A Conversation With President-Elect Berman

By: Masha Shollar Mindy Schwartz  |  November 16, 2016
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Confirmed for less than twenty-four hours, president-elect Rabbi Ari Berman sat down to discuss the future of Yeshiva University.

When asked what he felt his priorities were moving forward, Berman said, “Certainly the financial situation needs to be addressed.” Berman explained that, prior to accepting the position, he made understanding the financials of the university a priority, as it is one of the main issues facing YU today. Of his predecessor’s handling of the fiscal problems, Berman said, “They have made great strides. There’s still a way to go, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

He had little specifics to offer as to how he would bring the university back into the black, mentioning “streamlining operations [and] creating the liquidity that will give us the ability to continue with security.” However, Berman emphasized, “it’s not just about finances: it’s about a much greater issue.” To thrive, the school needs not just “a turnaround but a transformation.”

Berman also embraced the Torah U’Maddah roots of YU’s founding ideology, namely the need to “integrate the world around us into our Torah lives.” He stressed the imperative that “we need to rethink almost every generation, what exactly are the messages for today [because] the world around us constantly changes. We need to reformulate and reimagine the vision of YU for today. This isn’t just an internal matter: this is a matter for the broader Jewish community, and also society. I strongly think that we need to be thinking about our vision, our relevance for today.”

When asked about Yeshiva University’s position as a leader in the Modern Orthodox world, Berman underscored the obligation to “talk about it and lead the conversation, and not a superficial conversation. We need to provide the Jewish, religious, traditional scaffolding that holds up our community.”

As Berman sees it, this scaffolding makes Yeshiva University “one of the great Jewish endeavors of our generation. It’s built on a powerful premise, that the way to live a life of purpose is by integrating the world around us into our Torah lives. We’ll capitalize on all the blessings of this era and navigate the pitfalls.”

Berman invoked the well-known phrase from Ethics of the Fathers that, “‘without Torah, there is no flour and without flour there is no Torah.’ If you don’t have the clarity that speaks to the issues of the day, then the kemach won’t come either. The mission and the means are inextricably linked.”

To broaden and strengthen the YU community moving forward, financial stability will be crucial. “We need to think about broadening enrollment and increasing our donor base. One of the ways to do that is by being clear about who we are and where we stand.”

As Berman sees it, “Anyone who is rooted in the Jewish past and aspires to a Jewish future and is interested in the encounter between tradition and modernity, people who speak with an authentic voice—we want them to be partners with us.”

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