By: Akiva Schiff | Features  | 

From the YCSA Vice President’s Desk: Pallet Town and Klein @ 9: Chromatic Considerations of Communal Confluence

As I exited the mall, my head was spinning. More options existed than I could possibly consider. I was through weighing all the possibilities. So, I went online, found the brand that I knew fit perfectly, and scrolled through the color options. Interestingly, the ski-helmet industry was no longer content with manufacturing simple colors, like black, matte-gray, and blue. Yet, more than the colors themselves, their names really captured my attention. Instead of gray, there was “titanium”; instead of blue – “marine”; and instead of orange – “vermillion.”

But that term vermillion echoed in my mind. I had never encountered it before as the name of a color. I supposed it sounded vaguely orange. Why not?

Curious, I asked some friends if they had heard of the term. One particularly confident individual declared that it was a shade of pink. Unconvinced, I googled it. The internet immediately directed me to a Wikipedia description that reads as follows: “Vermilion is a brilliant red or scarlet pigment originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar, and is also the name of the resulting color.”

Dumbfounded, my heart started racing. Vermillion? Cinnabar? Were these actually real words? My memory instantly flooded with content – I knew where I had heard vermillion before. It was the name of a city in the original Pokémon Gameboy games! So was Cinnabar. I paused, flipping through the channels of my childhood (and high-school) memories. The names of all the cities were rushing through my mind, like a mischievous Pikachu running ahead of his trainer. Cerulean. Pewter. Fuchsia. Saffron. Lavender. Although not used in everyday parlance, clearly the name of each of these cities correlates to a color.

Even the more obscure terms, like Celadon and Viridian, it turns out, refer to colors (jade green and blue-green, respectively).

Finally, I realized with a shout, “Oh! That’s why the game starts in Pallet Town!” Undeniably, the game is crafted around an artist’s palette. Each stage of the game is a new level, a new type of Pokémon with which to contend and, apparently, a new color.

Gingerly, I allowed my thoughts to spread out to other aspects of the game. Didn’t this colorimetric trend also exist in the second-generation game as well? With cities named Goldenrod, Mahogany, Ecruteak (ecru is a type of beige), and Violet, this could not be an accident.

How could I have spent so many months and years playing this game without noticing? I realized it had been in front of my eyes the entire time. What are the names of the games? Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow. Gold, Silver, and Crystal. Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. Every generation of the game was labeled with a new color.

I wondered that day outside of the mall, “What could be the purpose of all this?” Surely, the wise men who designed the game which, in a very literal sense, escorted me through my childhood could not have done so without reason, capriciously deciding that colors were a cute way to frame the game. There must be a deeper purpose.

~ ~ ~

Jewish life exists, and always has existed, in communities. Not only are communities a natural consequence of the halachic obligation for daily prayer with a quorum, but they must exist to support the many institutions that are so central to Jewish life. Shuls, Yeshivot, Mikvaot, Eruvin, Kashrut – the list of resources shared and subsidized by the broader Jewish community seems to encompass every facet of life. And it does.

Kids need friends to hang out with on Shabbos afternoons. Families need each other for socialization and support. And, more than ever, people need their institutions of religious life to root them in their beliefs and values as they weather their interactions with the broader world.

Let’s consider the YU Community. Certainly, it would be foolish to pretend that we are all identical in our beliefs and values. But, I believe, it is equally foolish to ignore how much we have in common. Our campus includes people from many distinct communities. These same people progress through YU, graduate, and ultimately become the builders of our Jewish future and the pillars of their communities: Teaneck, Los Angeles, Memphis, Efrat, and everywhere in between.

My question is thus: Should we, as an institution, focus on our unity or on our differences? During the past year, our campus has seen the development of a few programs that, while encouraging some sense of community, implicitly undermine the very community that we should be trying to build. The predominant example is the Klein @ 9 club/minyan.

Now, this program was conceived during the Fall 2016 semester, and has steadily grown. What began as an experiment to provide a community or a “Hillel” feel to the YU campus has blossomed into a robust operation which boasts weekly attendance of over a hundred students, a private Kiddush for its male and female attendees and, recently, a corollary Seudah Shlishit program for members of its “community.”

Of course, many love this minyan. The acoustic features of the Klein Beit Midrash encourage singing, the minyan is student-led, with no pressure to follow the pace of Rebbeim, and the frequent studs keep all students abreast of their community’s goings on. (As an aside, it was not until reading flyers for this club that I realized that “community” is a code word for a co-ed event.) To be clear, all are officially welcome to show up; but, as it exists today, the minyan clearly caters to a certain subset of the student body.

