By: Elazar Abrahams and Zahava Fertig  | 

2020: A YU Year in Review

2020 was a year for the history books. The past 366 days are widely considered to be a total dumpster fire, yet even among the disaster of a worldwide pandemic, we have a lot to be thankful for. Especially in our little corner of the world — Yeshiva University — the year was littered with special moments of connection, iconic victories, and yes, plenty of memes. As easy as it is to knock our beloved college, we really do appreciate the tremendous efforts everyone on staff, from professors to the maintenance crew, showed during such a tumultuous period. As 2021 arrives, we decided to look back at the year that was and highlight some of our favorite bits.

In no particular order, here are the top Yeshiva University moments of 2020.

The Macs’ Championship Run, and Beyond

Hold up, that was this year? Believe it or not, the YU Men’s Basketball team won the Skyline Conference championship on March 1, 2020. The squad’s regular season was itself historic, but now, with an incredible win streak of 27 games, the Maccabees were headed for the NCAA tournament in the school’s second ever appearance.

Unsurprisingly, these former Yeshiva League ballers breezed past the first round handily on March 6, defeating Worcester Polytechnic University 102-78. It seemed as if the Macs were doing the impossible, and the decisive victory was proof that we were going all the way. Uncertainty loomed in the background, as the university had canceled classes for a few days after the novel coronavirus had infected a student. The team played their second round match in an empty gym, although even without the in-person support from fans, they dominated the court, eliminating Penn State Harrisburg 102-83.

Advancing to the sweet 16! The worldwide Jewish community rooting for them! What could possibly go wrong? But as we know, the NCAA pulled the plug on the tournament the afternoon of March 12, just a day before the Macs were poised to beat Randolph-Macon College in round three. It was heartbreaking, but let’s treasure the victories up until that point. The 2019-20 Maccabees turned a former West Wing punchline into national headlines, and we’ll forever remember getting to cheer them on in the Max Stern Athletic Center. As one Commentator reporter wrote at the time, last year’s Macs have an “unequivocal claim as the best team YU has ever fielded.” Each member of the roster is now a legitimate Jewish celebrity, and the world better watch out for the upcoming season’s tip-off…

The Commentator’s First Ever Summer Issue

Allow us to give ourselves a pat on the back. Normally, The Commentator would publish its first issue of the academic year in the fall, when all students are back on campus. In this “unprecedented” year of “robust” craziness, however, The Commie released the first issue of its 86th edition online on July 14. There were simply so many news stories to cover, opinions to draft and loads of 7up/7down jokes begging to be written. Under the guidance of Editor-in-Chief Yosef Lemel, Managing Editor Elisheva Kohn and Executive Editor Yitzchak Carroll, your favorite paper kept the student body updated on important stories like the departure of SVP Josh Joseph, administrators’ salaries, Rabbi Lamm zt”l’s passing, and whether or not we’d ever see campus again.

The COVID Code of Conduct Video

No, you didn’t dream this one. Grab your passport and buckle up for this August 26 YouTube release, in which a woman dressed as a flight attendant walks around the Wilf Campus and vaguely explains how YU will keep you safe when you return to their halls in just a few weeks. Instantly, this informational film was memed into oblivion, with jokes of the depicted coed classes, butchered mask wearing and the fact that nothing substantial was actually mentioned clogging our Facebook feeds. This was also the first time we saw the COVID-19 survey’s green, thumbs-up smiley face, who would soon become our best friend. This video’s impact is rivaled only by the follow up installment that included President Ari Berman’s infamous hand sanitizer squeeze.

Is it ridiculous that YU spent money hiring an outside firm to create this three-minute clip? Yes. Despite that, did we love that it gave us all so much to bond over? Also, yes. You can watch the video HERE.

Shoshana Schechter Named Dean

On April 7, students were notified that Ms. Shoshana Schechter had been named the associate dean for Torah Studies at Stern College for Women (SCW), a brand new position. Herself a graduate of SCW and Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Schechter has had a storied career at YU. She began as an adjunct professor in 1998 and has been teaching Bible classes ever since. In 2004, she founded the Mechina Program, which accommodates SCW students who did not receive a formal Jewish education before college. Her promotion to associate dean represented a big step in women’s Torah learning and a demonstration of the administration's commitment to making Jewish studies a focal point of the oft-ignored downtown campus.

Since taking on the role, Schechter has appeared in YU ad campaigns standing alongside other women Torah leaders, organized numerous shiurim and programming for undergraduates on and off campus, and striven towards her stated goal of making Stern a “makom Torah on all levels.” Going forward, she hopes to tackle low enrollment in advanced Jewish studies courses, while still teaching multiple classes herself. We stan!

