By: Elisheva Kohn  | 

A Conclusion

As we approach the conclusion of a peculiar academic year, and by extension, an unusual yet successful year at The Commentator, I find myself in awe of just how anticlimactic it all seems. Covering the happenings at YU, graduating university and transitioning to real adulting despite marking more than a year since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic — life has been full of drama this past year, and it appears that there is none left to celebrate this particular occasion: the end of Vol. 86. If I may, these are my concluding thoughts. 

From the start, our team was acutely aware that this year would be different, and that the student body, as well as faculty members and staff, relied on us to keep the YU community informed. My co-editors and the entire team rose to the occasion; we successfully published The Commentator’s first ever summer issue before the academic year even started, and transitioned to virtual editorial meetings and events. Our team dedicated hours to The Commentator’s mission, bypassing technical issues and time difference, and triumphing despite the overall sentiment of uncertainty that was present in the YU community. Above all, we were cognizant of our responsibility to the historical record of The Commentator and made sure that our articles, especially news reports, were thoroughly written so future students and editors would be able to use our coverage as a primary source to examine how the coronavirus pandemic shaped YU — for better or worse. 

Student journalism, and more importantly, the collective student voice, is more crucial than ever, and has successfully implemented countless positive changes at YU — the most monumental of which was the administration’s decision to hold an in-person commencement ceremony despite an earlier announcement that it would be conducted virtually. This reversal, to some extent, is a direct result of all the students — student government leaders, Commentator team members and so many others — who respectfully and consistently pressed the university to reverse their original decision regarding graduation. When I first discovered that commencement would be held in-person, I was ecstatic; not only because it meant that I would be able to celebrate the conclusion of the most wonderful and complex years of my life with my loved ones, but also because it marked an unparalleled success story for the collective student voice. I urge my successors, as well as any reader involved on campus, to let their voices be heard. Ultimately, I do very much believe that the university has our best interests at heart, and it is our duty (as well as theirs) to make sure that we are included in every major decision.

This past year, our editors reported on myriad events: some internal and some public, some focused on the Jewish community and others more universalistic, some on American affairs and some more global in nature, many celebratory and others more tragic. We covered the passings of prominent Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Norman Lamm and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, numerous coronavirus-related updates that directly affected the academic, spiritual and social lives of the YU student body, YU’s policies on LGBTQ inclusivity on campus and most recently, the Accellion security breach which resulted in the release of students and employees’ personal information. We expanded a then-recently introduced column, titled “We Asked, Y(O)U Answered,” which aimed to provide a platform for student sentiment on issues ranging from the 2020 presidential election to the coronavirus vaccine, and continued the tradition of regularly publishing archival pieces. The Commentator served as a “kinetic vehicle” for students to express their opinions on a variety of topics, including the Uighur crisis, academia’s shortcomings, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, as well as an epic showdown between latkes and hamantaschen. We interviewed faculty members and outgoing university officials, reported on the Macs’ incredible season and analyzed the student body’s political leanings over the years.  We also had the honor of publishing pieces from members of the YU administration and rabbinic leadership, such as Dean Noam Wasserman and Rabbi Yosef Blau, among others. It is a testament to The Commentator’s perseverance that these articles, which are only a fraction of the totality of our publications, were successfully published during an extraordinarily crucial year in YU history.

This feat would not have been possible without the dedication and talent of our editors and staff. Our news, features, opinions and business editors, staff writers, as well as those on the web, business, social media and layout teams have formed a true chevra — with a we-can-do-it attitude, and above all, a sense of camaraderie. Our readers may not be aware how much effort it takes to recruit writers and manage a team, as well as write, research, edit, format, publicize and print issues — it figuratively takes a village to do so successfully. I am thrilled by the appointment of Sruli Fruchter as the incoming editor-in-chief — he has a keen sense of journalism and its moral implications, and has proven himself worthy of that title since his very first article for The Commentator. 

The press has always had a complex relationship with the Office of Communications at YU, but Executive Director of Communications Mechal Haas never made us feel like we were rooting for two different teams; quite the contrary — she always emphasized how much she cared about the YU student body, and I can attest to her genuineness. A former editor-in-chief once wrote that Mechal is a “true professional” and that “YU is lucky to have her” — I couldn’t agree more. 

