The Importance of Student Organizations
Student organizations are critical to Yeshiva University. One of our longest-running slogans is “Building Tomorrow, Today.” Tomorrow is built by the leaders of today, the leaders that come into their own by the experiences they have as student leaders at YU.
Student organizations have been part of Yeshiva since the founding of Yeshiva College in 1928. The Masmid yearbook began in 1929 and the first student government began in 1930. The Commentator itself began in 1935. Student organizations have been defining the institution for over 90 years.
The unique opportunities for leadership, building communities, and exploring passions, all the while keeping our Jewish roots and values in focus, are what set us apart from other colleges and institutions.
Let’s break down why student organizations are what make YU the institution it is today. To be clear, student organizations include every student-run organization on campus from student government to the Seforim Sale to clubs.
YU emphasizes leadership and values. Just last year, the Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership was opened for this very purpose under the leadership of Dr. Erica Brown.
The final sentence of the Herenstein-Sacks Center’s stated mission reads “The intensive leadership education we provide at the Center will help our students identify what matters to them, how to make positive change in their communities and the world, and how to serve as leaders for the public good.”
There is no better way to train and exercise leadership skills while in college than through actual student leadership put into practice.
Student organizations are without a doubt the best outlet for student leadership at YU. Both undergraduate campuses have thriving student governments actively advocating for students to the university administration while also planning programming that creates the experience of a student at YU.
The student government on each campus sponsors over 130 clubs, each with its own purpose, community and events. Leaders of all these organizations are given guidance, usually by the Office of Student Life, in public speaking, logistical coordination, event planning and how to work with a team to accomplish shared goals. These clubs add an enormous benefit to the student body by providing the lion’s share of the student-run programming that occurs on a daily basis at YU.
Student organizations build communities. Communities build networks. Networks build success. Nothing exists in a vacuum and finding a group of people with similar interests is a powerful tool in making Yeshiva University into a community. Some of the most active clubs on campus are founded around what others might deem to be the silliest thing. The first club to bring back in-person events during the Fall 2020 semester was the Avatar the Last Airbender club. The MCU club and MCU spoilers group chat are amongst the most active student interest clubs on both campuses. Beyond that, pre-professional communities created through organizations like the pre-med society are essential to the future and continued success of students, as they guide students in everything, from which courses to take and how to get a great letter of recommendation, to what volunteer opportunities are available and advice on internships and graduate school applications. The peer support offered by students pursuing the same track and the advice they offer are the unspoken ingredients of student success and part of the reason for our amazing acceptance rates to graduate schools of all kinds.
Communities are not just limited to Yeshiva University. Student initiatives at YU have impacts nationwide. Students at Yeshiva University have founded national organizations, such as College EDge and START Science.
The world runs on passion. When passions are fostered and grown they can change the world. Yeshiva University itself was built by passionate individuals from a small community on the Lower East Side who believed in giving their children a Yeshiva education combined with a secular one so they would be better prepared to face the world.
The world itself was changed by the passions Yeshiva University students put into their clubs and projects, making major impacts worldwide. The Seforim Sale, which has grown to become the largest Jewish book sale in North America, was started through the passions of members of the Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY). The aforementioned START Science and College EDge, which have positively impacted the lives of underprivileged children nationwide, both started at YU from the passions of a few students. Yeshiva University student organizations are an outlet for student passions that change the world.
Besides student passions impacting the world, student organizations also have major impacts on student life on campus. In 2019, the president of the Yeshiva Student Union, Ariel Sacknovitz, brought back the YU Chanukah Concert. Student governments, in conjunction with the Office of Student Life, plan, every year, the ceremonies and celebrations for Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hazikaron. The most well-attended event every year, Stomp Out the Stigma, is planned by the students of Active Minds, a student organization dedicated to mental health awareness and improving students’ mental health.
As Rabbi Berman wrote in Deseret Magazine this month, “Our students are the leaders of tomorrow because they contextualize their lives within our covenant of faith.” There is nowhere better than the student organizations at Yeshiva University to practice this essential skill of contextualizing leadership into the framework of our core Torah values and faith.”
I say this all from experience. I would not be the person I am today without Yeshiva University, the staff here who have supported me, and — most importantly — without all of the opportunities I’ve had to be a student leader. When I apply to medical schools and law schools in the coming months, I won’t just speak about the amazing research I have been able to do here. I’m going to speak about bringing START science back after COVID, increasing the donation we receive for the START initiative and our work on expanding that program into Harlem. I’m going to discuss my time in student government advocating for changes on behalf of the student body, working with administrators to make the student experience as enjoyable as possible and working behind the scenes on the programming that defines a Yeshiva student experience.
Student organizations have been part of my Yeshiva University story since I started here a little over three years ago. Because of my student leadership experience together with my strong roots in Jewish values, strengthened further by YU’s Five Torot, I feel confident in my ability to join the outside world as an active member of society. To quote Rabbi Berman, “deeply rooted, and forward focused,” I use the values I have learned in Yeshiva and the lessons I have learned from my leadership experiences here to move myself forward and hopefully one day make a real change in the world. I know I have already been able to make a difference because of my involvement here and I hope to bring that with me everywhere I go. Without student organizations, I would not be the person I am today, one of the people I hope the slogan “Building Tomorrow, Today” refers to.” Without student organizations I would not be able to be so “deeply rooted” and therefore able to be “forward focused” while maintaining my values. I owe a lot to Yeshiva University for being the host to so many student organizations and communities where I have been able to grow as a person, as a Jew, in my learning and in my character. To say Yeshiva and its student organizations are separable is to say a fish doesn’t need water. Yes, you can separate the two, but the fish won’t last long with no water, and an ocean with no life in it is a depressing place indeed.
Write to Baruch Lerman at Balerman@mail.yu.edu
Photo Caption: A speaker at Stomp Out the Stigma in 2022
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University