilf Campus students. Mr. Hoenlein is arguably the most powerful Jewish figure in America, the ear to many senior members of government and a well respected authority on international affairs, including Israel. The opportunity to hear from him, in an address addressed to the future leadership of the Jewish community no less, was a valuable occasion which should not have been taken for granted. Ironically, the crux of Mr. Hoenlein's speech focused on young student involvement in advocating for Israel and as ambassadors to the world community. Jewish college students, such as the men and women of Yeshiva, said Mr. Hoenlein, should serve as mentors to other American college students facing the challenges of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Complaints about the lack of activism on campus are perennial, and in general grossly exaggerated. Our campus is a hotbed for passionate activism. Yeshiva's student mission to the Hague, in protest of the International Court of Justice's ruling on Israel's security fence, is just one example of the grassroots potential in our campus bloodstream. But we still do not do enough. And when a man like Malcolm Hoenlein comes to speak about what we can do for the world, we should be there, lining up at the door, with a full-house packed crowd, eager to digest each and every word.

That students opted for the Yankees-Red Sox game over Mr. Hoenlein is not as disconcerting as knowing that most students probably did not stop to contemplate which was more important to them. We all assign our own priorities, and if for some the baseball game was more important, so be it. But if we are not even asking ourselves the question of priorities now, then we are unfit to receive the mantle of leadership. We each need to make our own decisions, but the time has come where our community needs us. If we are really to be entrusted with our community's future, then we at least owe it to them to consider our role.

A No-Brainer

There's really only one way to say this: VOTE. The Commentator, and other student groups, have done their best to the get the message out to Yeshiva students. The upcoming election, and all elections for that matter, are not be ignored. It is reckless and ignorant for any of us to not vote this coming November 2. The university even gives the day off, so that faculty and students (at least those who live in the area) can travel to their districts and cast their votes.

Pollsters consistently underestimate the voting weight of the college demographic, albeit often for logistical reasons; polling groups can legally only call land lines, a commodity most college students do not invest in. Thus, college students rarely have the opportunity to participate in national polling. Nevertheless, our demographic is not ignored; both parties are aware of that, and we must embrace our democratic values by exercising our freedom. There is no excuse.

The Center for the Jewish Future

In the spring 2004 issue of the Orthodox Union's quarterly, Jewish Action, Rabbi Reuven Spolter, of Detroit, Michigan, alerted the Orthodox community to the diminishing pool of Modern Orthodox educators in day schools outside of the New York area. Rabbi Spolter noted that educators with backgrounds to the religious right of Modern Orthodoxy are all too willing to fill vacant teaching spots in these schools.

Apparently Rabbi Spolter's point was well-taken on the twelfth floor of Belfer Hall, because President Richard M. Joel has invited Rabbi Kenneth Brander to join Yeshiva University and assist in establishing the Center for the Jewish Future (CJF). At once, CJF will serve as a thinker, teacher, and financier of Jewish education in America.

This is unquestionably a most appropriate move. Despite many unknowns-including sources of future funding-CJF comes at a time when Yeshiva seeks to re-establish itself as more than just the premier educational institution of the Jewish community, but as a movement. If Yeshiva is truly a movement, then Modern Orthodox practitioners of its guiding philosophy-Torah u'Madda-should see no contradiction in the establishment of our own kollelim (programs of full-time Jewish study) throughout the country.

Early signs indicate that CJF and Rabbi Brander are the perfect match, pairing the loftiest of projects with a visionary leader that built the Boca Raton community from the ground up. And something similar can be said about the Brander-Joel pairing: in interviews with The Commentator, the President gushed about his partner's accomplishments in South Florida, and Brander insisted that he fell in love with the job because of his partner's commitment to the Jewish people.

Obviously, the challenge for CJF will be to implement its agenda-nothing short of revolutionizing Jewish education in this country-in practice. Naturally, Rabbi Brander's position demands the clout necessary for this to happen. Indeed, Yeshiva administrators involved in communal outreach will report directly to Rabbi Brander, whom President Joel already considers a key advisor. Both President Joel and Rabbi Brander acknowledge that they must empower other Yeshiva partners if CJF is to succeed. CJF's broadness will enable partners like the Max Stern Division of Communal Services to focus on specific projects, giving them a much more defined role. Until this point, MSCDS has been faced with the unenviable task of performing Yeshiva's entire quotient of communal outreach. The bottom line, and this is not a criticism, is that American Jewish educational institutions need a mentor far larger than MSDCS can currently accommodate.

We welcome Rabbi Brander to the avenues of Yeshiva University. Though the weather here pales in comparison to the warm winds of south Florida, we are sure you will find our campus to be a comfortable home for the current and future leadership of the Jewish people.