By: Yitzhak Graff  | 

Regarding Kol Yisrael Areivim

Yeshiva University’s Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel Andrew Lauer recently made a public statement to the New York Times regarding the presence of a religiously based LGBTQ club at the University. Though he did not mention it by name, it seems fairly clear that he was referring to the Kol Yisrael Areivim club that was announced in October. The reality of the Kol Yisrael Areivim club experienced by students at Yeshiva University often contradicts the image presented in official statements from the administration. Despite this, little has been done to challenge the misleading narrative fronted by Yeshiva University spokesmen. In this article, I intend to present the development of Kol Yisrael Areivim from its creation to the present and provide commentary on how the material facts differ from Yeshiva University’s public-facing narrative.

On Oct. 24, 2022, Yeshiva University Public Relations released two statements on its blog. One was an announcement of the creation of a new club called Kol Yisrael Areivim, and the second was an FAQ that addressed the new club among other topics. These two documents were condensed into an email that was sent to the undergraduate students the same day. These public statements all contained the same basic details, that “Yeshiva is establishing a student club for undergraduates: the Kol Yisrael Areivim Club for LGBTQ students striving to live authentic Torah lives,” and that “Within this association, students may gather, share their experiences, host events and support one another while benefiting from the full resources of the Yeshiva University community — all within the framework of Halacha — as all other student clubs.” Although no timeline for the creation of the club was offered, these statements confidently guaranteed that the new club would run events just like all other student clubs.

On Nov. 1, 2022, The Commentator published an inquiry into Kol Yisrael Areivim which revealed that the club did not exist in any measurable capacity. Included in the article were two statements from Hanan Eisenman, the Director of Communications at Yeshiva University. Although both statements mostly reiterated the Oct. 24 statements, there were two notable details. One, that Eisenman referred to Kol Yisrael Areivim as a framework and not as a club, and two, that Eisenman advised “those interested in helping develop the operational components of the club to contact Student Life.”

Unrelated to the prior events, the deans of students ran an open forum for students on Nov. 2 at the Beren Campus and Nov. 3 at the Wilf Campus. Undergraduate Dean of Students Sara Asher, Associate Dean of Students Joe Bednarsh, and Director of the Office of Student Life Jonathan Schwab fielded questions from students on both campuses. At both meetings, the deans received questions about Kol Yisrael Areivim, and they informed the students in the audience that they were not able to provide any details about Kol Yisrael Areivim beyond what was included in the public statements. 

The next update came about two weeks later. On Nov. 16, the Office of Student Life emailed a November events calendar to the undergraduate students. There was an entry listed under Nov. 22 for the following event: 

Kol Yisrael Areivim Collaboration Discussion; Office of Student Life, Beren & Wilf, 5:45pm-6:45pm. Join Dr. Schwab to discuss plans for the first event of the year. RSVP to [Dr. Schwab’s email].”

The next day, Nov. 17, was the date of an important hearing in front of the Appellate Court in the YU Pride Alliance vs. Yeshiva University case. At this hearing, Yeshiva University’s attorney, Eric Baxter, was given the opportunity to argue why the lower court’s decision to find Yeshiva University in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law was incorrect and should be reviewed. In his arguments, Baxter brought up the Kol Yisrael Areivim Club Framework as evidence of Yeshiva University being accommodating to its LGBTQ students. He stated:

“I would add that Yeshiva University does have a club for LGBTQ students, it invites them to participate to meet together to have activities, to host events, to support one another. All with the full resources of the university.”

When pressed by one of the judges about whether or not this club was for undergraduate students, Baxter doubled down:

“It’s housed at the undergraduate program it was created specifically to help meet the needs of the plaintiffs in this case. The university cares about their needs, wants them to be [sic] feel welcome and invited at the university, and wants them to have a space where they can address their concerns.”

It is noteworthy that as of the date of Baxter’s statements before the court, there had been no activity of any kind for the Kol Yisrael Areivim club framework. To put it bluntly, Eric Baxter, and by extension Yeshiva University, directly misrepresented the reality of the Kol Yisrael Areivim club framework in court to further a legal argument.

The first action of any kind that involved students in this club framework was the Nov. 22 meeting. The collaboration discussion met as scheduled on the evening of Nov. 22. The discussions were productive enough to generate an idea for a proposed event.

On Dec. 7, 2022, one of the students involved in the Kol Yisrael Areivim discussion sent an email to the undergraduate students on behalf of the Kol Yisrael Areivim club framework containing a Google Form to collect feedback on a proposed event idea. The proposed event was scheduled for Jan. 23, 2023. No updates were released confirming or canceling the event. Jan. 23 came and went without any further communication from Kol Yisrael Areivim. The Dec. 7 email was the last official communication on Kol Yisrael Areivim that was sent to the undergraduate students.

Despite this pause in direct communication with its students, Yeshiva University continued to make public statements about the Kol Yisrael Areivim club framework. On Jan. 12, 2023, Yeshiva University released a public statement in response to a New York Times article from the previous day. The statement was framed as responding to allegations that the university was discriminating against its LGBTQ students and breaking the New York City Human Rights Law by doing so. The statement employed two arguments to refute this. The first argument noted that under current interpretation of the First Amendment, Yeshiva University was legally allowed to prevent the YU Pride Alliance from becoming a club on religious grounds. The second argument claimed that no discrimination against LGBTQ students was present at Yeshiva University. Kol Yisrael Areivim was cited as evidence for this, and described as follows:

“YU last year announced the framework for the Kol Yisrael Areivim club for our undergraduate students who identify as LGBTQ and are striving to live authentic Torah lives. Our Office of Student Life is working together with our students on the activities of this club.”

Despite Yeshiva University’s public claims of operating events through Kol Yisrael Areivim out of a commitment to its LGBTQ student, there have been no new events planned for Kol Yisrael Areivim since Jan. 23, and there has been no communication on the future of the club framework since Dec. 7. This reality contrasts starkly with the statement of Andrew Lauer in the April 3 article from the New York Times. Lauer dismissed claims that Yeshiva University was discriminating against its LGBTQ students, asserting that the university had created a religiously based club for them in 2022. He continued adding, “Yeshiva has already established a path forward to continue providing loving and supportive spaces for its LGBTQ students. Well-meaning politicians are kindly asked to learn the facts before attacking Jewish education.”

Here Lauer uses the claim of an active religiously based LGBTQ club to publicly rebuke state senators for claiming that Yeshiva University is engaged in discriminating against its LGBTQ students. His demand for the state senators to “learn the facts” is particularly brazen considering that the Kol Yisrael Areivim club framework has not facilitated a single event in the six months since its creation. 

Lauer’s statements are not an outlier over the six-month lifetime of the Kol Yisrael Areivim club framework. Twice prior, Yeshiva University used it as a public defense against allegations of discrimination against its LGBTQ students. First, on Nov. 17, when Yeshiva University’s attorney used Kol Yisrael Areivim in a legal argument to claim that the school was not discriminating against its LGBTQ students. Second, on Jan. 12, in a public statement defending allegations of the university discriminating against its LGBTQ students in the New York Times. Now third, with Lauer’s statements to the state senators in the New York Times. These three statements alone outnumber the two internal emails from Nov. 16 and Dec. 7 that contained specific information for programming under Kol Yisrael Areivim. It seems that Kol Yisrael Areivim exists more to deflect criticism than it does to actually serve Yeshiva University’s students.