By: Judah Stiefel  | 

An Annual Event Takes Shape: TEDxYU Looks to Become a Fixture on Campus

On Tuesday November 7th at 7 pm, the tickets for 2017’s TEDXYeshivaUniversity event went on sale. Five minutes later, the student tickets were sold out, and a week after that, the community tickets were sold out as well, according to graduating Senior Yael Saban who has been in charge of running this year’s event along with Senior Yehoshua Zirman. A final 15 tickets went on sale Tuesday, November 14th. Selling out 262 tickets, the event is expected to be more than twice the size of last year’s.

The increased size of TEDXYU is due largely to the enthusiasm and success of the event last year. Junior Avery Ennis remembers tickets being resold by students for five times the original cost of $10. “I remember students getting more and more excited for it the closer it got,” said Ennis.

According to Noam Safier, who ran the original TEDXYU last year as a student alongside Esti Hirt, the event had to be capped at 100 audience members due to the fact that TEDX requires a special license in order to host events of greater than that size. This year’s coordinators, Saban and Zirman attended a TED Fest conference which took place in Brooklyn this past May, allowing them to acquire a “100-plus license,” lifting the 100 person cap.

According to Saban, TED Fest was attended by 500 TED organizers from around the world, who received training focusing on how to get on stage and act as a curator. There she learned to, “pinpoint passions and grow from there.” Once they had a strong idea, Saban and Zirman were able to expand it. “The idea of this year is potential,” said Saban, “What you have potential to accomplish within YU and throughout the world.”

Last year’s event was held at the Schottenstein theater, which seats just 120 audience members. Due to the increased audience size, 2017’s event will be held at the YU Museum. “We chose the YU Museum which was on the smaller end of the scale to showcase what we have in YU. Having it in YU is the ideal.” Saban explained, “Events like this are what have a lasting impact on students in YU. It’s something beyond classes and GPA. It shows what YU really is. The people we are showcasing represent the quality of the school and the quality of the students that put it together. It’s really needed around here.”

Much of the groundwork of this year’s TEDX talks was laid out by the students who ran the event last year. According to Noam Safier, the event had been attempted in both of the two years prior, but had not made it off the ground. Safier described that much of the  effort of previous years went into promoting the event. He decided when he took charge that, “the name TED speaks for itself,” and energy was poured instead into contacting speakers.

Many elements of YU were very receptive to the idea of having a TEDX event and contributed support, enthusiasm, and funding. Safier recalls being nervous as he went to meet with the Provost, Dr. Selma Botman to ask for funding. After his request for $1,000 was approved in short order, Safier remembers leaving, thinking he should have asked for more. Another $2,000 was provided by the Neal’s Fund, a Jewish non-for profit which supports social causes and funds other YU programs such as Project START and the YU lobbying mission to DC. The YU Events Office were also very receptive to the event. The Office of Student Life provided a loan of $1,000 to cover the costs of the event before money was available from ticket sales.

The budget for this year’s event has doubled the budget of the original TEDXYU. To accommodate this, the Provost doubled its contribution from last year, citing that it was worthy to invest in student initiative. Neal’s Fund repeated its contribution as well, and the OSL and Dean Nissel backed up many of the other expenses. To cover the larger expenses, student ticket prices were raised to $15 and tickets were sold to the greater YU community at $30 each. Saban described wanting to make sure that the tickets remained affordable for every student who wanted to participate.  

To run various aspects of the event, students were selected who appeared dedicated and who would work efficiently as a group. According to Safier, the purpose of the event is twofold. “TEDXYU is an event which showcases YU its students its faculty, and its alumni and creates an incredible opportunity for a Kiddush Hashem.” Saban recalls Safier approaching her as a sophomore to do marketing for the event, expressing the possibility she could eventually run the event herself. Saban and Zirman recruited people who had been involved in YU and were passionate about TED, with the potential to take over in the future.

Speakers for TEDXYU were also chosen very carefully. The staff reached out to Alumni Affairs, the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, and the Office of the President for speaker suggestions, while also sending out a form to students who wanted a chance to tell their stories.  After selecting speakers, the TEDXYU team had to train them, offering resources such as working with Reuven Russell who teaches public speaking at Stern College.“TED was something I was somewhat obsessed with. The Kedushat Hashem really spoke to me. We showcased the university’s legitimacy and professionalism,” said Russell. 

One of the student speakers, Arielle Zellis, became a renowned speaker after the conference and was flown around by Yachad to speak, eventually becoming a closing keynote speaker at an inclusion conference in North Carolina. Safier believes that the best speakers practiced upwards of 80 times before the day of the conference.

The project as a whole began in the summer and took eight months to plan. Some of the more enjoyable preparations that Safier recalls were painting the entire stage at the Schottenstein Theater black with the rest of the TEDX staff, and checking out 70 impressive-looking books from the Gottesman Library, half of which related to Torah and the other half to Maddah, in order to fill the bookshelf set pieces on the stage. The most nerve wracking moment Safier remembers was when one of the student’s microphones wasn’t working properly and he had to make the decision to stop the speaker in the middle until it could be fixed.

As a whole, Safier remembers organizing the event as extremely rewarding. “It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also among the most worthwhile.”

Saban describes the greatest challenge she faced to be learning to put together an entire conference while working within an institution. The students who run the program each year see it as a powerful opportunity to spread YU’s message. Yehoshua Zirman writes, “I think the best part of the event is that it incorporates the core values of Yeshiva University: Torah Umadda. Students, faculty, and administration are featured in a TED-style speech highlighting the the successes and inspiring the audience to exact change in their lives. The conference will feature a [pre-recorded] TED talk by Rabbi Sacks and an introduction by President Berman. Nothing speaks more to Yeshiva University than an event like TED.”