Makor: A Source of Inspiration for YU
Yeshiva University’s 89th commencement exercise will feature a new graduating class: the Makor College Experience Program.
As Dr. Stephen Glicksman (YC ‘91, Ferkauf ‘97), Director of Innovation at Makor Disability Services, put it in an interview with The Commentator, “The goal of the Makor College Experience is to provide individuals with Intellectual Disability [ID] the opportunity to be part of the YU community while gaining skills and exploring opportunities as they transition to lives of independence.”
Although the program was only inaugurated in 2017, the idea was conceived by Glicksman almost three decades earlier when Glicksman was an undergraduate student at Yeshiva University. While pursuing a doctorate from Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Glicksman began working for The Women’s League Community Residences, an Orthodox service founded in 1978 for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The service was later rebranded to affirm its service to men as well, and labeled “Makor” (Hebrew for “source”) to convey that the service is a source to the community.
“I began my own experience at YU as an undergraduate student in 1986 and haven’t really left. For a long time, I wanted to bridge those two worlds (my Boro Park world and my YU world), and I thought the idea of Makor partnering with YU to provide a college experience program for people with intellectual disability was a perfect fit,” reflected Glicksman.
Glicksman stated that one of the factors that limits the aspirations of individuals with intellectual disabilities is “the idea that people with ID don’t go to college. “College is where you are supposed to explore your identity and have worlds open to you. That’s what we’re here for: to open those worlds,” he said.
The idea of the Makor program, according to Glicksman, was not simply to open a college experience program, but to open one at YU as it is the premier Modern Orthodox institution. “YU is so much more than just a University. For many people, it is the next phase in one's Jewish growth. To open that opportunity for people who, prior to Makor, were excluded — that was the dream,” remarked Glicksman.
After he began to work for Makor full time in 2015, Glicksman approached the executive director, Jeanne Warman with the idea of partnering with YU for a special needs college experience; Warman’s agreement was contingent on a blessing from the Novominsker Rebbe. Once the Rebbe agreed, Glicksman approached longtime friend Rabbi Menachem Penner, Max and Marion Grill Dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, who, according to Glicksman “really helped us get to the ears of the right people and present this idea to the university.” After the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) approved the idea, the program began in 2017, only two years after Glicksman had approached Warman.
Like other students in YU, Makor students begin their day with morning seder. The students learn on the right side of the second floor of Glueck with their morning seder instructor, Rabbi Uri Feintuch. Rabbi Feintuch (RIETS ‘05), was previously working at the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence when Glicksman asked him to help start the Makor College Experience. Rabbi Feintuch immediately left his home in Lakewood and moved into a friend’s apartment in Teaneck, New Jersey before buying a house in Washington Heights, and then settling with his family in Chestnut Ridge, New York.
Reflecting on the first year of the program, Rabbi Feintuch said, “That was a wild year. I wasn’t asked to do this, but I felt that it was a needed, essential step to foster the unity and needed framework and backbone for the guys to be together as a solid group for the program to begin.”
After morning seder, the students go to their general studies classes which consist of three categories: liberal arts, life skills, and vocational exploration, that, according to Glicksman, “are really just aimed [at] having our students exposed to ideas and topics they might not have come across in the past.”
Liberal arts classes include subjects such as poetry and zoology, as well as First-Year Writing (FYWR), “because everyone at Yeshiva College takes FYWR,” as Glicksman stated. Life skills classes consist of courses such as “having conversations,” “joining a group,” “making friends,” as well as classes in mindfulness or dealing with emotions.
The vocational exploration in the Makor program aims to prepare students for the workforce after the conclusion of the program. Students explore different job opportunities or possibilities, as well as learn how to behave professionally and maintain professional relationships. Glicksman listed two values imparted to students in vocational exploration courses. First, having an interest in a career is as significant of a factor as “making money.” Second, the student’s career aspirations should be their own aspirations — not their parent’s projection or an unrealistic dream job.
During the course of the program, the students explore different career interests and learn about different professions by visiting various job sites, including PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Barclays, as well as a suspender factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, and not-for-profit firms, such as the Claims Conference, tech companies, as well as meeting with Makor’s vocational coordinator.
The curriculum, however, is only one aspect of the goals of the program’s goals; the campus life is another area in which the program aims to cater to its students. Like other students in YU, Makor students walk around campus freely and participate in clubs, including Chassidus and Sushi, the Baking Club, and the Woodworking Club. They can even assume leadership positions in clubs; Makor students are on the boards of Music Verse and the Improv Club.
According to Glicksman, when representatives from the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities visited the Makor program at YU, they told him that of all the programs for people with intellectual disabilities they visited, the Makor program “was the first they saw that didn’t smack of ‘tokenism.’”
When inquired as to what YU students can do to help Makor, Glicksman said that more help is needed for night staff at the Makor house. Additionally, students should let the faculty of Makor know if one of their students is doing anything inappropriate. “Chesed can really be a double-edged sword,” he said. “It’s no chesed to allow people with disabilities to behave on campus in ways that would get them in trouble in the outside world, and it’s no chesed to tolerate behaviors once that will get our guys excluded in the future. If you feel one of our guys might need a refresher on a specific social skill, let us know.”
Commenting on his experience in the Makor program, Yehoshua Fineberg (Makor ’20) said, “I love all the Bochrim and all the rebbeim. I love Makor because it gives everyone the opportunity to be a part of YU whether you have a disab[ility] or not and I get to be a part of all the Heights events, even though it can be hard because we don’t get the ystud emails.”
Regarding a Makor program for the Beren Campus, Glicksman said, “We would love to open up a women’s program at Stern. The main sticking point is housing. If you find me someone who can sponsor two apartments in midtown Manhattan, I would open up a women’s program tomorrow.”
Discussing his overall impression of the program so far, Glicksman reflected, “Having this program is a dream come true, both for me personally and for our participants, and we have been totally and warmly embraced by just about every facet of campus.”
Photo Caption: Students of the Makor program
Photo Credit: Makor Disability Services