By: Eitan Lipsky  | 

IBC Adds New Opportunities for Students

As the semester begins to come to a close, many people will start turning their attention towards next Fall. For students in IBC, they will notice several new developments that will enhance their program in the upcoming year.

What sets IBC apart from the other Undergraduate Torah Studies programs is its diverse student body. Students join IBC for a plethora of reasons, and as such, the student body has many very different needs to be filled by the course offerings and programming.

In order to accommodate the needs of its students, IBC offers a wide range of course offerings in Tanach, Jewish History, Jewish philosophy, Talmud, Halacha and other classical Jewish texts, and encourages its students to choose courses that most appeal to their interests and abilities. IBC also places an emphasis on having courses taught which assume different backgrounds and fluencies with Jewish texts and concepts, allowing everyone to be taught at their appropriate level.

IBC also offers different forms of programming that intend to have something for everyone. Students are thus able to create their own personalized experiences and schedules in the way that best serves their individual needs. This task of making sure that such a diverse program can truly serve its students needs is not an easy one. The Office of Undergraduate Torah Studies, under the caring leadership of Dean Rabbi Menachem Penner and Associate Dean Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, together with the rest of the IBC staff, work tirelessly to keep molding the program so that it can accomplish this task. Next fall, this desire of the staff of IBC to meet the needs of its students will be very apparent, as highlighted by several new initiatives.

One major goal of the IBC administration is to enhance the cohesion amongst the students and staff of the program. “IBC Rabbeim are there to do more than impart information to their students. They build relationships with the talmidim,” said Rabbi Kalinsky.  In order to meet this goal, for the past several years IBC has offered a Freshman Seminar for students starting off their college careers, bringing students of all different backgrounds into one classroom.

The seminar has recently been taught by Rabbi Beny Rofeh, who creates a class environment that is more open and engaging for students to have discussions about many important topics. This course is specifically designed to be less demanding in terms of coursework so that students can gain maximally from their time in class and their discussions. Rabbi Rofeh has also made a point of giving his students exposure to new personalities, frequently bringing in other IBC staff members, staff from BMP and YP, and other YU personalities such as President Richard Joel and Dean of Students Chaim Nissel to speak to the students.   

In the upcoming semester, IBC will be focusing in even more on its first year student by transforming the Freshman Seminar into a new First-Year Chaburah Seminar Program. “The program is designed to give the students an experience much like the Israel Yeshiva environment, with smaller groups and intimate personal learning,” said Rabbi Rofeh. In this new program, all first year students will be invited to participate in the 9:00 AM IBC minyan, where they will be able to daven with several of their Rabbeim. After davening, the students will break up in the same room into assigned chaburot of 7 or 8 students, which will each be assigned an IBC staff member to learn with them. This out-of-the-classroom learning will create a more informal setting than what has been in the past, and will also serve to create a centralized location for IBC learning to take place, which existed only to a limited extent in the past. The strong hope is that these chaburot will allow students to begin their IBC careers knowing that they are part of a warm family made up of Rabbeim and fellow talmidim.

In the beginning of this year, IBC made a significant change in its daily schedule to create more opportunities for students to build relationships with their Rabbeim. Classes were shortened by around twenty minutes each. This change allows many students to have free time at noon, a slot that is now specifically designated for students to speak with their Rabbeim over lunch. In the upcoming year, students and Rabbeim will continue to be encouraged to take advantage of this time and build those close relationships that will truly enhance the entire IBC experience.

Other efforts to increase camaraderie amongst the student body and Rabbeim include several on-campus communal Shabbat meals and speakers. Additionally, Rabbeim made more of an effort to invite students over to their houses for Shabbat as well as for the Purim Seudah. There are plans for more Shabbatons and Shabbat invites next year.

IBC also prides itself on placing more of a focus on experiential learning for its students. On April 5th, Rabbi Rofeh brought 58 students to Paterson, New Jersey, where they met with shochet and former JSS staff member Rabbi Avidan Elkin. There they watched several animals being slaughtered and learned many of the intricate Halachot of shechitah and kashrut. Rabbi Rofeh plans on having more experiential learning opportunities in the coming semesters. “We were able to attract 58 students without even advertising other than word of mouth. This shows that there is a strong interest in having these kinds of programs,” said Rabbi Rofeh.

Of course, the main way IBC desires to help its students is by offering them classes that really stimulate their minds and that deepen their love for Torah. “Engaging and stimulating courses will serve to enhance the program for students who prefer learning in classroom settings. We are offering a variety of subjects ranging from the thought of Rav Kook to Rabbi Samson Refael Hirsch, to Jews in Medieval Islam, and the laws of kashrut,” said Rabbi Kalinsky.

One particular group of students that IBC tries to appeal to are those students who came to the administration at the end of last semester requesting that there be more academically rigorous courses. In response to their request, a class was created given by Rabbi Ozer Glickman on Jewish Philosophy which featured this component of rigor, classroom discussions and academic scholarship. In the upcoming semester, Rabbi Glickman will be giving another class entitled P’sak Halakha from Talmudic Times until Today. In addition, Rabbi Hayyim Angel will be giving a class in which he will seek to discover the shleimut between classical Yeshiva understandings of Tanach and those of academia. In addition, Rabbi Yosef Bronstein will be teaching a new course on the Thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Dr. Aaron Koller will be teaching a course on Akeidat Yitzchak.

In addition to the classes that are meant for students looking for academic rigor, IBC also has many classes that appeal to other types of students, including those who also look to continue their learning of classical texts like Gemarah, Halacha, and Tanach. Many classes, such as the Freshman Seminar, are geared towards students who do best in a more informal and intimate learning environment.

In order to further accommodate the students and their busy schedules, the upcoming semester will offer more opportunities for students to take online courses, and will also expand the “Night Seder” class option. The latter will be run by Rabbi Gaby Danieli and will ensure that students are able to learn Torah daily without feeling too overwhelmed by their schedules. In addition, for the first time, Sy Syms students will be able to take all of their Academic Jewish Studies requirements as part of IBC.  

These changes in IBC will truly solidify its status as the morning program that is most flexible to its students. These changes are likely just the tip of the iceberg for the how program will continue to improve in the future in response to its students’ needs.