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YU Special Report: More Options: Secular And ‘Yeshivish’
Staff Writer
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At the University of Maryland, home to one of the country’s largest Jewish student populations, tensions among the denominations can arise. Yet Jason Felder, president of the Orthodox student group, managed to bring folks together, and on an ordinary Saturday night, no less.

Under Felder’s leadership, the group, Kedma, rented out part of the university’s gym and invited the entire community out to play.

Time was, Felder, as a Modern Orthodox Jew, wouldn’t even have attended the University of Maryland, much less played dodgeball with Klal Yisrael, or every kind of Jew.

But these days, Orthodox students like Felder are bypassing Yeshiva University, Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution, for both secular and more traditional options. Enrollment at YU has fallen 8 percent between 2008 and 2011.

Lander College for Men, for example, opened in 2000 to capture the growing market of students looking for a school that was more traditional than YU. Today, it enjoys exactly that perception among many rabbis in the Orthodox world, said Josh Wise, assistant principal at the Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy, a yeshiva in Elizabeth, N.J.

“Lander’s is perceived as a little more yeshivish,” or rigorously Orthodox, he said. “I’m sure the level of learning is the same, and the scholarship of the rebbes is similar. But kids coming back from Israel [where they attend yeshivas post-high school for a year or two before college] will tell me that they will be encouraged to go to Lander rather than YU.”

As YU decreased in enrollment, Lander’s colleges for both men and women grew. Marian Stoltz-Loike, dean of the women’s school, sees her enrollment reaching 500 students within five years, from about 300 now.

“I chose here over another Jewish college because you’re not a number here,” said Ariela Moskowitz, a Lander junior who, like many of the students there, said she was drawn to the school because of its warm, intimate atmosphere.

Rabbis hand out their personal phone numbers, and several students raved about the lengths the administration will go to help them secure coveted internships. Work experience is crucial to these young women, who could become the breadwinners of their families while their husbands remain in yeshiva.

On the secular side, Orthodox students have even more choices. According to the website of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, 98 colleges have full kosher meal plans.

Increasingly, Modern Orthodox students have decided that YU’s emphasis on beit midrash study is too similar to high school life, where they spent a full day in the classroom, said Jackie Rockman, director of college counseling at the Yeshivah of Flatbush.

“You would think YU would be more popular,” she said. “We’ve had many meetings with them to talk about ways we can enhance the relationship between our schools, but the number of students who are interested has just declined.”

Of course, finances play a role in students’ choice of college, particularly in the last few years. It cost $50,000 to live and study YU this year, compared with $23,000 at Queens College for New York State residents and about $23,000 at Lander College for Women.

Felder, now a senior at Maryland, didn’t even apply to YU, although he turned down Johns Hopkins University because its Jewish community wasn’t big enough.

The influx of Orthodox students at secular schools has created some complications. Hillel professionals have worried that the dominance of Orthodox students complicates outreach to the less affiliated, said Rabbi Ilan Haber, who runs an Orthodox Union program that helps students navigate life at secular universities. And many in the Orthodox world worry that secular education will cause its students to become less religious.

“The lack of a solid, fervent commitment to Yiddishkeit can cause many, especially those who attend secular universities, to eventually shed Torah observance entirely,” wrote Rabbi Steve Burg, who runs the Orthodox Union’s youth group, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, in an article titled “Keeping Our Kids on the Derech [Path].”

But attending secular schools inspires many Orthodox students to take responsibility for their own Jewish lives, and those of their communities, said Rabbi Haber, who himself attended YU.

“I would describe myself as Modern Orthodox,” Felder said. “All the values I grew up with were just that, what I’d grown up with, and I wanted to find out if they would have meaning to me ... I think you have more of an opportunity to do that at a secular college.”

Last Update:

04/21/2012 - 13:58

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this may be true about queens but if you want a true orthodox experience you will not get that at queens or YU to many distractions. Landers you will get the best of both worlds and the secular education is improving.

I thought that the article was flawed simply because it failed to note that YC and SCW have always had student bodies consisting of a silent majority determined to get their degrees without upsetting the religious or intellectual status quo, a nosiy left whose voices can be found in student run publications, and a quiet but very determined and devoted right who try heroically to balance seder, shiur and classroom, and the competing interests and values therein.

Like it or not, YU neither is Harvard, Yale, Brandeis Lakewood, Ponevezh or the Mir. Conversely, it should never be seen as the Hillel House above the Harlem River where winter break or summer programs supplant Limud HaTorah as the means of becoming a Ben Torah and/or Talmid Chacham. For what it is worth, as far as RHS's comments on Chaucer, see the relevant portions of Anthony Julius' "The Trials of the Diaspora", in which he identifies Chaucer as one of the primary literary antecedents of British anti Semitism.

