A Year of Possibility
The future is like someone sitting at a kitchen table surrounded by empty seats, unassigned place settings and an open door. Who walks in is anyone’s guess. Will they dine with Pain or Pleasure? Will Disappointment come and dominate the conversation, or can Something Better get a word in? There are no guarantees, only uncertainties.
The unknown is scary, and anything linked to the unknown is, by association, also scary. That’s why it’s so easy to be repelled by the idea of change. Change means different, and while different can mean better, it can also mean worse. For many, that’s not a risk worth taking, and they’d rather avoid the kitchen table altogether. But that’s a mistake.
As the world re-emerges in this post-COVID era, we are faced with a new realm of possibility, and that can be daunting. Naturally, there’s an instinct to try and return to the way things were, to “go back to normal.” This is especially apropos as we begin this year at YU. With two grades who have never experienced a COVID-absent year and another that only went through one such semester, we have, in many ways, a clean slate set before us. Any precedents for campus life, campus culture or academics are now the ghost of an old historical record, a remnant of what was, not what is. We are now the hosts of YU’s kitchen table — we decide who joins us, and we determine the rules of etiquette. This year is a year of possibility, but to make the most of it, we need to put in the work.
Positive change is not made in a vacuum. It requires candid reflection and humble accountability, abilities that allow us to see where we were, where we are and where we want to be. In some areas, this process will not be too difficult. Take, for example, considerations about what improvements can be made in YU’s Shabbos life, campus programming and academic opportunities. Understandably, practically everyone would warmly embrace those goals, and all that’s left is the plan to follow through. In contrast, change in other areas will not come easily. In fact, it may not come at all, and if it does, it can be drastically damaging.
These areas are the “controversial” ones, the ones people love to read about but don’t want to speak about, the gossip people adore but the exposés they abhor. We all know what falls into these camps: LGBTQ issues, sexual assault in our communities, administrative failures, etc. It’s easy to see these topics as abstractions that make for good Facebook posts, but the reality is that these are real issues happening in real time affecting real people. When it comes to seeking change in these areas, it’s not easy. Here, change begins with difficult conversations and communal reckoning, things our community particularly struggles with. As a Jewish journalist recently told me, “People always care about airing our dirty laundry, but they rarely care about the dirty laundry itself.”
These struggles are not unique to YU. At The Commentator, we are certainly not immune to our own serious failures and errors. Despite our best efforts and intentions, I have no doubt that there were times we hurt people, fell short in our reporting and allowed our egos to step in front of our Jewish values. Even so, I can say that we are always seeking to change — to improve, develop and grow.
Every institution, organization and society is rife with its own problems. The important distinction, however, is what they are willing to do to change. At YU, we must ask ourselves: What are we willing to do to change?
This year is giving us a gift we’ve never had before: pure possibility. The kitchen table is set, the guests are arriving and the menu is being prepared. What do we want to do next? The onus does not fall on one person; we need collective work, collective support and collective change. Now, we just need to be willing to embrace the opportunity.