By: Shlomit Ebbin  | 

Events, Shiurim, and Student Services Move Online as University Goes Virtual

As Yeshiva University moved its classes online, school and student run extracurricular events and initiatives have adapted as well. Students, faculty members and clubs have turned to the online video conferencing service Zoom to host events such as shiurim, mishmar, Counseling Center sessions and talk shows for the YU student body to partake in from the comfort of their homes.

The student councils joined together to create “whereverYUare” WhatsApp groups, platforms they use to inform students of YU’s virtual extracurricular events, starting on March 15. After the initial whereverYUare WhatsApp group exceeded the limit of 256 members, another was formed to accommodate an additional 100 people. Admins of the groups regularly send out Zoom links to various social events such as shiurim, Counseling Center speeches, movie nights and other activities run by students and staff. Clubs have been advertising their events by sending out emails via the new Berenevents/Wilfevents email system or by posting on YU Facebook groups.

To make these social events possible, Student Council and the Office of Student Life are continuously working to get events approved, schedule events and send out Zoom links and updates. “Just because we left campus doesn’t mean we stopped having lives outside of class,” said Syms Student Council-Beren President Miriam Schloss (SSSB ‘20). “To the best of our ability, we are trying to do what we have been doing all year — making programming that benefits the student body. A lot has changed in the past few weeks, but that definitely hasn’t.” 

Multiple shiurim have been offered for Beren students every day at different times throughout the afternoon. Segments such as “Torah With the Roshei Yeshiva” and “Netivot Shalom on the Parsha” with Beren Campus Rabbi Jacob Bernstein continue as they did on campus, now on Zoom, along with many other shiurim led by different speakers. On the Wilf side, Undergraduate Torah Studies (UTS) continues to send out emails regarding chaburot and shiurim taking place via Zoom and has also provided WhatsApp groups for students who would like to receive updates about Torah-related events. Roshei yeshiva such as Rabbi Mordechai Willig and Rabbi Yonah Reiss gave several coed Zoom shiurim on relevant issues to the coronavirus and topics on Pesach over the last two weeks. Additionally, coed student-run mishmar began last Thursday over Zoom with approximately 20 people in attendance and will continue to take place weekly.

Despite the health crisis, the Torah Activities Council (TAC) sent 500 copies of the Beren Campus Haggadah, which contains 96 pages of artwork and article submissions from over 50 students on campus, to students all over the United States. The PDF version of the haggadah was sent out via email to students all around the world. “We mailed 500 copies all across the United States so that every person would experience that feeling of opening a special book for them, and for some of them, seeing their name and biographical information published alongside their work,” said TAC President Bella Adler (SCW ‘20) about the initiative.

Even with complications caused by social distancing, organizations within YU continue to provide chesed opportunities for students. TAC recently partnered with DOROT’s Caring Calls program, which aims to build social connections between the younger and older populations. Similarly, Music Vs., a national organization that works with both the elderly and other people who are in need of company, has also adjusted its programming to fit the needs the virus brings. YU students who participate in these programs have been calling elderly people who are stuck in their homes and in need of company. Marnie Weingarten (SCW ‘22), co-director of Music Vs., explained, “We are trying to combat loneliness brought on by the virus while simultaneously fostering intergenerational relationships.”

YU academic resources have been open virtually with campuses closed. Both the Wilf and Beren Writing Centers are offering online tutoring appointments that can be booked using their websites, and, respectively. According to an email sent by the Wilf Writing Center, many students have been taking advantage of the new virtual appointment system, with only a few available spots left before Passover break.

The Career Center continues to have walk-in appointments — now offered online — Monday through Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., in addition to 30 minute advising appointments and live chat for questions and answers during the day. Academic Advising is also providing virtual appointments which can be made using their regular website. According to emails from Academic Advising, peer tutoring is available to book for virtual appointments on the Beren campus, and students on the Wilf campus should reach out to peer tutors to see if they are continuing with Zoom tutoring.

The Counseling Center has continued to remain active and provide YU students with support. All individual therapy sessions are being conducted by phone or video sessions, and the counseling staff held conference calls for each campus individually on March 13 to discuss how to help manage the anxiety and feelings that these circumstances can produce, which approximately 50 students from each campus attended. They have also sent out emails advising students on how they can take care of their mental health. “Drop in” counseling sessions for both men and women — facilitated by Dr. Debra Alper, a psychologist at the YU Counseling Center, and Dr. Jill Katz, professor of archaeology and academic adviser at Stern — were held on March 19 and 26, to “share tips on navigating these difficult times,” according to an email from the Counseling Center.  

Additionally, the Counseling Center brought in Director of Staff Development and Clinical Research at Camp HASC Rabbi Dr. Benjy Epstein, who gave a session titled “A Practical Introduction to Mindfulness” on March 23. The session reached its 100 person limit capacity within minutes. “Dr. Epstein’s talk helped me embrace the uncertainty of the situation we are in,” said Jeremy Koffsky (YC ‘22). Dr. Epstein also gave a session on March 30. On March 31, Dr. Rochelle Aurubel co-led a group with the Career Center to address internships, how to pursue opportunities and how to manage uncertainty. “We have been doing several types of things to stay connected with students and to provide support as best we can without the usual face to face contact,” said Director of Counseling Staff Yael Muskat.   

Beyond programs addressing students’ struggles with the stress of the pandemic, student councils took charge of an initiative to address students struggling with productivity. A virtual library “co-working space” was launched on Zoom when classes moved online, and remained open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the first week of online classes for students who needed the motivation of seeing other students working around them to get their work done.

These sessions were discontinued after the first week, according to Schloss. “Since [the] majority of the whereverYUare events are happening at night (EST),” explained Schloss, “we could only have the ‘library’ open during the day and it wasn't very well attended, so we discontinued the sessions.”

In the last two weeks, YSU President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) has been hosting “Good Shtick! with Zack,” a lighthearted talk show on Zoom in which he interviews YU students on various topics including dating during the coronavirus pandemic, the halachic implications of water parks, and other relevant issues. The show takes place Mondays and Thursdays at 10 p.m. and has attracted roughly 80 viewers a night. Greenberg shared with The Commentator that his show is a way for people to feel connected and experience something new during the day. “I just want it to be fun,” he said. 

“I think it’s amazing that Zack can bring everyone together during such a hard time,” said Ahuva Wakschlag (SSSB ‘20), who was featured on “Good Shtick! with Zack” on March 23. “Even though we’re social distancing, everyone who comes together to watch Zack’s show really feels like they are part of a community.”

Student leaders have been adapting their clubs to the new virtual system as well. The Stern College Dramatics Society (SCDS) put together a script reading of “Legally Blonde,” which was live-streamed on Thursday, March 26. Other clubs who have run Zoom events include the Social Media Club, which ran a content creation workshop on March 24; the Education Club, which hosted a female-only meet-and-greet event on March 31; and the Nutrition Club, which will be hosting a healthy eating event featuring certified integrative nutrition health coach Gila Guzman, known as Coach Gila, on April 1.

These social events have provided a way for students to stay connected to each other and maintain a campus life atmosphere without a physical campus to bring them together. “Taking part in these virtual events reminds me how fortunate I am to be a part of the YU community,” said Zahava Fertig (SCW ‘21). “Seeing so many familiar faces helps create a sense of comfort and camaraderie.”

Photo Caption: Social events take place online via video conferencing service Zoom. 
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons