From the YSU President’s Desk: Why I Love YU
As my time at Yeshiva University nears a close, I wanted to reflect on my experiences and share some of the highs and lows of my time at YU. I believe I am the first two-term YSU President in history, having taken over in January 2020 when former YSU President Ariel Sacknovitz (SSSB ‘20) stepped down. I’m currently the only student council president who served as president during “normal” times before the pandemic, but more on that later.
My YU journey began Post-Pesach 2018. I came fresh off the Yachad Cruise Boat to Greece/Cyprus and nearly two years in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh. From my first day, I had one goal: to join the YU Cross Country team. I found out the captain’s number and texted him my running personal records and he was impressed. I had a private tryout with the captains and ran three miles in about 19-and-a-half minutes and became a member of the team — mission accomplished. I became very close to the guys on the Cross Country team and it has been my favorite part of YU.
Shortly after that experience, I became addicted to what is known as “Y-studs”: all-day, dozens of emails talking about cool events on campus. I’ve always been a “do-first, think later kind of guy.” One day, I noticed during student council elections for the spring that no one was running for YSU VP of Clubs. So, I figured why not try to win as a write-in. That day I posted in a bunch of WhatsApp groups and bothered some friends to write me in as their preferred candidate. With only being on campus for around two weeks and not knowing most of the students, I ended up receiving 23 votes, above the minimum 20 required to win as a write-in. But Josh Aranoff (YC ‘19) got 24. That was a heartbreaker.
The following fall, I returned to YU for my first full semester. One of the most underrated parts of being a student-athlete is the training week before school. YU takes all of the fall sports teams from both Wilf and Beren down to Maryland at a sleepaway camp called “Camp Airy.” That still is the best week of my time at YU and it was worth joining a fall team just for that. We would wake up at 6 a.m., do a run workout, eat an amazing breakfast of omelets, cereal, waffles, chocolate milk and more, then we would ice our legs and chill for a few hours, then a second run-workout, ice our legs and chill some more, and then watch movies together in the theatre room. It was amazing and had great co-ed vibes! It was like being a camper in a sleepaway camp all over again!
In October of that year, I decided to try again to run for student council and I signed up to run for YSU Sophomore Representative. I was up against three other candidates and some of my friends told me I wouldn’t have a chance of winning and that I shouldn’t try. That only motivated me to campaign harder. I put flyers up everywhere, texted my friends individually, and walked up to students to ask them to vote for me. I wasn’t going to risk losing by one vote again. This time I thankfully got 68 votes, beating the guy in second place by a margin of 48.
Throughout my time at YU, I’ve experienced a lot that YU has to offer. I participated in Torah Tours where I went to Memphis, Tennessee. I went with YUPAC to lobby for Israel in Washington DC in November 2019. I was on the Yoms Committee my first year. In January 2020 I went on the Rensop High-Tech Israel Trip where several of my peers and I spent the week in Israel visiting incredible Israeli companies. I became a writer for The Commentator and the YU Observer. I was also a resident advisor for a semester. Yes, that was me and not the terrorist Zack Greenberg. I attended Minyan Men three times, including throwing the first-ever Wilf floor party Shabbaton on Beren by reserving all 10 minyan men spots. One of my favorite parts was being the Stage Lighting director for the YCDS play, “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel.” It was an easy two-credit “A,” and Yaakov Siev, the star of the play, had me in tears at each performance.
My point is, YU was unreal. It’s so much fun and offers so many unique opportunities. Then my life got really interesting when Ariel Sacknovitz stepped down and I, as YSU VP of Clubs, became YSU president after fending off my first of many lawsuits. That was amazing when I officially became president. Everyone on campus was saluting me calling me, “Mr. President.” Life couldn’t be better. But then COVID hit and YU shutdown.
It’s incredible how in one day COVID just showed up and life as we know it has never been the same. I still vividly remember my last day in the Heights. Everyone was asking me when I was going to use my presidential powers to shut down YU. You could feel the atmosphere that everyone was nervous in the Cafe. With one message the next day, YU was shut down for the week, then until Purim, then until Pesach and then until October.
Like many of you, I was confined to my room over COVID. I remember during the early stages of COVID, YU kept sending out emails about Zoom training and Zoom this and Zoom that. I remember thinking, “Wow Zoom sucks!” One of my advisors and role models since my days in Moshava, Avi Schwartz (YC ‘14), who worked in OSL, asked me, “Zack, what are you going to do as president now that YU is closed? How are you going to help the people of YU?” For a few weeks, I didn’t know the answer. People kept asking me what I was up to and I always gave a funny remark. Several people kept telling me that I should start a podcast about what I’m up to in life. I kept brushing it off, but I was intrigued.
My epiphany came after a Commentator’s Purim edition article made fun of me and my story as a terrorist and it kept quoting me saying “That’s good shtick.” I do tend to use that expression a lot. After reading that article a light bulb went off in my head. I decided I was going to start the world’s first Zoom podcast to help bring the YU community together and help show students that Zoom can be enjoyable and I was going to call it “Good Shtick! With Zack.” I quickly designed a flyer and sent it to OSL and told them about my plan. Each episode would have a different guest student and we would have fun discussions, debates and challenges. We would reflect on our current COVID situation, our time at YU and more.
