No Classes? No Problem!
“This will likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City,” proclaimed New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. With Snowstorm Juno approaching and New York City’s mayor issuing such apocalyptic warnings, YU’s administration made a rare decision. At 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon, Jeffrey Rosengarten, YU’s Vice President for Administrative Services, informed students that not only were classes cancelled for Monday afternoon, but “all Yeshiva University classes, events, programs, and offices” would be shut down on Tuesday, January 27. The university would be closed for an entire day.
The predictions were ominous. While the Weather Channel expected twelve to eighteen inches of snow, the National Weather Service predicted twenty to thirty inches in New York City. Winds of over seventy miles-per-hour, almost hurricane force, were expected in some areas of Long Island. “Mother Nature has decided once again to come visit us in an extreme way,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York City parks closed at 6 p.m., and all cars were ordered off the streets by 11pm.
Sensing unease in the student body, Sean Hirschhorn, the Director of University Housing and Residence Life sent out an email on Monday night to answer all potential concerns. He specified which facilities would remain open and which would run on modified schedules. He urged students to prepare for the storm by fully charging their electronics and keeping a flashlight handy (or, alternatively, downloading a free flashlight app from the App Store), and he assured that students’ basic needs would be provided for, encouraging nervous students to approach their resident advisors with any questions.
The decision to cancel classes is nothing to sneeze at. YU has a committee of high-level administration responsible for deciding whether to close school. The committee is headed by Josh Joseph, YU’s senior vice president, and includes the Provost and the respective heads of Administrative Services, University and Community Life, Security, Human Resources, and Communications and Public affairs. As Snowstorm Juno approached, the committee closely monitored the weather, assessing the predicted severity of the storm. The committee also continually checked for municipal and state transportation alerts, and conducted on-the-ground assessments of the campus and its surrounding roads. Dr. Paul Oestreicher, who sits on the committee as YU’s Executive Director of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs explained that “the decision to close the University has a single criterion: safety.”
Despite the cataclysmic forecast of meteorological doom, the storm proved anticlimactic. New York was not exactly pummeled by one of the largest snowfalls in its history: only 9.8 inches of snow fell in Central Park. Peeved by the perceived overreaction by weathermen, politician, and school administrators, some have questioned the committee’s decision to cancel a day and a half of classes. But the committee has no regrets. Said Dr. Oestreicher, “The decision to close the university was the correct one. Predictions can be wrong but it’s always right to err on the side of safety.”
Though classes were officially cancelled for Monday afternoon and Tuesday, YU’s professors devised various solutions for the loss of class time. On Monday, some teachers held class despite the snow. The more technologically savvy professors concocted creative approaches – Professor Gillian Steinberg conducted an engaging class discussion of George Herbert’s poetry via email thread. Other professors simply cancelled class, and will be making up sessions during reading week.
Students had limited mobility due to the snow – walking was treacherous and shuttle service was cancelled. Most students battened down the hatches, hunkering down at YU where all their needs were provided for. The library was closed, but the Heights Lounge and Nagel Commons were open; students could be found in the lounge all day doing schoolwork, conversing, and watching movies. And students’ spiritual needs were also fulfilled – there was an 8:30 and 9:10 Shacharit minyan in every dorm building on Tuesday morning, and, though regular Judaic studies classes were cancelled, some ad hoc shiurim were organized.
Chilly students still need to eat food. Acutely aware of this, Dining Services remained open during the snow day. Anticipating treacherous road conditions on Tuesday morning, cafeteria workers stayed over on Monday night in open rooms on various floors of the Rubin dormitory. While other staff enjoyed a day of vacation, these essential personnel were hard at work, ensuring that students had what to eat.
Because cars were ordered off the streets after 11 p.m. on Monday night, the streets were eerily quiet. Inspired by this rare tranquility, some students ventured out into the snowy night for various wintry activities including snowball fights, football, and sledding on the hill between Wadsworth and Broadway. On Tuesday, a group of students embarked on a sledding expedition, attempting hills around Washington Heights including the intersection of Overlook Terrace and 187th, various slopes in Fort Tryon Park, and the stairs that lead up to Fort Washington. Said Aryeh Tiefenbrunn, a member of this adventurous bunch, “It was the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had in the Heights, once I got over the absurdity of our use of empty pizza boxes as sleds.”
Though it interfered with academics, the snowstorm increased camaraderie here at YU. For around twenty-four hours, the hustle and bustle of YU’s urban campuses died down. Though embedded in the heart of a cosmopolitan metropolis, YU felt momentarily like a quiet village. In preparation for the storm, Mr. Hirschhorn advised students, “If you are feeling anxious, surround yourself with fellow students,” and many heeded his advice. Thus January 27th, while less intellectually stimulating than a routine Tuesday, brought the YU community just a little bit closer.