When I first arrived in the United States to pursue my degree at YU in August 2018, the thought that I would one day publish my final editorial in The Commentator would not have crossed my mind. As I reflect on my experience at the paper and YU, I would like to dedicate a few paragraphs to the individuals who guided me to where I am today.

I joined The Commentator during orientation week; at the time, I lacked confidence in my English writing skills and had no intention of ever exposing my writing to the public. Nevertheless, I had been reading The Commentator prior to my arrival at YU to learn more about the institution and its community and was passionate about college journalism, and so I applied to be social media manager under the leadership of former Editor-in-Chief Benjamin (Benjy) Koslowe. Expressing my gratitude to Benjy in a mere few lines is practically an impossible feat. Over the course of my three years at The Commentator, he has consistently served as a source of guidance, offering words of praise and critique effectively, and above all, leading by example with unparalleled leadership and dedication to this paper. It is thanks to Benjy that I am where I am today — in more ways than one could possibly imagine. 

It is under former Editor-in-Chief Avi Hirsch’s leadership that I transitioned from social media managing to writing, and finally, news editing. Avi believed in my potential, regularly took my ideas into account when making decisions that would affect the paper, and above all, instilled within The Commentator the value of doing the right thing. I am honored to have worked with Avi, as well as to call him my friend. 

Beyond the echelons of “Commies,” as members of the Commentator team refer to one another, there were many others who have contributed to my time at The Commentator, YU and my overall experience in the United States. Zahava Fertig, 7 up/7 down columnist and my roommate of three years, and Elyanna Saperstein, my long-time confidante, have time and again opened their homes to me, brainstormed articles with me and offered a listening ear when things got tough. Neeli Fagan — whom we fondly refer to as “The Commentator’s Top Commenter” for her ability to provide quotes on and for practically every issue — deserves an honorable mention not only for her service to the paper, but also for her friendship and kindness to me.

I am honored to have learned from stellar instructors at YU, and I am especially grateful to the following professors: Dr. Ronnie Perelis for his commitment to highlighting international students on campus and offering guidance for various projects of mine, Dr. Hill Krishnan for sparking my interest in nuclear security, Rabbi Dr. Soloveichik from whom I had the pleasure of learning Torah and philosophy from at various different stages of my life, Dr. David Glaser for exposing me to the beautiful works of Hector Berlioz and Erich Korngold, Prof. Alan Broder for his genuine interest in his students’ (myself included) success, and Dr. Maria Zaitseva for her words of wisdom and impeccable mentorship of my thesis. 

Beyond the classroom, many other members of the YU community have left a deep impression on me; I will always look back fondly at my conversations with security guards Dale and Jorge, as well as the homey atmosphere of Shabbat on the Beren Campus — made possible by Rabbi Jacob and Penina Bernstein. I am also thankful to Director of International Admissions and Recruitment Rabbi Ari Solomont, who helped facilitate my enrollment to YU and was always available to answer any questions I had as an international student.

My home in Vienna, Austria, boasts an extensive archive of Commentator issues, arguably the most comprehensive in all of Europe. To this day, my mother insists on me bringing physical copies along (not to mention swag items) every time I fly home, and she reads them cover to cover. She, along with my father, always fostered my curiosity and ambition and raised me and my two brothers — both of whom are proud Commie fans and very much in the know about YU affairs — in a home filled with laughter and love. I am the first in my family to graduate university (and God willing, my family will be watching me at commencement in-person!), and I know how meaningful it is to them that the institution I chose to attend is YU. My parents are a testament to what it means to never stop learning in life, and I owe them everything. 

Acharon acharon chaviv — Hillel has been a source of joy and adventure in a year of chaos, and a devoted supporter of my endeavors at The Commentator and beyond. I am grateful for his edits, but more importantly, for our partnership. 

Bidding farewell to The Commentator has proven to be sentimental. For three years, the paper played a central role in my life — not quite an “extracurricular,” but a meaningful endeavor that, admittedly, took up more time than my course load. Nevertheless, I am confident in The Commentator’s incoming leadership and team, as well as its continuity, which are based on a strong, 86-year-old legacy of dedicated students. Whatever the future may hold, I look forward to regularly reading this paper, as well as attending #commiesocials and offering advice to current and future members of The Commie. I wish them all the best.

Photo Caption: The author distributing copies of The Commentator in Midtown Manhattan on a rainy day in 2019.
Photo Credit: Elisheva Kohn