Before the first episode on Monday, March 16, 2020, I remember being terrified that no one would show up and it would be a complete bust. People would just chaff me for even attempting such a crazy idea. A few minutes before the episode began, I was pacing back and forth in my room super nervous feeling like I was about to vomit. I got a call from my friend Aaron Wruble (SSSB ‘21) who said to me, “Hey Zack. I’m trying to get onto your show, but I can’t. It’s maxed out.” Before the episode even began the Zoom maxed out at 100 students. I couldn’t believe it. That was one of the best moments of my life.
The first episode was fun and I got a lot of positive feedback. In the next episode, I wanted to bring in a female guest and invited Ariella Etshalom (SCW ‘20). In advance of episode three I asked my friend Yael Feder (SCW ‘20) to join and invite one of her female friends as well. She said she had this friend Ahuva Wakschlag (SSSB ‘20) and she would be interested in joining. I responded, “That’s a nuts last name. She’s gotta change it to Zackshlag.” On Wednesday, March 18, Ariella and Ahuva, as a joke, decided to video call me to interrogate me about why I wanted them on my show. We ended up chatting and joking around. Ariella thought Ahuva and I would make a cute couple so, after 10 minutes, she left the video chat leaving me alone with Ahuva. I’ll be honest, I thought Ahuva was very cute from the start and I decided to stay on and joke around with her. I figured I was probably never going to see her again anyways. We ended up talking for another 30 minutes and then texted the next few days. I asked her out that Sunday and she said yes! We did our episode of Good Shtick! that Monday and began Zoom dating for two months without meeting. She lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, and I lived in Bergenfield, New Jersey. Finally, on May 14, Ahuva came to Teaneck and stayed by her sibling, and we met in person at long last. Thankfully, Ahuva and I got engaged last November and are G-d willing getting married on June 13.
Even though I no longer host Good Shtick!, I feel as though it never really ended. I used to pride myself on knowing so many students’ names and being outgoing and friendly. I loved meeting new people and talking about anything from Star Wars, sports, movies, Torah, stocks and more. The past year has been challenging, for me even more so than last year. At least last year we were all in the same boat of 100% virtual. This year, most of us, myself included, are tired of virtual events after a long day of Zoom school and just want to be with others. I’ve been your student council president mostly remote; I’ve been to campus a dozen times or so. I don’t know many of the younger students and that stinks.
Thankfully, it has been a great year for me and I’ve gotten to run many awesome programming both virtually and in-person. My favorite has been the Q&A sessions with various celebrities such as Hotdog eating Champion Joey Chestnut, NBA legend Amare Stoudemire, Youtube Comedian Ryan George, Stock Analyst Trey “Trades” Collins and Hollywood Director Saul Blinkoff. Shout out to the YSU VP of Clubs and my best friend Jared Benjamin (YC ‘21) for co-hosting those with me! Additionally, I’ve run a bunch of Digital Dov virtual trivia contests, concerts with John King and Simcha Leiner, and a virtual hypnotist show. In-person wise this year I’ve helped organize AMC movie nights, comedy show nights (shoutout to SJ Tannenbaum), bike trips, paintball, snow tubing, and hopefully more to come. It’s been nice, but it’s tough over Zoom and wearing masks to meet new people. Another big thing I pushed for as President was adding the Katz and Makor representatives to the student council. It has been especially a pleasure working with Makor Representative Akiva Sasson (Makor ‘23) in including the Makor students in more student programming.
With the COVID situation getting better and vaccines being rolled out, I hope you all can get to experience the same YU I had my first year and three-quarters. In normal times, YU has so much to offer and the experiences that I had are just a drop in the bucket. Every student has their story on what they love most about YU.
My advice to you is to try out programming, clubs or courses that interest you. Don’t just follow what your friends do. Take initiative and try new things. That’s how I met my fiance, and we never would have met if I wasn’t bold enough to start my own Zoom talk show or if she wasn’t brave enough to join as a guest. My second piece of advice is to find your role models. That could be networking with YU alumni, your professors, your rebbeim, an older classmate or a guy on your floor. Pick and choose different aspects you like in their lives and apply them to yours. I’ve become very close with my shiur rebbe, professors who have helped me with figuring out my job situation, my Cross Country coach and previous captains, the housing team, Susan Bauer from my Rensop trip and the OSL team working with the student council. There are so many great people at YU for you to meet that can change your life. Also go to the Sky Cafe for lunch every day. There’s way better food there than the regular cafe.
With any position of responsibility and my shticky nature, I’m sure I’ve upset some of you before. I want to publicly apologize for any time I may have done something to upset you. Please feel free to text me so I can privately apologize to you. I tried my best to make YU a more awesome place, and I hope I have helped in making your experience better. To end off, as Lloyd Christmas said in my favorite comedy movie, Dumb and Dumber, “I hate goodbyes!” I hope this is not goodbye to any of you but more see you soon. Please keep and touch! Au revoir (until we meet again)!
Photo Caption: Always good shtick
Photo Credit: Zach Greenberg