A Return to the Heart: Why Are We at Yeshiva University?

By: Elka Wiesenberg  |  December 18, 2019

By Elka Wiesenberg, Opinion Editor

Every institution is flawed. On the inside, we see the problems more, but we have to realize that this is because of our insider perspective. We look at other schools, and the grass is always greener from across the way; we might think that our institution has more problems than any other. It doesn’t. We just see our problems more clearly.

This isn’t to say that the issues at Yeshiva University are not very real. At the YU Observer, we have written many articles and editorials on the lack of LGBTQ+ representation, the broken elevators, and the sexism at this school. However, there are a lot of positives to Yeshiva University, and we tend to gloss over those in pursuit of fixing what is broken.

Let’s take a step back and remember why we are here, instead of having opted for another school. We asked students if they are happy at YU, and why they came in the first place.

Over 63% of survey participants answered that they are happy at YU, while 23.3% said they are “kind of” happy, and only 10% answered that they are not happy. The remainder of responses were individual responses, including, “Yes but would rather be in Israel!” and “Yes and no. I am happy with day to day life here, but I am incredibly frustrated by the way the administration treats students.”

As to why they came to YU in the first place, students had a variety of answers.

“This is where the gedolim of modern orthodoxy are,” answered one student, as to why they came to YU. Twenty-six students told the YU Observer that they are at YU because of a Jewish environment and Judaism in general. Thirteen people answered that it was for Torah and Jewish education. One student wrote, “YU provide[s] me with a Jewish education that I didn’t get in high school or middle school. It is the best place ever. I love it here!” 

Some students discussed the unique opportunity of attending a Jewish college versus secular college, as it is a place that fosters and protects Jewish identity. “I’m Jewish and I wanted a place where my Jewish identity did not have to be compromised,” said one student. Furthermore, students have answered that they chose YU to escape antisemitism, “because there wouldn’t be antisemitism here.” We are lucky to be in an institution that supports, instead of attacks, Israel; a school where we are not antagonized, but rather celebrated, for our Jewish identities. 

Others shared the pragmatic benefits of YU: the honors program, the advantages of a smaller school, the Israel credits, and the holiday schedule. A few answered that they wanted to attend college in New York City, and chose YU based off of that. 

Personally, I am at YU for all the above reasons, and more. The main pull for me was the Jewish environment, like many of my fellow students, but I also weighed the Torah, the honors program, small school size, Israel credits, and holiday schedule. The answers of some students were not as relatable to me. Many students decided to attend YU because most of their friends were coming here. Most of my friends chose to stay home in Chicago, and coming to New York was difficult for me. I am here for so many reasons, those listed above, as well as for the opportunity to be involved on campus in ways I never could at secular college, the ability to live in the dorms comfortably, and still have some co-ed activities without going to a co-ed school. I came to YU thinking it was a perfect institution, and it didn’t take me very long to figure out that it wasn’t. 

Many students shared a hesitation with answering that they are completely happy at YU. Interestingly, while only 63% of students answered that they are happy at YU, over 75% of students said they would not want to switch schools.

Why aren’t the remaining students transferring?

Five students responded that they are too close to graduating, and three claimed that their credits wouldn’t transfer. For the most part, though, when asked why they haven’t switched schools, students answered, “I love it here,” or “[there’s] no reason to.” 

One student encapsulated my ideas about YU well: “I like [Yeshiva University] amongst all the s*** we give them, which they do indeed deserve in many aspects. In the bigger picture the sum of YU is so much greater than its parts. [Its] mission and what it sets out to accomplish truly works amidst their day to day shortcomings.” 

While YU has many flaws, most students are happy here. The Jewish environment and opportunities for Torah learning are unparalleled, and students recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of this institution.

We have every right to be upset with our university when it fails us. We have an obligation to speak out against injustices. We should each do our part to make YU a better place. But at the end of the day, let’s not forget what inspires us about this institution. Let’s remember why we came here, and let’s remember why we stay. When we talk about what we want to change, let’s keep the discussion open about what we love and appreciate.

What is it that keeps you at Yeshiva University? What do you love about your school? When you look into your heart– what do you find?

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Photo: Students at Beren Orientation, 2019

Photo Source: Yeshiva University