By: Ariel Kahan  | 

YU During the Pandemic: Perspectives from a New Student

Two months ago, I was sitting at an empty gate in Ben Gurion Airport thinking about the future. While I was reflecting on the great moments of the past year-and-a-half of yeshiva in Israel, I was also apprehensively pondering the start of my career at Yeshiva University. It was hard to envision life at YU because I knew it was going to be very different from the campus I visited in 12th grade; I remembered a packed beis medrash, a full lunchroom and crowded elevators. Needless to say, I understood that this was not the current reality in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many others who spent the fall semester at home were as curious as me about this new campus experience.  

Fortunately, I think the experience has been overwhelmingly positive for most people. YU students have managed to stay happy and productive during the time period. I think the way Yeshiva University has come forth and made most aspects of college life work can teach us the importance of hakarat hatov and making the best of an unideal situation. 

Every person I have met has been exceptionally warm and welcoming. The rebbeim have been proactive about introducing themselves and checking in to see how I am doing. I have enjoyed meeting the guys in my shiur. Seder and shiur generally allow for a lot of socialization (at a distance) because they are in person. Living in the dorms has also been a good experience so far. The RAs and residents try their best to make the most of the experience with the resources possible. For example, we had a Dunkin Donuts breakfast that everyone on my floor enjoyed, providing a space for good bonding and fun experiences. The negative aspects have included the heat in the dorms, or lack thereof, and the constant mask wearing, even on the floor. However, these complaints are minor.

Classes, for me, have been a mixed bag, however. My professors are engaging, and the content is interesting, but the experience is not the same over Zoom. There is a reason there was a big scramble to get a spot in the “in-person classes” this semester. For a multitude of reasons, it is much harder to focus on Zoom. Similarly, it is much harder to socialize and get to know people in your Zoom class. When, for this article, I interviewed a fellow student about why he likes his in-person classes better than his Zoom classes he said, “You just feel a sense of community. It is much more personable and you get to meet new people.”  In general, people are trying to “get through” their Zoom classes in order to get to the parts of their day that they enjoy. It seems like everyone is looking forward to the day when all classes are in person again. 

A lot is happening on campus every day. Many student-run organizations and extracurriculars are active despite the challenges. The gym and workout room are basically open all day for student use. If a student has a break between classes and wants to catch mincha or maariv, he is guaranteed to find a minyan. It is amazing how vibrant the campus is despite the challenges presented.

In terms of COVID-19, it is very clear that YU is trying its absolute best to make the experience as good as possible while adhering to all the rules and regulations that they are required to follow. For example, ideally, everyone would do morning seder in the beis, together. However, under current conditions, this is not possible; learning in person in a different location with your shiur is a viable alternative that was implemented. While having the luxury of showing up to the gym on an ad hoc basis is preferable to the current situation, having to sign up in advance is not the worst thing ever. Yes, the constant testing is annoying, but it is necessary — and they provide good chocolate. Wearing masks all day was very tough at first, but is something to which I — and I think many others — have quickly adjusted. Students and faculty are trying to make the most of the unideal conditions. They understand that this is the best alternative. 

I asked a fellow student who was home last semester whether he liked the campus experience better than being at home. His response was unequivocally positive: “Being on campus this semester has been a game changer compared to being at home. I’m really enjoying having in-person chavrusas, shiur and classes. My productivity has skyrocketed being on campus. Overall, I’m really enjoying being in a campus environment with other guys.”  Based on what I have seen, this tends to be the predominant attitude. 

Living through this experience can teach us all important life lessons about hakarat hatov and making the most of a difficult situation. Often in life, we are so concerned with our stresses and what is not going quite right that we take for granted all the work that others are doing to ensure our success. We can be so worried about focusing on our Zoom class that we take for granted the hours of work our professors put in to making the class as easy as possible on a Zoom platform.  We can be so bummed out about not doing morning seder in the beis medrash that we forget how much effort and logistics were required for YU to find a different location to accommodate every shiur. Going through this experience should teach all of us that we have to be thankful even when life is not ideal. 

The same is true about making the most of this situation. It is important to recognize that just because something is not typical or ideal does not mean there is nothing to gain. There are still a lot of ways to gain and grow. We just have to do it in an atypical way. 

Overall, I think YU students and faculty are doing a great job handling the situation they were dealt with. Both the faculty and students have contributed positively to this new experience. It is imperative that we keep up this trend. Hopefully in the near future, the context in which articles like this are being written will be a memory of the past.


Photo credit: Yeshiva University 

Photo caption: Students returned to campus in the fall amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.