By: Eric Shalmon  | 

NYC Councilman Addresses YU Students After Meaningful Trip to Israel, Extolls Unity

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, the Washington Heights representative to the New York City Council, recently visited Yeshiva upon invitation by Professor Cwilich to address a group of honors students at one of their weekly luncheons.  In his speech the councilman focused on his two week trip to Israel last August which left a tremendous impression on him and reinvigorated his sense of mission on the City Council

"I felt that his points were very important to hear," acknowledged Professor Cwilich, director of the honors program.

Hailing from the Dominican Republic, the Councilman began his career as a schoolteacher. After 13 years as an educator, Rodriguez joined the City Council to connect different peoples and to help them build a future together. The Councilman said that he always looked to two nations for inspiration: the Jews and the Chinese. As a history teacher, Rodriguez realized that 100, 200 years is nothing in the view of history and "no one has learned that better than the Jews."

Because both nations have such vast, impressive histories, the Councilman explained, "they know who they are;" they know how to plan for the future.

He visited China during his last semester of college and finally made it to Israel earlier this year. "It is a very diverse place," Rodriguez remarked. "Going from Tel Aviv, a very liberal place, to Jerusalem, the holy city…and then going to the border - it's an experience that can never be described."

To him, it was also amazing to see how many young men and women were in the army fighting together for their country. More than just the people, the land itself was awash with history.  A lifelong Catholic, the Councilman viewed stepping in the Jordan river after reading all the passages in the bible and setting foot in the holy city as an unparalleled experience. However, he deemed the different communities there taking history and building a thriving society to be equally impressive.

The simultaneous display of diversity and unity that the Councilman observed in Israel reinvigorated his fight for unity between the cultures here in Washington Heights and in greater New York City. One hundred years ago people were more separate and generally thought of themselves in terms of their culture of origin, whether it was Jew, Latino, Chinese, etc. Today,however, Councilman Rodriguez believes that things have changed and that those lines will continue to blur in the future. "Our next generation," said the Councilman, "will interact with people from other cultures from the day they are born - and only they can claim that. Adults today," he continued, "say that they do interact with and have opened up to other cultures but this is only  later in life, they didn’t grow up with it."

The Councilman has taken one of his classes to the Dominican Republic to explore their roots, study  their history and learn where they came from. "I learned that the job of a professor or educator is not to teach, but to facilitate and I carry those values with me now." The history of a person's culture should inspire him to move forward into the future. "Your lives aren't only yours," explained Rodriguez, "they are your ancestors’ as well."

In response to a question, the Councilman stated, "We don't need to go to Africa on Peace Corps to feel that we  helped others or left a legacy: a large percentage of New Yorkers live in poverty, we can leave a legacy here." Councilman Rodriguez hopes to accomplish this in partnership with both Latinos and Jews - "with you here at Yeshiva University."

Chaim Metzger, President of the Honors Student Council, observed, "The Councilman seemed genuinely interested in synthesizing the two communities here in Washington Heights and was very passionate about fulfilling those goals."

His goal is to turn Washington Heights into a middle class community, "build[ing] a Silicon Valley here in our community," because the most important thing for Councilman Rodriguez "is to go to sleep in peace, knowing I have helped our community."

"I was very excited to hear that the Councilman wanted to come," said Professor Cwilich. "He had very interesting things to say, and we are currently taking steps towards solidifying his visions, including a possible convention of Yeshiva University and City College students."