yucommentator.org/Written by Aviv Yarimi
How is Yeshiva University different from other universities? Is it just that we have a pretty rigorous dual-curriculum, divided campuses, and salmon Thursdays? Or is there more? Obviously, there is an assortment of differences we can find between YU and other colleges; I am sure any given student on Wilf or Beren Campus can provide a fairly lengthy list of these clear-cut disparities. YU is intrinsically unique — hence its almost completely Jewish population. But one difference shines brightly and blares loudly; yet is still not given as much attention as it deserves: a lack of Chabad presence on campus. My question is: why does this difference exist?
I’m aware. I’m aware that we attend a Jewish university and one might be skeptical as to whether there is an actual need for a Chabad on campus. To respond to this fairly legitimate concern, it is necessary to identify the function of a typical ‘Chabad on Campus’. For one, it is meant to serve as a religious venue for Jews who want to preserve their observance and yiddishkeit. Not everyone on secular campuses chooses to go to the Hillel. Chabad also famously serves the purpose of being a haven for less affiliated Jews. Ultimately, it is a place where Jewish people, of all different religious backgrounds, can physically congregate and spiritually commune.
The presence of those diverse religious backgrounds is where there is a similarity between YU and other universities.
YU’s student body is more diverse than one may think. It’s easy to ignore the various hashkafot that pervade the atmospheres of the Beren and Wilf campuses and simply categorize all students under a brand name of “Modern Orthodoxy.” But YU is, in fact, fairly diverse. A few glances around campus is enough to realize that this claim is evidently true. And if for some reason diversity is not immediately apparent, then a few discussions with any given number of people would support this overlooked reality. It’s all there: religious right, left, center, observant, non-observant, strongly affiliated, weakly affiliated. Oh, and did I mention, some Chabadnikim?
‘Chabad on Campus’ at YU would address several foundational issues that linger in the environment. It would facilitate a sense of community and Shabbat life, which would partially eliminate the almost self-fulfilling prophecy of “a weak Shabbat life due to a low number of students who stay in.”
It would allow for easy access to a common meeting place, where people would be able to enjoy weekday hangouts, Shabbat meals, shiurim, speakers, chassidus and all the great things that Chabad has to offer the Jewish people. While YU claims to provide all these activities and experiences on Shabbat, quite frankly, it does not do so very often. ‘Chabad on Campus’ has a strong reputation for successfully carrying out these community-building events. Furthermore, Chabad will provide the physical infrastructure and catalyze the social dynamic necessary for a strong social experience at Yeshiva University. It would encourage more people to create profound, interpersonal relationships and would serve as an ideal location for those seeking to hang out and play board games before or after their Shabbat nap. Having a few games set out in Morgenstern lounge does not compare to the having an established place of gathering.
I would venture to say that many of us have visited other college campuses and have had the experience of being welcomed into the “homey”, warm environment that the Chabad shliach and shlucha provide. Whether it be for those who are religiously affiliated or for those who seek to be more so, Chabad and its inclusive and engaging spirit provide a religious experience in an amiable, accepting and loving way.
‘Chabad on Campus’ would also foster a positive, spiritual and enriching co-ed environment. Instead of merely relying on occasional YU-wide coed events, a Chabad would give students the opportunity to interact with their downtown and uptown counterparts, especially on Shabbat. This, of course, would be part of the solution for the infamously complex and enigmatic problem of Shabbat life at YU.
And to reiterate: we are not as homogenous as the naked eye might observe. Yes, many of us may wear kippot and skirts on a daily basis. Yes, more of us, proportionately speaking, are more observant than the average of a number of Jewish populations on other college campuses. Yes, many of us went to yeshiva or seminary.
But, no, we are not all of the same hashkafah. The context of Yeshiva University allows for the opportunity to enhance the Jewish achdut in Yeshiva University, which can eventually affect other areas of America and even the world.