By: Michael Shavolian  | 

A Life in the Day of an IBC Student

My roommate had discouraged me, but to no avail. I decided to make the switch. I made my way to Glueck and took the elevator up to the sixth floor accompanied by an esteemed Rosh Yeshiva. I felt embarrassed, admittedly. Perhaps, before we reached our destination, he would ask me what tractate I am in the midst of studying. I would have no answer. But no such question was asked. I made way to the office of Undergraduate Torah Studies where I filled out the requisite paperwork. I was not aiming to fulfill Jewish Studies requirements or get an easy A. I was looking for a more invigorating morning program. And, since then, I haven’t looked back. I would like to share my IBC experience- the life in a day of an IBC student.

At 8:55am, I make my way to class. I grab breakfast from Nagel Bagel (God Bless) and two minutes later sit myself down in a classroom in Furst Hall. In Contemporary Jewish Thinkers, Rabbi Ozer Glickman walks us through three of Aquinas’ classical proofs and connects this Catholic friar’s thinking to that of Immanuel Kant and finally to the philosophy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He reserves some time at the end of class to share some of his thoughts on a recent conversation he had with a Modern Orthodox thinker. After class, a few students gather around his desk to continue a tangential discussion. He asks me how I am doing and tells me that I should stop by in the afternoon to chat. Before I know it, I am five minutes late to my next class.

Rabbi Hayyim Angel’ Isaiah class is riveting. His use of sources from across the spectrum- academic literature, modern commentaries and traditional exegesis- makes for never a dull moment. This is my fourth course with Rabbi Angel. In class, a student raises his hand and asks an astute question. Rabbi Angel answers it directly. Not once have I witnessed him dodge a question. He’s way too honest to do so. Today in class, he speaks about modern scholarship’s claims on the authorship of Isaiah and the responses of some contemporary Orthodox thinkers. When he gets excited he stands on his toes and gestures with outstretched hands. He speaks clearly and softly--but most of all, humbly. There’s a reason he taught a class in RIETS entitled “Teaching Tanakh.” As I leave, we wish each other Shabbat Shalom in our shared Sephardic tongue. I make my way to lunch where I join three friends from IBC, students whom I met in class and with whom I share interesting conversations. Later that evening, I receive an email from Rabbi Angel. He recaps what we learned in class and mentions what we should be looking forward to during the next class. He encourages us to email him with any questions.

IBC, like the other three UTS programs, enables students to engage with their Judaism in a meaningful way. But IBC, I have learned, does so in a different way. As a student in BMP, as much as I enjoyed Talmud, I could not hack studying the same few folios of gemerah for three to four hours everyday. Perhaps, I wasn’t cut out for it. Perhaps, it just wasn’t for me at the time. Or perhaps, admittedly, I went about it all wrong. Diagnose it how you will, but in any case, I wanted something different. I wanted variety and I wanted to experience the perspectives and approaches of multiple teachers. There were so many things outside of Gemara that I wanted to learn and IBC gave me that.

In IBC, I had the chance to observe how archaeology can complement the study of Tanakh. Last semester, in Dr. Joseph Angel’s Jeremiah course, my classmates and I studied the verses that discuss the threat of Babylonian invasion. We learned about the Lachish Letters, messages transmitted by a Jewish military officer in advance of Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Lachish, a city in Israel. We then learned to read and decipher the 6th century BCE Hebrew of one of these letters. The experience could not have been more cliché -- melding the latest academic findings with traditional study of tanach -- but yet entirely meaningful and highly informative. In Dr. Aaron Koller’s Aqeda course this semester we will be discussing the binding of Isaac from a philosophical and comparative perspective. We will mine the writings of Jubilees and learn about the approaches of Maimonides and Søren Kierkegaard.

In IBC, I had the opportunity to learn from teachers well versed in the topics they taught. Rabbi Benjamin Blech, who has been teaching at Yeshiva University for more than forty years, regularly teaches a course based on a book he authored entitled Understanding Judaism: The Basics of Deed and Creed. Often, I join Rabbi Blech during lunch in the dining hall. His voice is hoarse from lecturing for three continuous hours but he is always kind enough to grace me with interesting discussions. Last semester, Rabbi Allen Schwartz taught a course entitled Analysis of a Manuscript based on his own work in publishing the Rokeach’s commentary to Mishlei in 2014. Other IBC classes provide students with ways to think about important issue. Classes taught by Rabbi Yosef Bronstein, such as Philosophy of Rav Kook, provide students with a survey of the philosophy of seminal Jewish thinkers.

Recently, IBC has been making an effort to form a cohesive IBC community of students. This semester, for the first time, the Isaac Breuer College is sponsoring a weekly lunchtime fellowship open only to IBC students. The seminar will host Orthodox thinkers who will speak to the challenges facing the committed religious individual in the twenty first century. The conversations will be moderated by Rabbi Ozer Glickman and lunch will be sponsored for fellows. Other IBC programs such as rosh chodesh davening and breakfasts with Rabbi Moshe Weinberger and IBC shabbatons also contribute to the cohesiveness of the IBC community.

I have only covered one facet of IBC and have mentioned only a handful of classes. But, there are a handful of others that cater to students with different interests and needs. Gemara classes provide learning for those looking for a different setting for the traditional study of talmud. Chumash classes taught by masterful pedagogues enliven one’s mornings with torah. Chassidut and meditation classes give students a glimpse into the world of Rabbi Chaim Vital and the Aish Kodesh. Halakha classes offer students the knowledge they need to live committed Jewish lives.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, IBC gives students the chance to connect and form relationships with multiple teachers who all have something different to offer. The teachers in IBC are gracious in offering to meet with students during lunch or in their office. I have met with rebbeim during the summer in midtown Manhattan and for lunch in the Sky Café. I have spent Shabbat in Brooklyn and in YU with them. I have, to paraphrase Pirkei Avot, warmed myself by their fire.

It’s my last semester and this must be my one hundredth ride in the Glueck elevator. I smile as a Rosh Yeshiva asks for my name. I introduce myself and we chat. The people around here can be pretty friendly, I realize. He asks me what morning program I am enrolled in and I smirk because he didn't presume I was in BMP or YP. IBC, I reply…and I couldn’t be happier.