By: Yair Saperstein  | 

The Einstein-Montefiore Merger, A Student's Perspective

I share in the relief and excitement of many of my fellow students at Einstein.

In the days leading up to the renewed Einstein-Montefiore merger, there was a palpable tension, as the students of Einstein planned to rally in support of the merger. My friends in the graduate division of Einstein were afraid that their programs would close, that research would be shut down, left and abandoned. My peers in the medical school worried that Einstein would decline to being only a medical school rather than an  internationally acclaimed institution at the forefront of innovative research as well. I was nervous for the inevitable loss of the opportunities that Einstein affords - a lab with mentors and funding for biomedical research; scholarships for global health work around the world; and, of course, Einstein’s tennis court and pool -- that make Einstein a marvelous, unique place for its students. Furthermore, a few mentors and staff with whom I worked closely had received memos that they may be dismissed. Students wished to know: Would Einstein survive as a leading institution? What is the best way for us to rectify this apparently dismal situation? Whom should we contact? And, finally, Where should we demonstrate and rally in support of the merger?

With the Montefiore merger, I am no longer nervous for Einstein’s financial situation. I am excited for the realization of the promises that Montefiore’s president, Dr. Safyer makes: that Montefiore is “deeply committed to the education of Einstein medical students.” Some students worry that as part of the “business” of Montefiore, Einstein will lose its focus on social needs of the community, both in its training of future physicians, and in actual community work that medical students do during training. This does not concern me, as Montefiore since its founding in 1884 has always had at its focus its current mission, “To heal, to teach, to discover and to advance the health of the communities we serve.” Indeed, I feel relieved that new opportunities for deeper collaboration with Montefiore are opening for me as a current student, and at ease, assured that my alma mater de medicus will remain a highly respected school.

As Einstein merges with Montefiore, it separates from Yeshiva University. One fellow Einstein medical student and YC alumnus remarked to me, “Thank God we are not like the Catholic Church, but rather we allow divorce.” Yet, coupled with my joy that Einstein will continue to thrive as an institution, I feel a sadness as we part from Yeshiva University. I feel this sadness as a member of the Jewish community, of Yeshiva University, and of Einstein.

Many feel that Einstein, founded to counter the Jewish quotas at other medical schools, has already fulfilled its Jewish purpose. Yet, I feel that it has a greater purpose for the Jews of New York and America. Einstein has become a thriving Jewish community, with a beautiful on-campus synagogue on the main floor, regular programming, lectures and shiurim, a cafeteria that is exclusively kosher, classes never held on the Jewish holidays nor Shabbat, and a community heavily involved and invested in fostering its own growth and improvement. I pray that the Einstein Jewish community remains as strong and vibrant as it is today. And indeed, we were told by a student representative that an Einstein Senate meeting reassured that “Einstein will remain a school under Jewish auspices, including many existing elements of Einstein life such as Jewish holiday observances and the Kosher cafeteria.”  But the fact that this needs to even be stated comes as a shock for those of us living in the cocoon of Jewish life in Einstein.

With the current financial struggles, compounded by the strain of maintaining Einstein as it exists currently, Yeshiva University’s choice to entrust Montefiore with Einstein rather than to cast overboard the financial valuable weights that were sinking both ships was surely not an easy choice. How can we, Yeshiva University, give up our medical school? Yet, it is a more than reasonable decision to preserve Einstein as a world renowned institution rather than keep it in a stripped down, bare-bones form. Nevertheless, as an alumnus of Yeshiva University, I feel the loss on the part of the University.

Furthermore, as a third year medical student at Einstein, I feel that we are losing our unique connection with Yeshiva University. Although President Richard Joel writes about “the continuation of the special relationship YU undergraduates have with Einstein,” this relationship is no longer a natural outgrowth of a shared institution. It is the vestiges of what remains, and I sincerely hope that the relationship continues strongly. I have been fortunate to be a part of some of these joint YU-Einstein programs, such as the New Frontiers Deans' Scholars Program for Academic Enrichment, TEACH, START, and others. They are opportunities for joint education, collaboration, networking and community work shared by Yeshiva University and Einstein students. It is my strong desire that these programs continue together in the same strong collaboratively weaved thread that continues to draw students to give to each other and their respective communities.

Einstein and Montefiore have long had a collaboration, playing a part even back in 1984, as per Dorothy Levenson’s book on Montefiore. I am excited that with the merger, this collaboration continues, and that it is strengthened. I nevertheless feel a pang of loss, but have a resounding sense of hope that the Jewish vibrancy of Einstein and the strong collaboration among Yeshiva University and Einstein continue. I am a part of the Einstein ship. A previously sinking ship, but a strong, powerful, protected, internationally acclaimed ship. And now, I no longer have the fear of sinking.

However, this is just a feeling. The specifics of the merger are unknown to us students, and to the student leaders on the board. We know that “a legal document committing all parties to this agreement has been signed and is in force,” and that “a final agreement is planned to be signed and in force by June 30.” We know that Einstein plans to continue to be affiliated with YU, but do not know what this affiliation means. We know that Einstein plans to become its own degree-granting institution, partnered with Montefiore, but we don’t know much more than that. It seems that even the main players in the partnership cannot say much of what the future will hold. We have a sense of security, a sense of hope, a feeling of safety, a feeling of opportunity, and still the excitement and nervousness of an uncertain but promising future.