December 12, 1994: “AIDS Program Halted at YC and SCW”

By: Michele Berman  |  October 24, 2019

By Michele Berman

As December 1, World AIDS Awareness Day, passed virtually unnoticed on the undergraduate campuses of YC and SCW, the Social Dimensions of AIDS class, a part of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, was denied permission to run an educational AIDS program for YC and SCW students, in what Dean of Students Efrem Nulman explained as a result of their lack of experience and YU students’ ingrained attitudes and beliefs.

“I didn’t feel it was useful for college age students… The time to begin education is in grade school. Values are well in place by college,” said Nulman. “Education and information is a part of the puzzle but doesn’t always solve the problem. Values and behaviors are the hardest things to change.” 

Nulman also pointed to their lack of experience. He said, “With all due respect to them… I don’t think they have the experience [to run a program on AIDS].” 

The conflict arose after Wurzweiler students in a class called “Social Dimensions of AIDS” were assigned a project by Professor Adele Wemer, assistant dean of Wurzweiler, to educate a body of students about AIDS. The class chose to do their project on the undergraduate schools, YC and SCW, and went to Nulman to ask his permission. 

Nulman said that their target audience was not a good choice, and that they should educate a different student body outside of Yeshiva. “We have a very well-educated group of undergraduates. They come in with an education. They’re not ignorant, [but] intelligent, well-read… Out student population has a great sensitivity to [people with diseases] and certainly to those with AIDS.” 

However, the Wurzweiler students disagreed with Nulman. 

Adeeva Laya Graubard, SCW ‘93, graduating Wurzweiler ‘95, said, “One of the real reasons why I wanted to do the program at Stern was… [because] I graduated from Stern and really didn’t know anything about AIDS. A lot of the students who are in Stern either fall under two categories [–] know about AIDS and will actively look for information or are totally ignorant about AIDS.”

She added, “I think it’s very important as people who are going to graduate college and hopefully come out as knowledgeable people to learn about it, and there are very few avenues that Stern College students can [take to] learn about AIDS.”

In response to Nulman’s views that education should start at a young age, Graubard said, “…better late than never.”

Graubard said that the program the class would have done would have been “tailored to the needs of the group” and would have “encompassed the type of people who would be there, their values, the values of the school.” She said, “…we wouldn’t have been hurting hte integrity of the school by what we would have been presenting.” 

Nulman said he understood this but also felt the Wurzweiler students didn’t have the experience, nor could they offer a program that combined halacha and medical data. “We’re not opposed to people talking about AIDS and sensitivity to AIDS, but the halachic, psychological and medical [sides] need to be addressed.” He said someone like Rav Tendler would be better suited to speak on this topic because of his knowledge in both halacha and biology.

However, Nulman said, “If students of YC and SCW come [to me] and want to have a program [on AIDS], we’ll have a program.”

Nulman added that, “A good majority of [the YU] student body are not going to be engaging in practices that put them at risk.”

Weiner commented on the administration’s attitude on the student body of the undergraduate schools. She said, “…many other schools have felt that it’s something that needs to be dealt with and I”m not quite sure in terms of the student body what one group of people are saying about how the students behave and how the students are actually behaving, if those two realities, are 100% congruent.” She pointed to the fact that there may be those SCW or YC students who will be marrying those outside of the YU community “who themselves may have a history which they may or may not have told the person about.” 

Weiner added that the undergraduates at YC and SCW are going to go on to professional schools and will be working with different people. Weiner added, “They’re going to have to work with lots of people who are HIV infected. I really don’t believe there’s any working environment that you can even think of that’s not going to have HIV infected people in it.” 

The Wurzweiler students said they felt that the undergraduate students needed to be more empathetic and tolerant of those suffering from AIDS, that it’s not simply a gay disease, and that they, too, can get it.”

Graubard said, “They are not just a group of people who we can say forget about them, throw them away, they are not worth our helping. But they are individuals, they have parents, they have siblings, they have friends, they have lovers.”

According to Simcha Rosenberg, Coordinator of the UJA Federation AIDS Project, there is estimated to be in the New York Metropolitan area, at least 15,000 Jews infected with HIV, and though she said they didn’t know how many have died from AIDS, she did say that it is estimated to be in the thousands. Rosenberg also said her only firm statistic was from a 12-month period from 1991/1992 where over 7,300 core Jewish households, meaning that they are definitely Jewish, used AIDS services just within that 12-month period. Charles Berman, one of the Wurzweiler students chosen to speak to Nulman directly, said sarcastically, “In the Orthodox community and in Yeshiva University there is no domestic violence, there’s no sex, there’s no drug abuse, and the Orthodox institutition’s responses are commensurate with that. They are not ready yet to admit that there is a problem.”

Berman added that there is a common link often made at YU exclusively between AIDS and homosexuality. “I would gage the institution’s response to the fact that were it not homophobic we would be doing the same type of AIDS prevention with Orthodox sensitivity than any other institution of higher education is doing.” 

Karen Marner, Wurzweiler ‘95, said, “I think it’s really sad that a group, speaking of the Jews as a group that has been oppressed by so many different cultures for so many different years, is sitting here looking down upon other…people.”

Mickey Ronen, Wurzweiler ‘95, said, “I think these students living in a microcosm are going to realize one day that somebody they know is going to be affected somehow personally and that’s what will instigate them to finally come out and have a voice.”

Marner said that the presentation would have included issues dealing with discrimination against those with AIDS. She said, “You wouldn’t discriminate against someone because they had cancer. But people, because they have AIDS, are discriminated against Berman said, “Very often in the more religious community there’s a sha still approach, meaning that this problem does not affect the Jewish community.”

Berman stated, “We, meaning the society and Yeshiva University and the Jewish community, is not where it should be almost 15 years after the discovery of the disease in terms of prevention, in terms of education, in terms of awareness and in terms of tolerance.”