By: Eli Saperstein  | 

History Has its Eyes on YU

“If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?” Throughout my time in YU, I feel this question has not been definitively answered. As I leave these hallowed halls, I hope to share one last time as a student my thoughts on what YU does stand for with the student body. 

I want to talk about opportunity. I want to warn about division. I want to talk about what I’ve learned here and the hard-won wisdom I have earned. To say one last time as a student, what I feel YU stands for. To say one last time no matter who you are, Yeshiva University is a place that is wide enough to accept you for who you are and enable you to become the you, you want to be.

Graduation doesn’t discriminate. It takes, and it takes, and it takes our best leaders from the student body. Too many initiatives and ideas fail based not on their merits but because students don’t have enough time to complete them, leaving the graduates wishing if only we had more time to create a better tomorrow for our peers. History has its eyes on YU, but more importantly, history has its eyes on you, the students of YU, the next generation that will continue the many dreams of YU graduates long past. Dreams—some of which I have been blessed to have achieved and seen reach fruition, and so many more I will never get to see as a student.

I’ve imagined graduation so much that it feels like a memory. I often have wondered what my legacy as a student will be. What mark have I left on this institution, what is my legacy? Are my services complete, or have I only engraved the beginning notes into the beautiful, never-finished, ever-growing symphony that is YU?

To my fellow graduates, may you always be satisfied with your time at YU. Remember your days and long nights at YU. Never forget the many things you haven’t yet done. But just you wait. The feeling of freedom, of seeing the light. It feels like a dream to finally graduate. I know I said we should be satisfied, but I am not. Despite working non-stop and accomplishing all that I have, I am not yet satisfied. I may never be satisfied. Yet, despite this, I am proud. 

Pride isn’t the word I’m looking for, or is it? See, I never thought I’d make it to YU. Where I come from, YU gets barely any. I didn’t even know YU existed until my senior year of high school. Yet without YU, I would never have become the person I am today. Rising up to the occasion, to take advantage of all the opportunities I saw that turned my life upside down, has been a privilege and an honor. They have shaped not just my experience at YU, but who I am today and who I will forever continue to be. They taught me something I wish I’d known when I was younger and dreaming of my time here — that every action at YU is an act of creation, but for the first time I’m thinking past graduation. 

At Yeshiva University, it is clear to students that we are part of a legacy, a garden planted by people who will never get to see the full fruits of their labor. This is the YU legacy. Seniors bleeding and fighting for YU, to make YU right for you, the future students of YU and the whole broader YU community. We hope that if we lay a strong enough foundation we will pass it on to you and that someday you’ll blow us all away. I believe this is the reason our university grows great – because seniors plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit. Yet now, we the graduates must sit under our own tree, and hope that nothing will make us afraid, here in this YU we have made — one last time.

Looking around as a soon-to-be graduate, I feel so lucky to be alive right now. It feels as if YU sent for me. YU let me make a difference, creating a place where anyone can leave their fingerprints behind, even someone from Monsey who never knew about Torah UMadda or the world it represented. As someone who grew up outside of the YU community, nowhere is there more potential than Yeshiva University. It combines the best of yeshivos and the best of universities. 

As I prepare to bid farewell, I would like to express my thoughts on issues that Yeshiva University must address to become the institution future generations of students deserve. 

One of my primary concerns for the future of YU is the lack of students who are actively involving themselves in the YU community and seeking leadership roles. The student body needs to rise up to the occasion and take control of their own fate. We, the graduates, are asking you to lead, to do the best you can, to leave behind the world you know and be the people that we need. I do acknowledge that we cannot write our way out of this, but I hope that for those reading this in the future that they will not just pick up a pen and start writing but realize their true potential and be their own deliverance. YU helps those who help themselves. 

YU’s involvement in our local Washington Heights community is significantly lacking on an individual level. We need to learn their stories, to be moved to kindness and involve ourselves in our communities, local and Jewish alike. This needs to be our YU legacy. Currently, it feels as though the only link between YU and the community in the Heights is Lin Manuel Miranda. That needs to be improved

At YU, students don't fear external antisemitism but have in its absence created internal "enemies." We must address issues arising from small differences. We must work together and harder to stomp out the stigmas and harmful stereotypes within YU. We must provide more resources for promoting understanding and tolerance and actively dismantle stereotypes and misunderstandings among our diverse YU community.

We need more Jewish pride at YU. We need more swag. As religious Jews at YU, we take for granted how convenient it is to practice our faith. To create pride in our religious identity absent of adversity, we must celebrate our Yeshiva University and have a better understanding of what YU does stand for and our place within that. The "Five Core Torah Values" haven't been embraced by the students. However, they could be a basis for a potential solution. Increasing school spirit and celebrating our unity and differences (through swag and clubs) can help address the divisions and infighting in our community. The bubble that YU creates serves a purpose, but it is time to acknowledge the rifts it is creating within it and the larger Jewish community

In reviewing the incidents in my YU career, I’m aware of no intentional error. However, I am too sensible to think I have not committed many. To the students reading this, let me tell you what I wished I’d known when I was young and starting YU. Go to the career center and work hard on your (LinkedIn) resume — it is the only piece of paper that matters more than your diploma. Do not wait until when you need it, for by then it is too late. Speak with your academic advisors, and plan out your classes well in advance. Avoid any assumptions and get everything in writing. Speak to your professors inside and outside the classroom. Introduce yourselves to professors you do not take and to administrators and faculty you do not yet know. 

At YU we think about l’dor va’dor, but we don’t go door to door to meet the world-class individuals of our generation. Knock on any door you can in these hallowed halls. You may be surprised by who opens it and invites you in. This will permanently open many doors for you that were previously closed, giving you the opportunity to be in the room where it happens and make a difference. Network nonstop, build the relationships you want tomorrow, today. If you have a dream, rise up, make a club and make it happen. Heed not the rabble who scream it won’t work: They have not your interest at heart. I implore you to empower yourself to take control of your own narrative. Don’t wait for it. Do not throw away your shot. 

As a student, you get to see glimpses of the other side when alumni come back to campus for panels and other activities. To them, I ask, teach me how to say goodbye, and to my friends and mentors I’ve made here at YU, I hope to never say goodbye. I’ll see you on the other side. 

I have had the honor to be your obedient student,

E. Sap


Photo Caption: As someone who grew up outside of the YU community, nowhere is there more potential than Yeshiva University.

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr