By: Jonathan Levin  | 

The Beginning, Not the End: Reflections of a Student

Within a short time of this article’s publishing, my time and the time of all other seniors at YU will come to an end. Though it feels like it's been an eternity, in truth, it was only a short while ago that we began here. Despite the limited time provided by college, these past few years have been filled with endless joys completing the most impactful, positive and growth-filled years of my life thus far.

The class of 2024 began YU at arguably the most tumultuous moment for higher education in the United States in a century, dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of whether we began as true freshmen, as I did, or as a sophomore after a year in Israel, the first semesters we experienced are unrecognizable to the “contemporary” college students, including our present selves. Zoom school, masking, quarantines and weekly testing are hardly a conducive environment for learning, and it took until our junior years for student life to return.

Those days were difficult not only for us, but for people worldwide, including our peers who matriculated at better times. Yet as individuals and as a community, we persevered and made the most of our time, rebuilding student life here. The vitality present in student life today is in no short thanks to the students who restarted clubs and student organizations and made sure student council could represent our peers. It is hard to believe that pillars of student life here such as clubs that partake in the culture present in our city and the Seforim Sale all needed to restart after hiatuses. The work we all accomplished will continue for decades to come, benefiting generation after generation of students, many of them our children and grandchildren.

Just as we entered college in difficult times, we end at such a time, with a war raging in Israel. As with the pandemic, students on campus have risen to the occasion in these strenuous times, making vital material and spiritual contributions for our brethren in Israel and combating antisemitism. One solace we have is at the very least, unlike our peers in many other colleges, we will get to experience a commencement.

Time is a powerful force, and as much as I love YU, it was inevitable that this moment would arrive. Throughout life, there are always those who are arriving and departing. Seasons come and seasons go; today’s seniors were yesterday’s freshmen, and today's freshmen are tomorrow’s graduates.

Yeshiva University is a special place, and the changes and personal development I have undergone here have molded who I am as a person in ways I doubt would have been possible elsewhere. For that, I am extremely grateful, not just to the institution, but to everyone here I have met who made me a better and more complex person, including rebbeim, faculty, friends and staff. As someone who didn’t grow up in the Modern Orthodox community or attend such institutions, and as someone who never even completed high school, I have seen this place for what it is from so many unique perspectives, and it is beautiful.

That doesn’t mean YU is beyond reproach. Institutionally, there is a lot of work to be done. YU’s latest Middle States Review’s self-study, released at an inopportune time in the week before Pesach, approximately half a year behind schedule, admits that YU has begun moving away from the Torah U’Madda view of valuing a strong liberal arts education to accompany our Torah one. At an institution whose language instruction program is functionally dead, this, along with YU’s lack of communication about the entire process and its exclusion of students in it, stands in stark contrast to past self-studies and is concerning. The Commentator and student council would have loved to be part of this important milestone, but YU did not respond to our queries about it and when they did eventually release it, the year was nearly over. 

YU also seems to assign lesser importance to Beren Campus as well and YU’s move to slowly use more and more of its space for the Katz school is indicative of that. Of course, the issue of including LGBTQ students in our collective community remains an enduring issue. Even other issues include dispirited faculty, questions on how YU is structured for out-of-towners, what the leadership of RIETS will look like, the future of the Mitzner-Lieberman Center and what YU is doing to counteract its ever-limited space, which is not enough for undergraduate students, let alone the graduate student body it seeks to grow.  There remains much work to be done, and when you care about a place, you offer constructive criticism. “Hakol Lichvodo,” a new motto for YU introduced in a speech President Berman gave at Brigham Young in 2022, encourages exactly that. Judaism prioritizes continuous self-improvement, and everything we do is for Hashem’s honor.

Accompanying the end of my time at YU is also my farewell to The Commentator. The past few years involved in this now-90-year institution at YU have been a blessing, and I have been touched so deeply by everyone, both in years past and present. As editor-in-chief this year, I could not have asked for a better team or a better co-editor-in-chief than Rivka, who I am immensely grateful to for everything we accomplished together this year. The same goes for Elishama, our managing editor and someone who I’ve been friends with since we met in our same political science class back in our first year on campus. Collaborating and becoming friends with everyone on our team, from writing-section editors to the backend staff who keep the hidden gears of our paper moving, has been an absolute honor. I couldn’t have been more blessed to become friends with all of you and to join together to put out an outstanding work of art. 

This work will continue, and I eagerly anticipate watching the incredible work Sruli, Hannah and the rest of the team do next year, and look forward to seeing the 90th year of our paper outshine the 89th. As the old leadership lesson goes, (one I learned from AIPAC, an organization that I have been privileged to be part of as both an activist and leader in its student movement), “There is no success without a successor;” having left The Commentator in the hands of such incredible and capable people, I couldn’t feel this was more true.

College is a special time in one’s life and Yeshiva University is a special place. No matter who you are or your past experiences, no matter how similar or different you are, you can find a place within the YU community. However, there is one caveat: Just as with everything else in life, you reap what you sow, and what you put into your time here at YU is what you will gain. Life passes fast in a continuous movement of people moving forward from one stage to another. Cherish what you have and make the most of it, and you will reap the full benefit from your education and time here.

Upon every milestone, some appreciation is in order. To Hashem, our rock, stronghold and creator, thank you. To my parents and family, who have been the best group of 11 people I could ask for, thank you. To President Berman, who has been such a source of encouragement to me and other student leaders and who works tirelessly to make the flagship Jewish university shine, thank you; the work you do is incredible and we’re all grateful. To all my rebbeim, teachers, and friends who made me a better person, you know who you are, and thank you. To Rivka, Elishama, Sruli, Hannah, Nadav, Azriel and this and next year’s staff: thank you. To all those who make this institution a living, breathing organism, thank you as well. 

Graduating is not the end, but only the beginning. I look forward to where the future will take us all.