I find it hard to believe that except in certain specialized majors., that students attend other colleges solely for academic reasons. Like it or not, the social attractiion of a coed campus and the view that YU is too parochial have always led some students to what they perceive as greener pastures, despite the religious risks in and out of the classrooms on the average college campus.

What YU faces is essentially a buyers' market. Some students who might have gone to YU go to other yeshivos where they can learn Torah on a full time basis. While Lander has some fine Magidei Shiruim, I would contend that RIETS" Roshei Yeshiva offer a wider variety ofhighest quality styles for the average Talmid than any other yeshiva in North America, and that the notion of the Roshei Yeshiva being remote is patently false-just walk into the Beis Medrash on any night.

Yeshiva U is learning that you can't be all things to all people. When real policy is set by R' Herschel Schachter, a cloistered proponent of the most outrageous religiously inspired bigotry (intermarriage is a capital crime), you have a yeshivah with college courses charging Ivy plus tuition.

When R' Soloveitchik's grandson is offered up to protect the right of religious law to trump national mores in purely secular endeavors - as an ally of Opus Dei - you've given Tora-u-Madah as short-sighted a vision as the most limiting "trade-school" computer courses in Boro Park.

The new curriculum is horrible. I have a doctorate in education. WHY DID THEY sacrifice THE ADJUNCTS? this is a very small amount of the budget and we were told before pesach to ruin our yom tov.

Driving to teach Public Speaking at Yeshiva College this past wednesday I received a call stating that the speech department is closing at YU. I was the first speech major at Yeshiva College in 1969 and together with Dr. Abraham Tauber of Blessed memory created the first speech department at Yeshiva College. I have taught at Yeshiva College in the 70's, 80's and in the last 4 years. What is not working at Yeshiva College? Why is enrollment down? Why are students unhappy and leaving? According to my observations, shiurim are too large and Rebbes are unable to develop close relationships with students. Non-frum students who don't wear kippas in class are allowed to attend YU. Why? How much do the administrators and officers make? You would be astonished. Why fire talented adjuncts while keeping full teachers who are not evaluated and cannot teach? Consider the YU nepotism which gives untalented people jobs. There seem to be a lot of people running around doing nothing and getting paid. The cafeteria food is terrible and costs too much. Students are overworked with religious requirements which make it impossible to devote enough time to secular work. This has to be reevaluated. Finally, where is the YU spirit of Torah Umada? Where is our pride?
We are not Harvard, Yale, or Columbia. Let us be YU. A college without art, music, speech, drama, is not even an advanced high school.
Rabbi DR. Bernhard Rosenberg

If you want the opportunity to grow seriously in your Torah studies while pursuing an excellent secular education, there is one option -- YU. Period. For people who value both, this is worth sacrificing for.

This is a crock. It is not right or left. YU is as expensive as the Ivy's (with no meal program that is included in the Ivy's) and it is a lesser secular education than the state schools. Lander college is 1/2 the price. This is bad management on the part of Richard Joel. Any department that can't get you into medical school or law school or perhaps accounting has had most of their teachers fired and they are not rehiring. We complain about the poor quality of teachers in some day schools, yet the tuition is so high. YU is NOT encouraging the kids to go into education. 1/2 the courses they need don't exist.

Look through the catelogue. Half of those courses are there but not actually given. Moody's downgraded the school a year ago and no one made a peep. It is a tier 3 school and can't get by on submitting the Einstein info any more. Since the economic downturn people see through it. Most of the graduates of the joke Sy Syms (made fun of by REAL business schools elsewhere) were downsized during the economic downturn and it is because their educations are sub-par. All the Hispanic, Indian and Black students kept their jobs at the same level because a "B" elsewhere is worth more than anything from YU these days and employers know it. Again, it is not right or left. Stop trying to make a fight when there is none. It is bad management on the part of YU.

As a current student, I am always bothered by people who don't attend YU feeling like they have the right to constantly criticize it.
For some reason people can't accept that YU is a diverse Jewish community. There are very "yeshivish" students, students not at all religious, and everything in between. Yes, YU is very right wing, and yes, it is very left wing. But why is that a problem?
The best way to learn Jewish leadership is to have to lead a large and extremely diverse community, such as YU.
The fact of the matter is that when taking Torah and general studies (and academic Jewish studies) into account, YU is the best combination.
Landers does not have a reputation nearly as good as YU academically, and the learning options at secular colleges simply do not compare to the YU beit midrash.
Maybe YU is too "high-school" for you, but I'm sorry that high school was so negative for some people that anything that reminds them of it is necessarily bad.
If someone can't take the coarse load at YU, well, you can't have excellent learning, high level academics, and expect to watch all your favorite tv shows every night. But that's life, and you better start getting used to it.

