I was never supposed to come to YU.
Over four years ago, I published my first controversial article in The Jewish Week, writing that “Jewish students have to understand that attending a secular college is okay.” I was the fervent voice that students could, and perhaps should, look elsewhere than the classic schools for Orthodox Jews. It was something I encouraged to others and intended to follow myself. Then my plans began to shift.
The university and program in which I had hoped to enroll told me that I could not defer my offer of admission to take a gap year in Israel. 17 years old and full of internal conflict, I felt ill-prepared to choose between the two. But not choosing was not an option. So, as my senior year of high school neared its end, I turned down the college of my dreams to attend Yeshivat Orayta the following year. That was the best decision I have ever made.
During my time in Israel, the question of what came next did not escape me. It pecked at my mind as my options narrowed and my deadlines neared. Ultimately, in April 2019, I swallowed my pride and sealed the script of irony: I would be going to Yeshiva University.
That was the second best decision I have ever made.
My year at Orayta was transformative, and through it, my goals for university transformed as well. (To be blunt: I mean that I flipped out.) YU had everything I wanted in an institution: top-tier Talmud Torah, a Jewish environment, competitive professional opportunities, serious academics and a strong community. I thought those were enough to fulfill my undergraduate years, but as I now prepare for graduation, I realize that was not the case.
The Hebrew word for love is “ahavah.” Rav Binny Freedman, one of Orayta’s roshei yeshiva, taught us that love is all about giving, pointing out that within “ahavah” is the word “hav,” to give. The last three years on The Commentator have codified and grown my love for this university. They were my service to the community. They are what define my YU experience.
There were many times this year when I wanted to quit. When the flood of emails became daunting. When the anxiety of fast-approaching deadlines became overwhelming. When the weight of making consequential decisions became unbearable.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. The reason is as Rav Kook writes in “Iggrot HaRayah”: “I am writing not because I have the strength to write but rather because I lack the strength to remain silent.” That is why we at The Commentator consistently wrote about the rape allegations, about LGBTQ issues, about institutional failures and about every other story we would rather have ignored. Our love for Yeshiva University — for what we know it can be — would not allow us to sit quietly.
Now that all comes to a close. In a few days' time, a new editor in chief and managing editor will rise, and I will join the last 99 editors as a semblance of the past. There is something sad about that permanence, but the passage of time does not ask for permission. But when writing this parting editorial, I wondered: What can I give to you, our readers, our university, in this final article? I have some words, and I have some thanks, lessons gleaned from a year I will never forget. It is my hope that they can lead us somewhere better.
Good vs. Good for Me
“For me personally, the status quo is actually fine,” Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, a successful and prolific Orthodox journalist, wrote in an Instagram post. “Let’s be honest, it can greatly benefit a woman in my position. Just because you have it good, doesn’t mean it is inherently good. Because it's not about me. It should never be about ‘me.’”
Sometimes I wonder what my years at YU would have been if I had taken a different route: done my class readings, consistently gone to night seder, committed minimally to extracurriculars, spent more time for myself, chosen to keep quiet. For me, as Avital wrote, things are naturally set to be really good. I have close friends, inspiring rebbeim and professors, and I enjoy my shiur and classes. Few things will disrupt that for me. But things should not always be about me.
In The Commentator’s work, we sought to look beyond the “me” that pervades our experiences. The planets may stand strong in our personal orbits, but that tells us nothing about the orbits of others.
During my tenure, I was privileged to meet students challenged in ways I could never imagine, facing problems that I hope to never face. Those meetings turned them from abstract ideas into real people with real challenges. I wonder what our communities would look like, what our priorities would look like, if we paid more attention to the more vulnerable among us. It is much easier to dispel issues when you don’t see the people affected by them. It makes it much easier to only consider “me.”
We are taught, “All Jews are guarantors for one another” (Shevuot 39a). That is something we should not take lightly.
Find Your Chachamim
My ego would love to believe that I have all the answers. Sometimes I like to think that I do, and then I am quickly humbled. Over my time on the paper, I learned the importance of knowing when and what I do not know. Successfully navigating those impasses relies on Rambam’s teaching (Hilchot Deot 2:1) that we each need chachamim — balanced individuals of ethical excellence — in our lives. (This, too, was taught to me by Rav Binny.)
Such people need not be experts in all areas of life, but in the areas you seek advice. I am blessed to have many chachamim in my life, and their guidance has unraveled webs of problems that appeared to utterly constrain me. Both in and out of YU, I experienced the importance of building healthy relationships with those I trusted to help me move forward.
It sounds simple enough — and it certainly can be — but I found that, for myself, if I did not actively seek out those chachamim, then I would not have had them.
The Commentator’s Role
When interviewing new staff members, I always asked them: “What role should The Commentator have at YU?” I suppose now it’s my turn to answer the question.
On Aug. 23, the first day of this year, The Commentator published an article we are all now familiar with: a student alleging that she was raped by a male athlete and that the university subsequently failed to help her. The backlash was swift. Immediately after the article went live, administrators tried to intimidate me and other staff members, community members blasted the paper and others accused the survivor of lying. They railed against the paper and the survivor. But there was another voice from our community, louder than the first, and this voice called for justice and accountability.
