Rabbi Blass Interview
For a lot of students, coming to Yeshiva University presents a radical change. Most of us took similar routes before coming here: Jewish day school and Yeshiva in Israel. The majority of these institutions are small in comparison to YU, giving students ample opportunity for personalized attention from faculty and rebbeim. In YU, one would think that such personalized attention would be in short supply due to the size of the student body. Thanks to the amazing work of the mashgichim such as Rabbi Josh Blass, this is not the case. Students come to Rabbi Blass every day to speak to him about a plethora of topics, knowing that he is always available to offer an attentive ear and insightful advice. Due to his incredible work on campus, and his dedication to making YU a better place for students, we at The Commentator felt it was imperative that we sit down with Rabbi Blass and ask him some questions.
What is the job of a YU Mashgiach, and how does the system of mashgichim work in YU?
The job of the mashgiach is to try, as much as possible, to be involved with the students in all areas of their spiritual and emotional lives. An average day can combine giving a va'ad on some topic of religious growth, learning with a number of students, dealing with a couple who are having marriage issues, speaking with a student who has lost interest in learning or is struggling through a personal issue, talking through nervousness about career paths, or just trying to give advice about which shiur to go to. On top of that, the mashgichim, spearheaded by Rabbi Bacon, are involved in running many of the Yeshiva programs that are constantly taking place. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the job is that it is so varied and multi-faceted, and always brings with it new situations and challenges instead of simply being the same work day in and day out. I am truly blessed to be able to continue to be in the Yeshiva and to occupy this position.
What are the main initiatives that the mashgichim are undertaking this year?
I'm not sure I would point to just one initiative. I think overall we, along with SOY and Student Services, are continuously trying to add to the vitality of the Yeshiva. The Bein HaSemesterim program, June Zman barbecue, special Elul speakers, Yom Ha'atzmaut Yom Iyun, official In-Shabbosim, Rosh Chodesh kumzitzim, a Purim morning kollel, and many other initiatives didn't exist ten years ago and all help to create a more active and vibrant Yeshiva.
How do you try to have a relationship with the many YU students when there is only one of you?
The good news is that there is an entire team of people in YU whose major focus in the Yeshiva is to help cater to the needs of the talmidim. Besides all of the rebbeim, Rabbi Penner and the entire RIETS staff and the university support staff, myself, Rabbi Bacon, and Rabbi Zahtz are officially assigned as the mashgichim for MYP, Rabbis Willig, Ciment, and Weinberg service the BMP program, and Rabbi Blau as the Senior Mashgiach and Rabbi Weinberger as the Mashpia all play critical roles. Additionally, we have established networks of sho'alim u'meishivim for BMP, madrichim for most of the Israeli Yeshivot, and shiur assistants for the YP shiurim. The effect of all of this is to hopefully create layers of hashgacha so that, ultimately, every student has been reached out to and connected with. Obviously, we don't try to force ourselves on anyone, and not everyone is looking for a deep relationship with a rebbe or mashgiach, but it's important to us that the students know that we as an institution truly care about each talmid who walks through these doors. With all of the different personalities and strengths of the mashgichim, the common denominator of the staff is the enormous feeling of admiration and affection that we feel for the students, and those feelings of ahava propel us forward in trying to connect with as many people as possible.
What are the main things about our beis midrash that you are proud of and would like to continue to excel in, and what things are you unhappy about and would like to change?
Thankfully the list that I'm proud of is significantly longer than the list of those areas that need major improvement. If I had to choose just one specific area of pride it would simply be how remarkable the student body is. I get to come to 'work' every day and be surrounded by guys who are sincere, genuinely growth-oriented, intellectually curious, open to self-reflection, respectful, concerned about the world at large, and are generally refined in their character traits. There are hundreds upon hundreds of students with these characteristics in the YU orbit, and they help to create just a beautiful and positive environment and tapestry. Sadly, I don't think most guys fully appreciate that tapestry until they have stepped away for a little while.
As far as an area that continues to need to be strengthened, it is the challenge (felt by many at any age) of being a part of the larger environment and milieu of both the University as well as the broader culture while still somehow being able to inoculate oneself within the Beis Midrash. As a staff, we understand everything—the time constraints and various pressures—the students face, but we also understand the value, both for the immediate future and for setting a course for one's later years, of being fully engaged in a Beis Midrash that includes night seder, Thursday night mishmar, and In-Shabbosim. That strong Beis Midrash culture exists already, but continues to need to be strengthened and cultivated.
How can students better take advantage of the mashgichim in order to enhance their YU experience?
We are around and want nothing more than to play some small supportive role in people's lives during these incredibly formative (and often overwhelming) years. If you don't see us in the Batei Midrashot or in our offices, we can always be contacted, day or night, by phone or e-mail. You should all be blessed with nothing but peace and success for the rest of this semester and during the coming years.
Rabbi Blass can be reached at 917-623-4711 or at email@example.com