Remarkable. The article is a bulls eye as to what is happening at YU.
As the MO community acculturates more and more into American culture 4 years at a non coed Yeshiva is out of the question for many men and women.
As such only a select few MO communities act as serious feeders for YU like Teaneck, NYC and Fairlawn .
Even in the more frum MO world more and more children of high professionals who need not worry about money choose to study at a Yeshiva full time for many years and such a school is not YU which in their mind is not up to snuff.
Fianlly as the pool of incoming students drys up YU is forced to recruit and admit students who relaly do not belong there, in terms o grades, background and commitment to Judaism. This causes even more havoc on the YU campus culture whee one sees black hats with amny students not wearing head gear at all !
YU needs to adopt a policy of what it stands for in terms of Orthodoxy and I think students yearn for a Spiritual leader who can serve as a role model. Sadly that is alcking at present.
I doubt that Lander College will ever become a serious alternative to YU. As the article pointed out state and city schools as wella s iy schools are the alternative and lets not forget Lakewod.

YU does have many challenges. I believe the challenge is far greater on the secular university side than the Landers/Ner Israel side. There is no easy answer. I do believe you missed another and maybe the overriding key issue.  Modern Orthodox days schools today are predominantly coeducational. Most Modern Orthodox parents identify their "Modernity" with the need to be coed and with the idea that those that go to separate gender schools are "Charedi" and those kids will "do shiduchim". Why then would a girl or boy who has spent their entire yeshiva/day school life and whose parents fight for the need for coeducation, then upon graduation want to attend a separate gender yeshiva. These parents justify to themselves that that going to a secular Hillel is right in line with their Modern Orthodoxy.  There are no easy answers. I have shared this view with leaders at YU for many years far before this decline. The day is now here. YU needs to deal with and solve somehow, maybe impossibly, the reality that the Modern Orthodoxy label today fights for coeducation as part of their brand yet the bastion and 
founder of that label is not. As a supporter with many family members who have attended YU and Stern for many years, I hope they/we can find the right answers to this perplexing issue. 

My daughter went to Yeshiva University HS for Girls which was her choice after attending a co-ed day school. Her decision was based in part on the social atmosphere in our local co-ed Yeshiva High school. By the way it is that same school my son currently attends and is thriving at within a wonderful Orthodox atmosphere of friends and teachers. After high school my daughter spent a year learning at seminary in Israel and gained many life changing lessons during her schooling that year. Knowing that she would attend Queens College I did expect during her stay in Israel to tell me that she wanted to change her college decision and switch tor Stern College. This did not happen even as I asked her if she was 100% sure and she was sticking by her original decision.

My daughters main reason for NOT attending YU/Stern College was the double curriculum of Judaic and Secular courses. At YU/Stern the students may have a study load often in the range of 30 credits a semester between the Judaic and Secular department. While many students want this FULL course load and thrive, I believe that YU misses the boat in perhaps not finding a happy medium for some that prefer a lighter course load per semester or simply a lighter Judaic course load. Of course as tuition costs rise and options of vibrant orthodox college communities grow the solution is not an easy one for YU. Of course there is the simple fact that some students may want to be part of a large college and all that goes with it and now they can with more kosher and religious options.

In regards to Queens College as a commuter school there are trade offs in ones social life. While my daughter does commute to her apartment she does not stay for shabbos and social life at the college does exist but is on the weak side as the majority of students go home or to their apartments. Obviously this is much different than a dorming college such as Maryland, Cornell or NYU.

The writer is a bit misleading in her statement on tuition costs at the colleges mentioned. The statement should have clarified that the tuition quoted may include expenses beyond the basic tuition cost but would include books, food, transportation, personal expenses and others. At present the basic tuition at Queens College $5130. Obviously way less than the $23,000 quoted.

Maybe I am biased, as my role as QC Hillel VP, however if you ask the moderate number of around 50+ students who stay in 2/4 weekends a month, the communal life is definitely improving. This semester we received a sefer torah and have been running shabbat programming on campus. I would also like to formally invite your students to stay in with some friends and become a part of the growth. Alot of people have felt that QC was a sacrifice socially but I think this will start to change, as we see a renewed interest and more parental involvement :) The fact remains that secular college can be an extremely challenging environment, yet is also an excellent opportunity to develop ones ability as a Jewish leader.

The $23000 number is not tuition, but college costs for the year and includes typical costs for room and board, supplies and so on. Assuming some reasonable numbers for rent (maybe $1000/month?) and food (perhaps half that?), you get an additional $15000 for 10 months + costs of books, supplies and you get to the number provided by the author. At QC's only dorm, costs range from $9950 to $13800 per year.

"Hillel professionals have worried that the dominance of Orthodox students complicates outreach to the less affiliated" - Instead of fearing them (which is counterproductive and often unwarranted), these Hillel professionals should realize these students can be the best resource for reaching less affiliated students. For example, Heart to Heart:

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