By: Rabbi Ian Shaffer  | 

A Letter to Stern College

As many of my current students know, I will im yirtzah Hashem be moving with my wife to Israel at the end of this May. We have previously lived in Israel, in the ‘80s, and it has always been our dream to return.

My thoughts are focused now on the last 21 years that I have had the privilege of teaching at Stern College for Women. I started in August 2001, about two weeks before the most terrible event that I ever remember witnessing in my lifetime. It is still traumatic to think of those days, yet I also remember the fantastic kiddush Hashem made by students from Stern who went down to ground zero to say Tehillim following the tragedy in the hope of finding any survivors, as well as afterwards when it was confirmed that so many people perished in this terrible attack. The concept of making a kiddush Hashem has always been one of the great features of Yeshiva University in general; in this regard the focus has not changed, as we saw recently with students’ trip to Vienna to be with Ukranian Jews fleeing the Russian invasion of their country.

Another strength at Stern which has not changed is the passion that so many students have for studying Torah. I have always used a line from one of my teachers, Rabbi Isaac Bernstein z”l, that “it was worth getting up today just to hear the following Torah thought,” and inevitably, there is a smile around the room and a show of appreciation for the idea being shared. I have always enjoyed the great interactions with the students over the years, and have tried never to “preach down” to the classes I have been giving –– on the contrary, I look forward to what I can learn from them in so many ways. I have always demonstrated the importance of being passionate about Torah study, especially when learning Nach. My guideline is always to explain how learning about great biblical personalities teaches us a little about who we are today. Our spiritual DNA comes from the great men and women of the past, and Nach becomes “torat chaim” in terms of explaining our lives as Jews in the modern world.

I have occasionally allowed my British sense of humor to have free reign, and I probably need to apologize to many biblical personalities, because I inevitably have asked whether the students would date David, Jonathan or other such figures after learning about them. I believe that we must bring these amazing people to life as much as we can, and I am grateful when the classes have been respectful even while wondering what I am saying or asking, especially when I try to bring humor into the discussion. I have also enjoyed sharing many anecdotes with my students and I hope these remain with them for many years, as I learned from Nechama Liebowitz z”l that anecdotes are an important tool in any teacher’s “arsenal of weapons” when trying to convey an important point.

My hope for Stern is that it will continue to go from strength to strength and will shine the beacon of Torah and Jewish values to an even wider audience than it does at present. I look forward to meeting former students in Israel (please say hello as I do not have a good memory for names), and I am sure that the achievements of the young women coming out of Stern will continue to give everyone a sense of pride, especially to teachers who have invested so much passion and energy in transmitting to them the word of Hashem.

With the greatest respect to students, teachers and administrators: may you continue to go michayil el chayil.

Photo Caption: Stern College for Women

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University