When I chose to attend the Bar Ilan-Yeshiva University Summer Science Research Internship Program, I gave little thought to the fact that it was a YU program. In fact, I was excited to escape Yeshiva University for the summer. It isn’t that I dislike YU; I like it very much. I just wanted to leave New York, interact with new people, return to Israel and give myself a chance to see something different before starting my senior year. I didn’t give much thought to who my peers from Stern and Yeshiva College would be. I figured it would be nice to work with students my age, but that was it. I wasn’t looking to branch out and make close friends. I was comfortable with my YU world.
When I started Stern, I wanted to interact with all sorts of students. I thought having a diverse group of friends would guarantee a rich and fulfilling college experience. While I was originally nervous that the social set up I was seeking was impossible at YU, I quickly learned I was wrong. Though all the students I encountered were Jewish, I discovered a variety of views, backgrounds and opinions. I made a point of spending time with students who were to the left and right of me both religiously and politically. I sought out peers with backgrounds that were very different from my own in attempt to broaden my horizons. However, with time, I realized that for the most part, the friends I was most comfortable with were those who were quite similar to me. Though my close friends are from different states, with very different families and hobbies, at the core most of them share my values; their life aspirations and vision for YU are almost the same as my own. Eventually, my thirst for diversity, along with the challenging and stimulating conversations that accompany such an environment, faded. I reluctantly accepted that YU students are most content when comfortable within their individual homogenous friend groups.
Therefore, when I sat down to breakfast for the first time with my YU peers in Jerusalem, I was surprised to see how diverse a group I was suddenly a part of. It was an awkward meal. The typical discomfort of not knowing what to say to strangers was coupled by the fact that there were some participants who rarely interacted with the opposite gender. Everyone seemed to cling to those who dressed most like them and barely interacted with those who seemed different.
However, the awkward environment slowly faded. And while many close friendships were between students who were quite similar to one another, there were many exceptions to the case. Furthermore, and most importantly, the group came together. Over long bus rides, night activities, shiurim, bowls of kariyot, chummus and schnitzel, we got to know one another. We laughed and learned together as we debated our different attitudes towards Israel, the upcoming election, visions for YU and the importance of Torah learning. We even became friends.
This summer it took leaving the YU campus for me to rediscover and appreciate the diversity within Yeshiva University’s community. If not for the shared experience of performing research at Bar Ilan, I would never have even met most of my peers from this summer, let alone spoken to them and considered their perspectives. We would have all stuck to our homogenous little circles of comfort.
I do not consider my peers from this summer to be my closest friends, but I will miss the interesting discussions, times I was forced to see an issue from a new point of view and the comfort I felt with individuals who were quite different from myself.
I don’t wish to revert to my first year state of mind when I desired a varied set of friends for the sake of diversity and an interesting college experience. As I enter my senior year, I am happy to return to my relatively homogenous circle of close friends. However, I also realize that it shouldn’t be that one has to leave YU to discover its diversity. We all sit in the same classes, live in the same dorms, and eat in the same cafeterias. We can easily change the nature of our experience. Thus, though I am no longer seeking a group of diverse friends, I am looking to learn from everyone, to not dismiss students because of how they look or where in Israel they studied. I am excited to encounter each students’ perspective and learn from YU’s diverse student body.
If we all are more willing to share our views with those around us, whether through speaking in class, on line in the cafeteria, or through opinion articles for paper, we can hopefully create a respectful environment that better appreciates the unique thoughts of Yeshiva University’s diverse student body.