By: Hillel Field  | 

All Roads Lead to Rome for YU Students in Honors Courses

Gazing at a magnificent sunset at the Bay of Naples. Standing at the foot of formidable ancient architectural masterpieces. Sampling the wild varieties of mouth-watering Gelato in the streets of Rome.

These are only a few of the endless highlights myself and fourteen other Yeshiva University students experienced by taking part in last summer’s Yeshiva University Honors travel courses in New York and Italy. Last summer’s courses included Classical Jewish History, taught by both Professors Joseph Angel and Steven Fine, and Classicism: From Antiquity to the Age of Revolt (CUOT), taught by Professor Marnin Young. The program was run flawlessly by Honor’s Program Director Dr. Gabriel Cwilich, with the assistance of Honors Program coordinator Ms. Hannah Rozenblat. With knowledge of the city of Rome like the back of his hand, resourceful thinking, and sagely advice, Dr. Cwilich’s presence on the trip guaranteed a worthwhile experience for all.

The program began with the typical format of summer courses at YU, with classes taking place at both Wilf and Beren campuses for the convenience of students from both schools. During the program’s limited amount of time spent in New York, from May 27th to June 12th, Professor Young and Professor Angel masterfully delivered intense “crash-course” lectures, making sure the students absorbed as much as we could handle. Although Professor Angel was only present during the New York portion of the program, the class had the privilege of learning for two weeks from one of the foremost experts in the world on the Dead Sea Scrolls, who literally has hands-on experience with the subject. Both professors customized the structures of the courses to blend seamlessly with the real life encounters the students experienced in Rome regarding Classicism and Jewish History.

There is no question that the “travel” aspect of the program was the most engaging and memorable part of the trip. For the two full weeks we spent in Italy, the majority of the time we stayed in a hotel located in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome. This was the perfect location to gain a sense of the history of Jews in Rome, with the Great Synagogue of Rome in the heart of the ghetto. A truly majestic structure, this place of prayer stands as a modern day testament to the Jewish legacy of the city. When it came to exploring the annals of ancient Jewish history, we couldn’t have asked for a better mentor than Professor Steven Fine, an intellectual giant with down-to-earth compassion for his students. A particularly memorable moment was hearing from Professor Fine at the Arch of Titus, one of his areas of expertise. Professor Fine has worked up close and personally with the monument while discovering its original color composition. One could not hold back an ironic smile as a modern day Jew standing at the foot of something celebrating what was thought to be the ultimate demise of the Jewish nation.

When there are countless world famous works of art located in a 3-mile radius from your hotel, the task of gaining a firsthand education in Classicism may seem overwhelming. Thankfully, Professor Marnin Young handled this undertaking with incredible efficiency and his laid back delivery of a superhuman amount of art history expertise. We gained an appreciation of the development of the classical tradition, tracing the process from the forums of the Roman Empire and the massive amount of ancient sculptures contained in the Vatican, to modern day world class galleries such as the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, Palazzo Baberini, and Museo Nazionale Romano. Perhaps most valuable was what we gained from Professor Young in terms of art appreciation. Even those who aren’t fans of art can learn its internal language and try to understand the message the artist is trying to transmit, a message professor Young made sure to impart.

Of course, the trip would not have been complete without the amazing, truly intellectual, curious, and adventurous group of students that participated. Somehow, we found the time to bond as a group, making lifelong friends within our day-long exhausting and incredible excursions. The experience of spending Shabbat together added a spiritually profound layer to the trip, adorning our educational endeavors with meaningful divrei torah and ad hoc seudah shlishit meals set up in our hotel rooms, complete with harmonious group melodies. There are not many experiences that epitomize the ideal of Torah U’Maddah as well as this trip, and I hope students will continue to take advantage of such opportunities.