The day after the article’s publication, YU released a tone-deaf statement on the allegations. The following week, Dean Karen Bacon emailed students about a new committee formed to tackle campus sexual assault and harassment. It finally seemed that YU would right its egregious wrong, so we waited. But despite our emails and inquiries, months went by with radio silence.
The Commentator Editorial Board then penned an editorial calling for accountability from the administration as the fall semester came to an end. Before publishing, we finally received a response with two of the committee’s planned initiatives. Two weeks later, President Ari Berman emailed students that YU would be restructuring its Title IX Office and recruiting professionals experienced in handling sexual assault and harassment. Two months later, Vice Provost Chaim Nissel announced the university’s new deputy Title IX coordinator.
One student faced the worst of our institution, and we gave her a voice. Our close coverage of this issue led to important communal conversations, but more than that, it led to real change. Things are not perfect, but they are better. This is The Commentator’s role.
Of course, we cover the better parts of YU — the Rise Up campaign, the Ukrainian humanitarian mission, GPATS’ growth, new elevators and much more — but if that was all we did, then YUNews would more than suffice.
Even in the face of bureaucracy, communal pressure, institutional injustice and the like, The Commentator will never stop reporting. This paper is here so that every student, faculty member, rabbi and administrator will know that they are never helpless.
Thank yous are perhaps the most difficult part for me. There would not be enough pages in this final issue for me to even fractionally thank all those who deserve it. Nevertheless, it is a daunting task I must attempt.
To my professors, thank you for teaching me with care, patience and wisdom. Your lessons formed not just my mind but my character. I am especially grateful to Prof. Maria Zaitseva, who taught me for all five international relations courses she offers and an independent study, and Rabbi Dr. Ari Bergmann, who taught me academic Talmud for two semesters. Their commitment, kindness and brilliance are among the many reasons they are fan-favorites at Yeshiva College.
For my morning seder program, I had the distinct privilege to learn under Rabbi Etan Schnall, Rabbi Dovid Hirsch and Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky — talmidei chachamim greater than I can even fathom. More than they deepened my understanding of Torah, they deepened my love of Torah. To Rabbi Schnall, whose shiur I was in for two of my three years, thank you for your support, availability and authenticity. Your loving dedication to your students is palpable to all, and I will always appreciate that.
I would also be remiss not to thank the administrators I have met and connected with over these years. Specifically, I would like to thank President Ari Berman for always greeting me with warmth, respect and a smile, regardless of what was being published in our pages. I must also thank Mechal Haas, YU’s executive director of communications who was The Commentator’s go-to person — by email, call or text. Beyond her responsiveness and reliability, Mechal was always caring and respectful. I cannot recall the number of times when, during our conversations, Mechal would pause and ask me, “How are you doing? Not you as editor in chief, but you as Sruli.” To recycle the sentence from two past editorials: “YU is lucky to have her.”
I am also appreciative of Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Yosef Blau, who, though I never formally learned under him, has been a great teacher to me. He helped me through The Commentator’s most difficult times this year. His office door was always open, and his wisdom and guidance were always invaluable.
In my personal circle, my friends were constantly a great source of support and confidence. They acted with such benevolence, lending a helping hand and listening ear whenever needed. Their friendship shaped this year and my YU experience. (Special shoutout to my roommates — Gabe, Liav, Sammy and Yoni — who, at this point, probably know more about this institution than any other student. Thank you for everything.)
My family was my rock. My mom and dad’s advice, here as in everywhere else in my life, always proved to be the best. Their excitement for me made this all the more exciting, and I held their wisdom close to my heart. Beyond all that, the love I received from them, my siblings and my extended family kept me motivated and focused every day. Words cannot express how much they did and how much it meant. I love you all.
The Commie Folk
Daniel, you have been the best managing editor over this last year. You are still the copy-editing master, but more than that, your passion and professionalism made our operations smooth and successful. No matter what the task or crisis, you handled it effortlessly, and it made all the difference. We had a great run.
Ariel and Seffi, your dedication to The Commentator and love for YU demonstrate why you should be leading the paper next year. Your conviction and experience are the greatest testaments to that. I look forward to seeing where you take this paper.
To The Commentator staff, this paper would not exist without you. I am in awe of you all. Our team — composed of section editors, layout editors, social media and website managers, business managers, staff writers and contributing writers — was incredible. I wish I had the space to acknowledge you each individually. You are masterful writers, managers and editors, and this paper has flown to tremendous heights from your work. Your service to the community is immeasurable. Thank you for all that you do.
“Hashem is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? Hashem is my stronghold; whom should I dread?” (Tehillim 27:1)
There is no greater blessing than my growing relationship with Hashem. He is my Light, the Soul of my soul, my Best Friend, my God. His love fills my world, and I want nothing more than to be in service to Him. This was all for Him.
This is my last article for The Commentator, a paper I have grown to love with every fiber of my being. Goodbyes are never easy. I leave it in the hands of an exceptional staff and in the hands of Hashem. I look forward to what comes next.
“Hope for Hashem. Be strong, and He will strengthen your heart. Hope for Hashem” (Tehillim 27:14).