A Reflection: What YU Has To Offer
As I sit here and write what is to be my final piece for The Commentator, I still have trouble believing that my time at YU has come to an end. My senior year has been filled with finales. I have called my final basketball game as a member of MacsLive. My time at The Commentator is slowly winding down. Confronting these facts is difficult, considering that I still vividly remember the first day I arrived on YU’s Wilf Campus – Aug. 20, 2019. That day began a journey for me, a journey whose end didn’t become clear until quite recently. But I am proud to say that this journey has been the best time of my life.
Coming to YU was a big change for me. My high school is by no means a feeder school for YU, though two other boys from my grade have attended with me – an outlier that will likely never be matched. For that matter, not everyone from my high school even attends college. The number of boys who are currently enrolled in or graduating from college can be counted on one or two hands. Though it had some strong points, the high school’s secular education left much to be desired.
Additionally, I have lived my entire life in the yeshivish world of Brooklyn where YU does not even appear on the radar. YU’s and Modern Orthodoxy’s approval in that community is, shall we say, subpar. The ideas and values they profess are quite different from those of my hometown. For example, the people in my community might support Israel, but they will take a hard stop before referring to themselves as Zionists. Moreover, while the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is a revered figure in Modern Orthodox circles, he is unknown in my community. One could only imagine how I felt coming to what is the bedrock institution of Modern Orthodox Judaism having lived my entire life in the yeshivish world. Indeed, this was a major paradigm shift for which I was not certain I was prepared.
Thoughts swirled in my head about what the future would look like: Could I succeed in this academic environment with my lack of preparation? Would I be able to make friends despite not having gone to the same high school or yeshiva in Israel as any of the students? These questions and others raced in my mind throughout orientation and the first few weeks of classes.
Eventually, things began to change for the better. I was succeeding in my classes, and I was making new friends along the way. I might have never written a research paper or heard of MLA or AP style guidelines, but with some extra effort, I performed well. Thankfully, I found people with whom I share values and beliefs. I will be leaving this institution having acquired new friends for life.
Along with succeeding in my classes and making friends, I partook in many extracurriculars, my favorite of which has been (of course) The Commentator. Being a student journalist was not something I could have imagined coming into YU. I never quite envisioned myself as a writer. For that matter, my writing started off as abysmal. But I jumped into this new opportunity to see where it would take me, and it has taken me to new heights.
The importance of student journalism in highlighting the virtues and flaws in an administration has been demonstrated by this paper time and again. Throughout my years on the paper, some of the biggest changes undertaken by the YU administration have been influenced by Commentator pieces. Whether it was the administration’s changing the dining plan, changing course to hold an in-person commencement or providing clear guidelines and resources to ensure student safety, The Commentator has led the way. Besides being a force for change, The Commentator also plays a role in giving the student body a voice. There are thousands of students at this institution, each of whom has their individual perspectives on various topics. Elevating those perspectives makes for a better environment and allows us to tackle pressing issues forthwith. In many ways, working for The Commentator feels more like a part-time job than an extracurricular activity, but one so enjoyable that it leaves you with a keen sense of purpose and meaning.
In addition to being a student journalist, I was also a basketball announcer for MacsLive. Sports broadcasting is something that always interested me, but something I never had the chance to try. There is so much more to announcing games than merely stating what everyone can see on the camera. Countless hours are spent researching film, reviewing statistics, speaking with coaches and learning team rosters. All the work that went into every game made for a better broadcast, and those listening voiced their appreciation. Announcing games for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams has been fantastic, and the experience has been everything I imagined.
Though my experience had surpassed my expectations, my excitement came to an abrupt halt when YU announced in March 2020 that it would be closing campus due to the looming COVID-19 pandemic and continuing classes virtually. The campus excitement I had felt vanished, and so many events that were set to take place in the spring never did. I wondered if my semester-and-a-half on campus would be the extent of my experience at YU and if we would ever return to campus again. That being said, I made the best of what was available. I continued to write for The Commentator. I announced games for MacsLive. Slowly but surely, the light at the end of the tunnel shined brighter.
When YU announced that it would fully reopen and return to normal after more than a year of hiatus on Zoom, I was ecstatic. My final year would close on a high note, and I would get to experience events that had to be canceled because of the pandemic. For example, until this year, I had never witnessed a Sarachek Tournament. Though there were some bumps in the road, I could not have asked for a better ending.
Watching and even participating in my first Sarachek Tournament lived up to the hype that had been described years ago. This tournament was incredible, and the atmosphere around campus for that weekend was electric. I was not sure what to expect from high school basketball, especially considering that I was accustomed to watching the Macs. But these kids were incredible and did not disappoint. Nearly every game came down to the wire and was a showcase of exquisite competition. A big shoutout is in order to Johny Dan of the Valley Torah Wolfpack for displaying sublime athleticism in the final moments of the tier I championship game with a magnificent chase-down block that swung the momentum behind his team. An even bigger shoutout to Valley Torah for winning the tournament for the first time. These guys were the real deal and even made me an honorary member of the Pack. The opportunity that I had missed years ago due to the pandemic had finally come to fruition, and it was worth the wait.
My final year at YU has also seen some of the most historic moments in school history. The Maccabees embarked on an incredible 50-game win streak, the second-longest streak in NCAA Division III history. Ryan Turell (SYMS ‘22) became the all-time leading scorer in Macs’ history. A delegation of students was sent to Vienna to aid the Ukrainian refugees in a time of crisis. YU brought TEDx back to campus. I could never imagine there would be this much action packed into my final year.
Of course, YU is not perfect, with a lack of administrative transparency and communication that costs the students their trust. Why did it take so much time for YU to explain how their new dining plan functioned? Why was there no clear guide to whom questions should be posed? Why did the elevators always seem to be broken? With COVID protocols, who was on the committee that was deciding mask, vaccine and testing policies? How did YU conclude that requiring students to receive the booster shot was the best policy? How did they address the concerns of those who did not want to receive the shot? What about this year when YU’s Title IX policies were put under the microscope? Why was it so difficult for students to know to whom they should turn when they felt their safety was compromised? Why did these changes require a student to come forth with an article that she had been raped by another student to come to fruition?
What YU will do to alleviate these problems remains to be seen. That being said, there is so much to appreciate about the institution. The atmosphere, the people, the professors, the rabbis, the career opportunities, the ability to grow and so much more – YU does offer a lot. The opportunities are there, and they are yours to take.
My final words to the students continuing their education at YU are quite simple: Enjoy your time here. As I have noted, there are many opportunities in various fields at this institution. There is plenty of programming intended to provide students with entertainment. Overall, there is so much YU has to offer. If you focus on the positive aspects of this place, you will succeed and you will have the time of your life. Take it from me, I have seen another world up close and personal. Coming from that world has allowed me to see that the experience YU offers should not be taken for granted. Thus concludes my final thoughts. The rest is up to you.