A Trip to Israel: A Key Difference Between The Madrich and Madricha Programs

By: Miriam Pearl Klahr  |  February 15, 2018

In many ways the Beren campus madricha program, which is currently in its fourth year of existence, is similar to its Wilf counterpart. Mrs. Rachel Ciment, Stern College Director of Spiritual Guidance, is the madricha program’s coordinator and explained that its purpose is “to enhance the first year experience for all new students.” The program acknowledges that starting college can be overwhelming and that having an upperclassman as a mentor with a similar pre-college experience, such as having attended the same seminary or coming straight from high school, could ease this transition. Thus the madricha program was born. According to their official job description, the madrichot fulfill this role through coordinating four activities for their students per semester, checking in with students individually, attending their seminary shabbaton on campus, helping coordinate seminary visits to the Beren campus when applicable, and meeting regularly with Mrs. Ciment to review the success of the programs they run as well as the progress of their students. The madrichot are offered a stipend of $1,500 for their work.

According to Rabbi Elisha Bacon, Yeshiva University Mashgiach Ruchani, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Torah Studies, and coordinator of the Wilf campus Madrich Program, the madrichim program was also established to “create an additional layer of support for the new students as they adjust to the rigors of a demanding dual curriculum after a year, two, or more, in Israel.” He explained that “the idea behind the program is to tap into the natural connections guys feel from having a shared experience in the same Yeshivot in Israel. This natural bond allows the madrichim to connect more easily to the new students and offer support.” The official job description of the madrichim almost parallels those of the madrichot, and based off conversations with madrichim, the stipend seems to range from $750 to $1,500. Yet, there is one other glaring difference between the two programs. Only for the men does one of the responsibilities include “possibly traveling to Israel during Winter break to meet potential talmidim and recruit for YU.”

Though the madrich program is run and funded by RIETS, the ticket to Israel offered to madrichim is paid for by the Admissions Office in return for doing recruiting while visiting their respective yeshivot. Geri Mansdorf, Yeshiva University’s Director of Admissions explained that three years ago “admissions had sent both men and women to Israel over break.” She clarified that the reason only the men are sent now, is strictly because that is “what makes sense” for recruitment. Mansdorf attributes this to the difference in the structures between the men’s and women’s gap year programs in Israel. At the men’s yeshivot, students often stay in the beit midrash for as many as three sedarim a day, so there is ample opportunity for the madrichim to meet incoming students and have chavrutot. In contrast, the seminary schedule in most schools is far more rigid. Students are in classes throughout the day, and there is not a clear time for the madrichot to engage with them. Similarly, the issue of men having an easier time staying in their yeshivot during their trip than women do in their seminaries is also of concern, since Admissions only pays for tickets and not accommodations.

Mansdorf also explained that nothing about this program “is set in stone” and Admissions “re-evaluates after each cycle.” If they see that the trip to Israel isn’t working for the men, then next year they will not run it the for them either. They are also looking into ways to retry sending the madrichot to Israel. “We are now seeing how we can try this again—to send madrichot for the women in Israel—if we plan to do this [program] at all.” Mansdorf also clarified that Admissions only sends madrichim to programs “where there is a minimal critical mass of students on YU’s Israel Program.” This explains why the madrichot of beit midrash style women’s programs, such as Lindenbaum, Migdal Oz, and Nishmat were not sent over break even in the year when other madrichot were sent; these schools are generally not large recruitment sites for YU.

According to the madrichim who were interviewed for this article, most of whom wish to remain anonymous, Admissions helps guide them regarding what to say and how to recruit for YU. Moreover, though the madrichim are primarily sent to Israel to recruit for YU, many find this opportunity to meet future YU students and help ease their transition, to be the more meaningful part of the trip. For example, Jeremy Teichman, the current KBY madrich, expressed that while he was sent to Israel “for the sake of recruiting” and is certain that he had “an impact in a very positive way,” he personally enjoyed “going for the sake of building relationships with the incoming students to YU so that he could be more of a service when they get to YU.” Others said that although they are sent to recruit “they are not puppets,” and will tell the students of their Israel yeshiva about the real struggles they face at YU.

Many of YU’s madrichot did not even know of the existence of the Admissions sponsored trip to Israel for the madrichim. Upon hearing the logic regarding why only the men are chosen, many women agreed with the explanation given. However, others believed that despite the rigid schedule at most seminaries, “there is still plenty of time to talk to students in between classes, at meals, or at night.” Moreover, many of the madrichot expressed how much they would have benefited from meeting a  Stern College student who attended their seminary before coming to YU. In fact, after learning about this Israel program, one Beren madricha said that instead of  the madricha position being a job for the academic year of September through May, she believes it could be  more fitting to have yearly cycles that span from January to January. Furthermore, even without being flown to Israel, she believes that starting in January, the Stern madrichot should be available to answer questions about classes and anything else over the phone, email, or video-chat, for those seminary students who are interested. She also thinks that by January of the following year, once students have acclimated to college life, the RAs are better suited to deal with student’s personal issues, making the role of madricha obsolete.