Vocalizing the Praise that is Unspoken

By: Phillip Nagler  |  May 12, 2020

By Phillip Nagler, Opinion Editor

An unfortunate stereotype that college newspapers tend to receive, especially this one, is that opinion pieces that question the university and its policies are nothing more than whiny and ungrateful. Many view the writers of such pieces as having an axe to grind with Yeshiva University. Perhaps in some cases, they do, but I’d assert that most of the time, these writers are challenging a system or idea that they believe can be changed for the better. As an editor of the opinion section, I’ve tried my best to help writers make their pieces sound respectfully critical, as opposed to degrading; inquisitive, instead of dismissive; iconoclastic, but without total rejection of the norm.

Perhaps a more efficient strategy that I could have pursued is to have recruited writers who would write pieces that reflect on their positive experiences in YU, and laud the institution for its policies and systems that students thrive from.  These pieces appear in the YU Observer, but not at a comparable frequency to those that are condemning. While I am personally guilty for contributing to this problem, my writing has always been with the intention of challenging conventional ideas and practices to make YU a more inclusive place for all of its students. For my last piece that I will write in this newspaper, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the experiences I’ve had in YU that I am extremely grateful for and deserve praise.

A topic virtually never mentioned in these pages, are the academic courses offered in YU and the professors who teach them. As a biochemistry major, I have taken numerous courses in the biology, chemistry, and physics departments for the past three years. The professors that I’ve had are incredible. They are passionate and highly knowledgeable on the subjects that they teach and display respect and patience towards their students. Never have I seen a student’s question ignored or disparaged in a lecture, and never have I been turned away from a letter of recommendation. Though our professors may design difficult exams, they do so with the intention of preparing us for graduate school. Our professors want us to succeed, but they also want to push us to work our hardest. As I enter a master’s program this fall in forensic science, I feel confident that the strong scientific background and reasoning skills that I gained in Yeshiva College as a biochemistry major has prepared me to succeed.

It is also imperative that I properly thank and highlight the Yeshiva. Upon entering college, I had a lot of doubts and uncertainties about the relationship I wanted with Judaism, as did many of my friends. I feel that the rebbeim and undergraduate Torah studies staff truly care about the wellbeing of every student, and try their best to accommodate students of all religious backgrounds and aspirations. In my many semesters in the beit midrash program, I had the opportunity to create a very close connection to a rebbe whom I consider both a role model and a friend.  He always treated me with respect and dignity, regardless of how I observed (or didn’t observe) halacha. I truly believe that there is a morning program and rabbi  for every student to form a connection with, and an opportunity for all to gain clarity in their Jewish observance.

Thirdly, I want to point out the amazing experience I’ve had with student life. Students complain a lot about the Office of Student Life and the event approval process, but my personal experience with the OSL has been nothing but pleasant and cooperative. At the start of my fourth semester, I wanted to start my own club — one that I could put a lot of effort into and feel passionate about. I was unsure how the OSL would feel about a progressive club that advocated for awareness of social justice issues in the Jewish community. Turns out, they were ecstatic to have it as a club, and thus, the Jewish Activism club was born.

During the three semesters that I’ve run the club with my co-president, I was given the opportunity to accomplish a great deal, in what feels like, very little time. We’ve had six amazing events, multiple club board meetings, and various forms of peaceful protest in the two and half semesters the club has been on campus (and I’m confident the club’s successors will continue to make it an influential club on campus ). One of the more notable events was a panel discussing awareness of sexual abuse in the Jewish community that I specifically want to commend YU for approving and funding. Perhaps the club’s greatest achievement was gaining approval for an LGBTQ+ safe space event that would be held on the Wilf campus, a type of event that has not happened for a decade. Although the event was inevitably canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, getting the event approved taught me that with enough effort and persistence, even what seems impossible can be accomplished.

I could go on and on about the positive experiences I’ve had at Yeshiva University, but I will stop here. I find it unfortunate that sometimes to the outside reader, reading through the pages of the school newspaper gives off the impression that the students of YU are miserable and ungrateful, but this is far from the truth. To be fair, I myself have written pieces arguing against campus policies and ideologies. Overall though, as I say goodbye to YU, it is important to make it clear about how grateful I am for the education and experience that I had the opportunity to receive.