The Computer Science Department Blows Up (In a Good Way)

As political science and English majors, we couldn’t explain what computer science is if we tried. That being said, we’re so happy that YU seems to care about it so much! On April 7, Yeshiva College’s Computer Science Department announced a new four-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) track, in addition to the existing three-year track option for a Bachelor of Arts. Students who declare enrollment in the B.S. program have a lighter Jewish studies requirement than other YC students.

The boosted course offerings and rising popularity of the field also became a focal point of YU’s advertising. Take a look at any YU admissions social media page, and it’s evident that nearly all the students highlighted are CompSci majors. We can’t blame them — clearly a strong Computer Science Department is a draw to those who are technologically inclined; according to the annual President’s Report, 380 YC students and 186 SCW students enrolled in Computer Science classes in 2020. The Stern CompSci majors are even getting matching sweatshirts. We aren’t jealous of the swag as much as we are of the plethora of job opportunities awaiting you guys after graduation.

Just don’t get us started on the Katz School’s Cybersecurity graduate program.

‘Good Shtick! With Zack’ Premieres

In the early days of quarantine, Yeshiva Student Union President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) was brainstorming ways to keep the student body involved and connected from afar. A biweekly talk show “airing” on Zoom seemed like the perfect way to boost morale among the homebound. And it was! Peaking at about 70 live participants, (and with hundreds tuning in to watch the recordings on YouTube,) Good Shtick! With Zack was the light at the end of a dark week. Guests included head RAs, board members of clubs, student government officials and other students with interesting stories. The first season ran from March 10 to May 4, with another limited batch of episodes occurring from Sept. 8 to Sept. 22. In April, one Commentator editor decided to play into the shtick as well, and reviewed the show. We published the following:

The second episode, the first to feature the show’s cinematographically brilliant intro clip, succeeds where the first episode fails. Perhaps this is because the episode featured not one, but two, guests, which makes it less awkward and there’s more people to pop in and speak. Even the serious conversations feel fun and entertaining. This episode also saw an increase in audience participation, another area where this show excels, utilizing interactive polls and even allowing audience members to speak live on air! In one particularly inspiring moment of the episode, Zack strikingly declares, “My ultimate dream is to build Disney in Israel.”

Through working on the show, Greenberg actually met his bashert and is set to be married in just a few months. Mazal tov!

P/N Policy Instituted for Spring 2020

Sometimes there is justice in the world. On March 23, an email was sent out to all undergraduates announcing a new pass/no credit policy exclusive to final grades that spring semester. After a petition circulated around friend groups, the provost and deans recognized the hardships many students were facing in the heat of the pandemic and extended a helping hand. Subject to certain restrictions, students could opt to have any grade of C or higher changed to a P on their transcript, and receive full credit for the course. A grade of C- or below could be changed to an N, indicating that no credit was received while still masking a poor grade. This was in line with other colleges’ policies at the time.

Sy Syms School of Business students were limited to doing this for two courses that did not fulfill any major or minor requirements, while SCW and YC students had no limit on the number of classes they could P/N as long as they weren’t requirements for their majors. So the policy wasn’t perfect, but we were stuck at home, learning on a foreign platform called Zoom. We were adapting to a whole new vocabulary that included words like “asynchronous,” and phrases such as “unmute yourself.” Anything helped. This was also proof that student activism works, and it set up the fight a few months later to get the changed drop date reverted back to normal. In both instances, kudos to our student leaders and our administration for sitting down, discussing the problem and finding a solution.

The Return to Campus

Yeshiva University campuses reopened for undergraduate students on October 21, after eight brutal months of exile prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A true Kibbutz Galuyot. Our return was painstakingly slow and beyond stressful; move-in was even delayed from its original date due to fears of a post-Simchat Torah coronavirus spike. When approximately 550 students finally did get to enter the dorms, cafeterias, libraries and batei midrash again, it was smack in the middle of midterms week. With Hashem’s help, we made it work.

Pinch us, we kind of still can’t believe that we made it back. With mandatory COVID testing twice a week, enforced mask wearing and social distancing, things seem to be running smoothly. It has been amazing to see our friends in person again, and we hope that even more of them will join us on campus this coming semester. If we continue on this path, 2021 is shaping up to be a pretty bright year. Stay safe, everyone.
Photo caption: Taking a look back at Yeshiva University’s highlights of 2020
Photo credit: The Commentator