As I sit here and write what will be my final piece for The Commentator, I still find it hard to believe that my time at YU is over. My last year was filled with finals. I called my last basketball game as a member of MacsLive. My time at The Commentator is slowly coming to an end. Confronting these facts is difficult, given that I still vividly remember the first day I arrived at YU’s Wilf campus – August 20, 2019. That day began a journey for me, a journey whose end n became clear only very recently. But I’m proud to say that this trip was the best time of my life.
Coming to YU was a big change for me. My high school is by no means a feeder school for YU, although two other boys in my class attended with me – an outlier that will probably never be matched. Besides, not everyone in my high school even goes to college. The number of boys currently enrolled or graduating from college can be counted on one or two hands. Although it has strengths, the secular high school education leaves a lot to be desired.
Plus, I’ve lived my whole life in the yeshivish world of Brooklyn where YU doesn’t even show up on the radar. Approval of YU and Modern Orthodoxy in this community is, shall we say, below average. The ideas and values they profess are quite different from those of my home town. For example, people in my community might support Israel, but they will stop short before calling themselves Zionists. Also, although the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is a revered figure in Modern Orthodox circles, he is unknown in my community. One could only imagine how I felt coming to what is the foundational institution of Modern Orthodox Judaism after living my entire life in the world of yeshivas. Indeed, this was a major paradigm shift that I wasn’t sure I was prepared for.
Thoughts swirled in my head about what the future would look like: Could I succeed in this college environment with my lack of preparation? Could I make friends even if I didn’t attend the same high school or yeshiva in Israel as any of the students? These and other questions raced through my mind throughout orientation and the first few weeks of class.
Eventually things started to change for the better. I was doing well in my classes and making new friends along the way. I may never have written a research paper or heard of MLA or AP style guidelines, but with extra effort I performed well. Fortunately, I found people with whom I share values and beliefs. I will leave this institution after making new friends for life.
Along with doing well in my classes and making friends, I’ve participated in many after-school programs, my favorite of which was (of course) The Commentator. Being a student journalist was not something I could have imagined entering YU. I never quite imagined myself as a writer. Besides, my writing started out as abyssal. But I jumped at this new opportunity to see where it would take me, and it took me to new heights.
The importance of student journalism in highlighting the virtues and faults of an administration has been demonstrated time and time again by this article. Throughout my years on paper, some of the biggest changes undertaken by the YU administration have been influenced by Commentator articles. From changing the administration’s dining plan, changing course to arranging an in-person start, or providing clear guidelines and resources to keep students safe, The Commentator has led the way. In addition to being a force for change, The Commentator also plays a role in giving a voice to the student body. There are thousands of students in this institution, each with their own perspective on various topics. Elevating these perspectives creates a better environment and enables us to tackle pressing issues immediately. In many ways, working for The Commentator feels more like a part-time job than an extracurricular activity, but so enjoyable that it leaves you with a strong sense of purpose and meaning.
Besides being a student journalist, I was also a basketball presenter for MacsLive. Sports broadcasting is something I’ve always been interested in, but something I’ve never had the chance to try. There’s so much more to announcing games than just saying what everyone can see on camera. Countless hours are spent researching movies, reviewing stats, talking to coaches, and learning team rosters. All the work put into each game made for a better broadcast, and those who listened expressed their appreciation. Announcing games for the men’s and women’s basketball teams has been fantastic and the experience has been everything I imagined.
Although my experience exceeded my expectations, my excitement came to an abrupt halt when YU announced in March 2020 that it would be closing the campus due to the impending COVID-19 pandemic and that classes would continue virtually. The campus excitement I had felt faded, and so many events that were supposed to happen in the spring never made it. I wondered if my semester and a half on campus would be the extent of my experience at YU and if we would ever return to campus. That being said, I made the most of what was available. I continued to write for The Commentator. I announced games for MacsLive. Slowly but surely, the light at the end of the tunnel shone brighter.
When YU announced that it would fully reopen and return to normal after over a year of Zoom hiatus, I was ecstatic. My senior year would end with a bang and I could experience events that had to be canceled due to the pandemic. For example, until this year, I had never attended a Sarachek tournament. Although there were a few bumps in the road, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.
Watching and even participating in my first Sarachek tournament lived up to the hype described years ago. This tournament was incredible and the atmosphere around campus for this weekend was electric. I wasn’t sure what to expect from high school basketball, especially since I was used to watching Macs. But these kids were amazing and did not disappoint. Almost every match was held on the wire and showcased exquisite competition. Kudos to Johny Dan of the Valley Torah Wolfpack for showing sublime athleticism in the final moments of the Tier I Championship game with a magnificent chase block that provided the momentum behind his team. An even bigger thank you to Valley Torah for winning the tournament for the first time. These guys were the real deal and even made me an honorary member of the pack. The opportunity I had missed years ago due to the pandemic had finally materialized, and it was worth the wait.
My senior year at YU also saw some of the most historic moments in the school’s history. The Maccabees embarked on an incredible 50-game winning streak, the second-longest streak in NCAA Division III history. Ryan Turell (SYMS ’22) became the all-time leading scorer in Macs history. A student delegation was sent to Vienna to help Ukrainian refugees in times of crisis. YU brought TEDx back to campus. I never could have imagined there would be so much action in my senior year.
Of course, YU is not perfect, with a lack of administrative transparency and communication costing students their trust. Why did it take YU so long to explain how their new dining plan works? Why was there no clear guide to who to ask questions? Why did the elevators always seem to be out of order? With COVID protocols, who was on the committee that decided on mask, vaccine, and testing policies? How did YU conclude that requiring students to receive the booster shot was the best policy? How did they respond to the concerns of those who did not want to be vaccinated? What about this year when YU’s Title IX policies were put under the microscope? Why was it so difficult for students to know who to turn to when they felt their safety was in jeopardy? Why did these changes require a student to post about being raped by another student to come to fruition?
What YU will do to mitigate these issues remains to be seen. That being said, there is so much to enjoy about the institution. The atmosphere, the people, the teachers, the rabbis, the career opportunities, the ability to grow and much more – YU offers a lot. The opportunities are there, and it’s up to you to seize them.
My final words to students continuing their education at YU are quite simple: enjoy your time here. As I noted, there are many opportunities in various fields in this institution. There are many programs designed to entertain students. All in all, there is so much YU has to offer. If you focus on the positives of this place, you will succeed and have the best time of your life. Believe me, I saw another world up close and personal. Coming from this world allowed me to see that the experience YU offers should not be taken for granted. So ends my last thought. The rest is up to you.