By: Bella Adler | Features  | 

From the TAC VP of Shabbat’s Desk: Singing Competitions and Coed Shabbatons: What ‘American Idol’ Taught Me About the Jewish Community at YU

The seventeenth season of “American Idol” is set to premiere on March 3, 2019. For many of us, American Idol brings back nostalgic memories of cozy family TV nights under a warm blanket with some hot cocoa or popcorn. Looking at it now, though, I cannot help but see its resemblance to our 2019 Yeshiva University Jewish community.

Commonly referred to as “Idol,” this singing competition involves discovering unsigned singers from across the globe and bringing their voice to the stage to give them an opportunity to shine. The show collects a diverse group of singers and molds them into musical superstars. Talents such as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson all started on “Idol.”

It is not just the talent that makes the show so entertaining. Each season the community of singers is not only diverse, but they actively use their time together to learn from each other. Mentors are brought into the community, duets are distributed, critiques and compliments are shared. Though the contestants sing different genres, ultimately their interpersonal skills with each other allow the viewer to feel the weight of the community they have created season after season. Evidence of this can be viewed on elimination nights when contestants cry as their friends are sent home — knowing that even though they are leaving California, they are forever a part of that season’s society.

And just as American Idol contestants are taught to listen and benefit from their community’s diversity, so too, as Jewish people, we have a responsibility to learn from each other. Our communities vary vastly in tradition, practice, community member makeup and more. As twenty-first century students, our world values diversity and dialogue. We must do the same in our Jewish communities and make an effort to see how others are practicing. We must bring a variety of performers, mentors and singers to the stage and truly listen to what each has to offer.

Just as unsigned singers are flown in to compete on “American Idol,” some Jews go to great lengths to see Jewish communities literally across the globe. But I would like to argue that we don’t need to go that far. In fact, we don’t need to travel at all. Truthfully, we just need to open the doors in our dorms, walk down the hall, knock on the door of our neighbor and start a conversation.

Yeshiva University is composed of students from around the world, each with a different understanding of what it means to be Jewish far beyond the Sephardi and Ashkenazi divide. Yes, we each have our “crews” — our friends from seminary or yeshiva, from our hometowns or countries and our roommates. But if one were to line up those “crews,” one would see that they represent Jews from around the globe. Not just in the literal sense, but in their diversified practice as well. We as the student body must branch out to meet people with unique Jewish narratives that are new to us. We must talk to people who question that which we thought to be true. The wisdom of our peers in our classes is far greater than that of the textbook.

I’m advocating for exposure to our student’s diversity.

And at the same time, I’m advocating for independence.

Being in a Jewish university is the most incredible opportunity a person has to develop his or her own story. The wide variety of Jewish classes offered to us might be challenging with a dual curriculum, but it is an opportunity to explore varying perspectives of Jewish thought. There are so many professors and leaders to choose from, many of whom are readily excited to be a mentor.

The message I want to share is one of both inclusive diversity and grounded independence. We as students would gain so much by developing our own Jewish narrative parallel to learning the narrative of others. We will grow immensely by advocating for our personal understanding of Jewish tradition and observance while meeting with people whose songs are sung in an entirely different genre than ours. These years in university allow us to become passionate about what it means to be Jewish and to find inspiration in how others practice Judaism.

We would benefit tremendously with the recognition that the student experience at Yeshiva University is in our hands. Its success is dependent on developing Jewish leaders who accept others for who they are and learn from their peers while staying grounded in their own observance. The progression of our community is contingent on developing people who are passionate about building inclusive societies for the diverse Jewish community that we are. We as students will gain not only by feeling the blessing of what it means to be in a Jewish university, but by feeling the value of learning from all students on our campus.

No matter where your inspiration comes from, know that you have an important role to play in the future of Yeshiva University. Know that your involvement in this community makes a difference. Write an article for the school newspaper about how you feel. Make an appointment to speak with a dean about a program you would like to see developed. Join a student council. Spend time with change-makers. Know that your voice and your advocacy — both for your individual observance as well as the unification of all types of students — are important.

Step up to the mic. We are listening.

Photo Caption: “American Idol”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons