By: Akiva Levy  | 

The Avatar Has Returned… to the Wilf Campus

Historians debate the most important event in recent decades. The end of the Cold War? The invention of the computer? The mass production of cars? It’s a contentious discussion. According to a new group of YU students, however, everything changed when the fire nation attacked.

Launched just a few months ago in fall 2020, the Avatar: The Last Airbender Club has become one of the most noteworthy groups on campus. The brainchild of Aharon Zazulia (SSSB ‘21), Ben Spanjer (YC ‘22) and Itai Savin (YC ‘22), the club honors the popular Nickelodeon cartoon — affectionately known as “ATLA” — that ran from 2005 through 2008. “This club was a long time in the making,” said Zazulia. “I applied for it a few years ago but it didn’t come into fruition until last fall.” As many students rush from class to class, the ATLA club takes a moment to appreciate the child within us all.

Avatar: The Last Airbender introduced viewers to the adventures of Aang, Katara and Sokka, a powerful trio of children that live in a world where people have “bending” powers and can control the elements of water, earth, fire and air. The series tracked Aang’s quest to master all four elements and save the world. Along the way, they meet characters like the heroic and comedic Toph and legendary antihero Zuko. All three seasons, along with the sequel show, The Legend of Korra, were added to Netflix in May of last year. This newfound ease of access to a treasured childhood classic surely influenced the creation of the YU club.

The ATLA club is devoted to remembering and appreciating the greatness of this show. The men-only club’s most active space is its Whatsapp chat. Comprised of 42 YU students, the group thread features Avatar memes and active discussions and debates on an almost daily basis. “What’s awesome is seeing almost every guy get involved in some way, whether that be a meme, a comment on a particular episode they might be watching, or starting a conversation about something that happened in the show,” Spanjer told The Commentator. Indeed, the messages vary from a trip down memory lane where students will reminisce about a favorite scene, to someone pointing out a hidden easter egg, to complex discourse about how the central four elements are featured in Jewish thought.

It’s one of the club’s aspects Zazulia feels the most proud of. “Where else would you be able to have a Rosh Hashana d’var Torah about Avatar: The Last Airbender, or a conversation that included the characters Aang or Zuko [along with] words like ‘hava aminah,’ ‘chap,’ and ‘kesher.’ I love it!”

Last semester, the club hosted an in-person watch party and trivia contest in Belfer Hall. “We watched the first two episodes of the show to kick things off, and then played an incredible Kahoot game made by our very own Ben,” described Zazulia. Attendees left the event with a goodie bag: inspired by the character Iroh’s love of tea, a variety of tea bag flavors were distributed. The night allowed club members to gather together in celebration of their passion.

What is it about this “children’s program” that still speaks to college students in their 20s? Well, the series is ranked as the 11th best TV show of all time on IMDb and won multiple Emmys, but there must be something more. Zazulia aptly described the joy of the club, saying the ATLA group is “able to couch important and serious ideas like love, friendship, loss, revenge, growth and more in a ‘kids’ show.’” It’s true.  Viewers can vouch that there is beauty in the messages expressed in each episode. The world of four elements constructs a model where many types of people can relate and grow. The way it speaks to the child within us all is almost cathartic.

Photo Caption: ATLA might be the hottest new club on campus.

Photo Credit: Nickelodeon