With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: The Truth Behind the Purim Edition

By: Aaron Shaykevich  |  April 2, 2024

By Aaron Shaykevich, Editor-in-Chief 

A few weeks ago, the YU Observer engaged in tradition and published our Purim edition for 2024. As we compiled articles from editors and writers who were interested in giving a satirical take on a YU-related topic, it got me thinking about the real reason we choose to spend time making an edition every year that does not claim to tell any truths, or at least, not openly.

If you were to ask Yeshiva University students why they chose to come to YU, their answers might sound somewhat similar. YU is a Jewish institution, and for one reason or another, students prefer that in a college. For some, it’s the learning opportunities. For others, it’s about the Jewish environment and being around like-minded peers. But the focus is the same: if you are Jewish, and aspire to have a successful career, YU is the place to be.

Students who choose to come to YU do so at some sort of expense. Many of us have stressful schedules and a dual curriculum that forces us to make decisions on what is important to us, and where to devote our time. Most of us do this for the sake of being in one of the only institutions that can make being an Orthodox Jew easy. I believe that students who choose to come to YU, even those who have qualms with parts of the establishment, have parts of their lives made easier by attending YU.

At the same time, zooming out from the individual perspective, YU is much larger than its current students. For one thing, across all its schools, YU employs over 2,000 faculty and has over 70,000 alumni. That is to say, YU is fairly big, and the reach of YU is even larger. When YU does something, religious institutions follow. Back in December, President Berman mentioned during the 99th annual Hanukkah Dinner that the organizers of the recent D.C. rally attribute YU’s canceling of classes to the large success of the event. Not just because most students joined, but because of how many organizations, schools, and shuls joined afterward. Modern Orthodox Jewry heavily relies on YU, and its Rebbeim, as a model for what is right and what is wrong, and how to take action. 

For those who are involved in the religious politics of today, one cannot help but see YU as a powerful force dominating the modern orthodox community. Ultimately, YU decides which conversations to have, and which to ignore.

Therefore, when a student who attends YU criticizes the institution (or at least, when I criticize YU), it is not because we hate it; it is because we want it to be better. If you look at YU, you will certainly find contradictions, bureaucratic hierarchies, and people who are not afraid to lie. But at the same time, we get to be openly Jewish, we get to learn Talmud, and we have Rebbeim and professors who encourage and guide us. 

My goal isn’t to say “Hey, maybe we are bad, but at least we’re not secular,” but rather to emphasize that even within an institution that many hold to be sacred and the center of modern orthodoxy, there are flaws and contradictions. In some ways, we have to take the bad, and say “Okay, any large institution is going to make mistakes sometimes.” Chas V’shalom (God forbid) to think that I am excusing any of these mistakes. But at the end of the day, they are part of YU, both the good and the bad.

As student journalists, we need to call out hypocrisy when we see it. And as students of YU, an organization that sometimes feels as if it speaks for all of modern orthodoxy, our responsibility grows exponentially. The heavy responsibility we feel toward our institution can often make us feel frustrated when YU does not immediately change. No matter how loud our voices are, no matter how much we try to bring our complaints to their attention. When we know that they so obviously can and should change.

The YU Observer, founded in 1958, has been a key part of YU (or at least Stern) for a decent portion of its life. We have a rich history, one I love to talk about. And part of that history is our Purim edition. In 1964, the YU Observer published (what I believe to be) their first Purim edition. Ever since, the tradition has been present throughout much of our history. 

Our Purim edition, while I hope enjoyable to read, is anything but unserious. Some articles may have no ulterior motive other than to be funny, but the edition as a whole speaks volumes. The only reason many of the jokes work is because students at YU are disenfranchised.

This year, the YU Observer staff have devoted themselves to illuminating the many facets of this institution, the good the bad, and displaying it for all to see. Our addition of rants and raves to the YU Observer, for example, was not in hindrance of this goal, but rather, furthered it. Sometimes, the best way to express oneself is with humor, not analytical facts or detailed opinions. And in that vein, the Purim edition is just one more way to see that objective through. 

My message to the faculty at YU is, if any of you are interested to see where our lovely institution can improve, maybe read the Purim edition.