By Rachel Jacobi, News Editor
For the past year, the YU and Stern Confessions Page has served as a popular forum for students to express frustrations that they don’t have another outlet for. Latently, however, it has functioned as a tracker for students’ religious beliefs. The YU and Stern Confessions Page has evolved into a microcosm of sorts, with issues amongst Yeshiva and Stern College students playing out on this Facebook page. With Yeshiva University’s two undergraduate campuses separated by over a hundred blocks, students believe the page is the only current forum that allows for contentious dialogue.
YU is comprised of 2,682 undergraduate students. A recent survey by the YU Observer indicates that this number is representative of many different religious identifications, ranging from Secular to Chasidic, and including Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Just Jewish, Traditional, Chareidi, Conservative, Chabad, Reconstructionist, or other.
This diversity is well reflected on the YU and Stern Confessions Page, where all manner of opinions can be found on a variety of religious conflicts. For example, Daniel Wolf, a Yeshiva College student, said, “I feel that as a student at Yeshiva University, a place which champions ancient Orthodox Jewish teachings, it’s my responsibility to push back against the overwhelming liberalism/anti-Orthodox Jewish views that are consistently found in the confessions or comments.” Shifra Lindenberg, Stern College student and founder of the YU and Stern Confessions Page, told the YU Observer, “I think the Confessions Page has opened up a dialogue on campus that has never existed before. It has revealed the different types of students that exist on campus. While I personally don’t support cheating on your S.O. [significant other], I do support the other students opening up about their different religious upbringings or their sexual orientation. When we realize that everyone is different instead of pretending like we are all the same, we can instead have a conversation despite our different opinions on the matter of shomer negiah, shomer Shabbat, lgbtq+, OTD, etc.”
While questions about how to view people with different levels of religiosity have always been hotly debated on the YU and Stern Confessions Page, this month saw an influx of confessions about the topic. Confession 2393 asked, “Since when did it become cool and edgy to not be religious? If someone could explain this trend to me, I’d greatly appreciate it.” This was in contrast to Confession 2406: “Why do some of you care how religious others are? If it’s not personally impacting your life and your religiosity then mind your own business and let people do what they believe is right for them.” These two confessions frame the larger debate that exists on the page, between students who question the religious actions (or lack of) of other students, and students who argue for acceptance.
Cheating on one’s significant other has also become a matter of discussion, as Lindenberg mentioned, with confessions on the topic increasing in frequency. For example, Confession 2456 announced, “For the last few weeks I’ve been meeting up and hooking up and even spent a night with another guy behind my boyfriend’s back.” Confession 2445 questioned if “a relationship [can] be salvaged after someone was unfaithful.” Perhaps the best example is Confession 2462, which bluntly stated, “Do Orthodox people ever cheat on their significant other? I feel like I’m the only one going through this right now and I’m just wondering if this is something anyone else has experienced.” Elisheva Sternglass commented on this post: “It happens in the Orthodox world, just no one talks about it.”
Perhaps one of the most popular, and simultaneously controversial, issues on the page is the matter of LGBTQ+ students, perhaps as a result of the recent LGBTQ+ march. Confessions and comments for and against the development of a more LGBTQ+-accepting environment and administration at Yeshiva University, appear. Posts such as Confession 2480 were highly contentious: “Hashem doesn’t give you a test you can’t pass. So all of you LGBTQ… out there. You can pass it, don’t give up,” producing a flurry of protesting responses that were generally in favor of LGBTQ+ rights on campus. Confession 2464 said, “I am gay but also (trying to be) religious. Is it problematic for me to go to shiur with full knowledge of the ‘sacrilegious’ activities I engaged in the night before?” This confession, which prompted a staggering amount of comments and replies, reflects the larger, ongoing debate on campus amongst students and faculty about reconciling queerness with religion.
The YU and Stern Confessions Page also reflects the reality of students who are raised religiously and decide on a less religious lifestyle while at YU. Confession 1982 expressed insecurity: “I hate that even though I was raised Modern Orthodox and kept Shabbos all of my life that I was still tempted to go on… [my] phone when my friends pulled their phones out. I wish I knew how to make the feelings go away.” This sparked responses of support and advice. Confessor 1917 remarked that they “feel very empty in…Judaism right now” and wondered if they should “give up the facade” or “keep it up for the chance I may start actually wanting to be really frum again.” Students struggling with religiosity is a prevailing theme on the page, with multiple comments appearing on whether deviating from an Orthodox lifestyle is acceptable.
Efrat Eden Malachi, a Stern College student, described the YU and Stern Confessions Page as a place where “people are exploring a world of objective truths while explaining their subjective truths.” She continued, “I think conflict is bound to rise from the cracks in between, but that’s precisely where growth happens.” This is reflected in the popular success that the page has enjoyed. Currently, the page has almost 2,000 followers.