Perhaps, though, it’s worth considering the risks of establishing programming like this. These programs do not exist in a vacuum. There are at least five other campus minyanim that take place each week (not including other options around the Heights) that existed before Klein @ 9 was created. Like in any shul, when a breakaway minyan forms, the preexisting minyanim all suffer. Minyanim, like so much else in Jewish life, thrive in numbers. For example, every Shabbos, at 9 AM, Rubin Shul has a minyan which existed well before the Klein minyan began. This student-led minyan caters to many students who want a nice, efficient minyan that does not give off certain judgmental vibes that exist in other campus minyanim. However, in the past year, the number of attendees at the Rubin minyan has dropped significantly, to the point where it is increasingly difficult to find volunteers to read the Torah and to lead the service. Yet, as is clear from their frequent studs, Klein also struggles to find volunteers consistently. Our campus cannot comfortably support both minyanim.

Quite understandably, people decide to go to Klein because it offers them something that they did not have in other minyanim. However, it detracts so much from the established infrastructure. Wouldn’t it be better to consider the complaints that people have with the Rubin minyan, and work on addressing those? For example, some left the Rubin minyan because there was talking in the back, or not enough singing. If the talking bothers you, sit in the front. If you would like the Chazan to sing more, volunteer to be the Chazan and sing! Others objected to the lack of a “community” feel to the space. If “community” means women, then there is no reason why the Ezrat Nashim there cannot be expanded, and that women cannot be made more comfortable. If community means a setting where people greet you and smile, then (decide if talking is really an issue for you, and) start greeting people. A community is made of its constituents. Be the change you want to see in your community.

Richard Joel, our esteemed former president, always referred to YU as a “big tent.” I agree that our campus has many different types of students with varied needs. But shouldn’t we attempt to bring people together instead of creating fringe programming for each narrow sect? Jewish communities need unity to survive. At YU, we should be educating our students to compromise and interact with each other, not to abandon the Kehila when they have minor complaints.

Similarly, the new Seudah Shlishit program obviously overlaps with the established Seudah Shlishit that exists in the YU Caf. I don’t know if there is intent to make this a weekly occurrence; but, if so, it will certainly detract from the Caf program. Both socially and acoustically, it is more satisfying to be with a larger crowd. Sure, there are improvements that can be made to the existing Seudah Shlishit, and those should be considered and implemented. But, again, we should work within the established system to improve the existing programs and to make more people comfortable and happy. We should not encourage small groups to break off and compete.

The YU community is home to a broad swath of Jewish sensibilities and praxes. If given the opportunity, each type of student would probably organize things in a slightly different way. However, the campus community thrives through our shared interactions, not by catering to specific groups. Yes, we should try to appeal to as many as we can; but when people prefer things another way, they should not abandon the community to form their own. They should improve their shared space.

Unity is rare in our world, but it’s worth striving for. Interestingly, it’s rare in the Pokémon world as well. Each town in the Pokémon world is dominated by its “gym.” The objective of the game is to pass through all the towns, and to defeat the Pokémon Trainers in each gym. The idea that violence, competition, and enmity define each town surely reflects the chromatic disparity of each locale. The cities are not united. Each is pitted against the others, with the hue of its name highlighting its distinct shades.

Valiant Pokémon Trainers progress through the towns, spreading discord, and ultimately fade from memory and from history. Yet, interestingly, the games are not the only manifestation of the Pokémon world – there is also a TV show.

Whereas in the games, the goal is to defeat each gym and its trainers, the show constantly reiterates Ash’s desire to “catch ‘em all.” This theme is hardly mentioned in the games. Even when a player does capture all 150 Pokémon, the game does not recognize the accomplishment – I would know, I did it.

Xenophobic tropes do not exist in the show, as in the game. The mission to “catch ‘em all” assumes the value of each and every creature, regardless of background and personality. Each Pokémon is valued simply for existing.

Yeshiva University should encourage this attitude of acceptance. We should not allow our campus to be divided into different “gyms,” or into minyanim or programs. As a member of student council, I strive to hear everyone’s voice. When conflict arises, we cannot just ignore those who are hurt. Their voices should be heard. The new programs have certainly facilitated growth for their constituents, but they damage the existing ones as well. This is a conversation that should have been held a year ago, but it is not too late. There need not be a brewing conflict that stews until one side gives up. Let us discuss our agendas, our needs, and our complaints. We should aim to include all in our endeavors, and to see the value in each member of our community.