A Start to Better Dialogue: Takeaways from the Recent SOY Election
The results of Tuesday’s election for SOY President were undoubtedly surprising. Breaking with traditional results, the outsider candidate, Moshe Spirn, defeated the incumbent Vice President of SOY, Noah Marlowe, and by a respectable margin at that. While this will certainly raise concerns for certain demographics in YU, and jubilate others, I want to explain why I think this is the best possible outcome, at a critical juncture, for the YU student body.
Over the past few months there has been a serious debate about Klein @9, which serves as a good test case to indicate a larger issue at play amongst the student body. Often, people characterize rifts in YU as rifts between outlooks of those in different morning programs: YP students pitted against IBC students, and so on and so forth. But it seems clear that this is an oversimplification, if not a myth. Many of the heads of Klein @9 are YP students, and those uncomfortable with the potential changes are also within YP. Thus, to some extent this is an ideological battle being waged within the beis medrash. The issue is, no one seems to be talking to each other, but rather at each other at the most, or not at all at the least.
This is the backdrop on which Tuesday’s election took place. I also believe that this backdrop can explain why Moshe Spirn’s campaign was robust, plentiful in volunteers, and turned out results in droves. Many students have felt that the “unified voice” in favor of certain changes to the minyan, and the pushback against certain rabbinical decisions, were not adequately representing the diversity of the student body. No doubt, their near silence until now was, to a large extent, self-inflicted. Not being part of the discussion, albeit in a newspaper whose readership often criticizes their opinions when they do decide to write, leads to a one-sided story.
This election is an opportunity to begin a new narrative, and an encouraging one at that. In my few years at YU, the typical joke has been that the election is one Israel yeshiva against another, and that the same side wins every time. It was getting so boring and expected, to the point where last year’s SOY President won unopposed. This election, if nothing else, showed that there are multiple sides, and that both have a potential for involvement and dedication. Sure, some who voted did so because they were nagged to, but I also witnessed a large group of individuals participating in vibrant campaigning throughout the day, demonstrating a drive to accomplish something special.
This isn’t a step forward for just the “beis medrash guys,” as some would call them. It is important for everyone. Accomplishing goals and pushing the bar under the guise of representing the view of the large majority of the student body is not only a misrepresentation of the spread of opinions, but leads to resentment from those who are uninvolved. The illusion that these are the goals of the student body as a whole stems both from those portraying it and from those who say they care, but don’t involve themselves in changing that which they deem inappropriate. Only if there are two vocal sides, expressing opinions in a cogent way, can there be real conversation.
The outcome of this election shouldn’t be celebrated just by those who voted for the victor; to some degree, everyone who is concerned for YU’s future should celebrate. The only thing worse than polarization is indifference, and this election is a step away from indifference towards active participation.
How do we foster these results into the upcoming year to create a real conversation and encourage all sides to seek mutual goals? I believe there is a sur meira aspect as well as an aseih tov one. First, it is important to acknowledge common denominators. Both sides of the Klein @9 debate, and the SOY Election on a broader level, are working towards what they feel is the best way forward for Modern Orthodox Judaism. Comments on articles, for example, or articles themselves, which argue that the other side is objectively wrong categorically, or worse, attack the character of those portraying certain ideologies, do a disservice to anyone looking for a real discussion.
The second integral aspect, in my opinion, is to parallel the involvement displayed in Tuesday’s election in other venues. Complaining about a certain ideology in YU gets you nowhere if you are not capable of articulating your own view in a coherent way. Many complain that the articles displayed in The Commentator that relate to ideology are one-sided. But what drives that perceived phenomenon is the same cause that has driven unopposed SOY elections: a certain level of indifference. Changing the rules on the ground involves not just clicking a name on a ballot and running away, it involves continued discussion. One way to change the makeup of published articles is to write some articles. Doing so could create a real discussion and illustrate that there is a true diversity of opinions on campus.
This election has the ability to change the nature of the discussion at YU. My assertion is undoubtedly self-critical of the demographic, with which I associate most, for a past of non-participation; and yet, I am encouraged by recent events of a potential for new engagement. While I am optimistic by the excitement towards, and commitment to, electing a President for SOY, the only way to continue having an effect is by continuing to carry a voice in the discussion on campus.