By: Eitan Lipsky  | 

TEDx YU Spreads Ideas to the Yeshiva Community

Over the past 10 years, “TED talks” have become wildly popular sources of creativity, information, and inspiration for the online community. Talks from the annual TED conference in Vancouver, which features famous speakers from nearly all imaginable walks of life, as well as from many other smaller conferences held throughout the world, have combined to be watched well over one billion times on the TED website.

On Tuesday, November 1st, YU joined the TED community, as 100 Yeshiva University students, alumni, administrators, and guests gathered in the Schottenstein Theater for a TEDx Yeshiva University event. All sat with great anticipation for this momentous event which had been advertised since June and had now finally arrived.

A TEDx event is one that is organized independently by groups such as schools, businesses, or neighborhoods. It features several talks restricted to less than 18 minutes in length, just as they are at the official TED conferences. TEDx was created as an opportunity for students to attend TED conferences without having to pay the exorbitant prices that are usually charged for the major gatherings. For the YU event, a $10 entrance fee was charged to cover the costs of running the event, which was also sponsored by Neal’s Fund. (This small admission price did not seem to deter many people, as the tickets were sold out within 8 minutes of their going on sale back in September.)

The stage was set very simply, in classic TED style, with the trademark giant red letters and round red rug that have been featured in thousands of TED conferences. The event was introduced by its organizers, Noam Safier and Esti Hirt, who laid out the rules for audience behavior during the talks, which were being recorded to be placed on the TEDx Youtube page.

The speakers for the event were affiliated with YU in some way, and were selected after a very thorough search process by the TEDx Yeshiva University committee. “We were looking for speakers that have interesting experiences, research or ideas to share and also have the ability to communicate it effectively to a broader audience,” said Safier. “We were very selective and only chose the people we thought our community would find most compelling.” Arielle Zellis, a Psychology major and the only current YU student to speak, was selected out of more than 20 student applicants after a rigorous interview process. Reuven Russell, a Professor of Public Speaking at YU and Artistic Director of Stern’s Dramatic Society, spent time training the speakers in preparation for the event. He also served as emcee to introduce the diverse panel of six speakers  

The first speaker was Dr. Jesse Itzkowitz, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Sy Syms School of Business. In an eye-opening talk, Itzkowitz described the research that he has recently conducted about the effect of names on the way people live their lives. He demonstrated that through certain psychological principles, people will often make important life decisions, such as choosing a career or deciding which stocks to purchase, based off of their subconscious associations with names.

Next came Monica Dugot, a Cardozo alumnus and the Senior Vice President and International Director of Restitution at Christie’s, the world’s leading art business. She described her role and some of her experiences retrieving art that was lost or stolen from Jews during the Nazi era. As the child of two Holocaust survivors, she committed her life to the tireless pursuit of many of these works of art. “The looting of the Nazis sought to destroy the culture of the Jews, thus dehumanizing them and removing people from their roots and possessions”, she said. For her, the process of retrieving these items for family members was her way of fighting against this attempt of the Nazis and connecting families with their history.

She was followed by Zellis, who spoke about having a “person-first” mindset in dealing with people who seem different from ourselves. She described the tendency of people, even when they are helping out those in need, to not treat them the same as they would treat others or to not take their preferences into consideration. She highlighted this by speaking about her brother Chaim, who has Down Syndrome, but thrives as a result of his being treated like a regular kid by his friends and family. In Zellis' words, "person first language creates meaningful relationships and conversations with those who originally were so different than all of us, but now they are eye-to-eye, face-to-face, and they are equal."

Mark Weingarten, a semicha student in RIETS, spoke next about the need to “become a king”. He referred to his own life experiences as a proof that a person needs to be strong to his or her values, even if they are against popular perception. He described how this mindset helped him create his organization, Music Vs., which tries to unite diverse groups of people through music, and which has spread internationally.

Following him, Shy Krug, a YU graduate and therapist at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center entertained the crowd with magic tricks while discussing the commonalities between psychology and magic, and how they both require knowledge of human thinking and assumptions.

The final speaker of the evening was Ariel Fishman, a former professor at the Sy Sym’s School of Business who is the Assistant Vice President of Academic Program Planning, Development, and Approval at Fordham University. He spoke about the year he was forced to spend in a wheelchair as a result of being hit by a car. He spoke about the accommodations that society makes for people with disabilities, and how often times these inventions turn into something that is used by everyone. He then stunned the crowd by removing his prosthetic legs and revealing that he was a double-amputee.

The event was very well received and concluded with a standing ovation for all of the speakers and organizers. A long and arduous process by the committee to coordinate the event, including several previous attempts that did not pan out, resulted in a very successful TEDx Yeshiva University event.      

Videos of the talks will be posted for the public on the TEDx Youtube page in the next few weeks.