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From World-Class Faculty to Unique Opportunities, Seniors Reflect on Yeshiva University Experience

On May 22, some 600 new graduates will march across the stage at the Izod Center to receive their diplomas during Yeshiva University’s 83rd Commencement Exercises, completing a foundational chapter in their educational journeys and moving on to exciting new opportunities. Before they toss their caps in the air, members of the Class of 2014 shared some of their favorite moments and the profound experiences that shaped their undergraduate careers, as well as dreams that started here but which they will carry with them all their lives.

“Yeshiva University created opportunities that I never dreamed of,” said Yosefa Schoor, of Monsey, New York, who hopes to attend medical school. As an undergraduate at Stern College for Women, she was encouraged by Dr. Brenda Loewy, clinical associate professor of biology, to address an issue that troubled her in hospital care by creating Project TEACH, a volunteer program in which university students teach fun, hands-on science modules to children in hospitals. With input from YU faculty, Schoor developed her idea and hit the ground running. The program is now so successful that it’s being adopted at other universities.

“I was educated in an environment of motivated, halachic and do-good students who wanted to not only improve their own college experience, but bring about change for the larger community as well,” she said. “YU shaped me into a leader over the course of a college career and I believe those lessons and experiences will impact me for a lifetime.”

Moshe Abrams, a music major and psychology minor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, loved the unique opportunity to pursue his twin passions for music and Torah at Yeshiva College. “My favorite experiences were performing with the jazz band or dancing in the beit midrash after reading the megillah on Purim,” he said. “I couldn’t have learned Torah on the level it’s learned here and majored in music anywhere else—most yeshivas that allow students to get a degree from a nearby college don’t have liberal arts majors available, and any other college wouldn’t have enabled me to learn seriously for several hours each day. At YU, I was able to do both.”

At Stern College, Yael Roberts, an English literature and studio art minor from Potomac, Maryland, melded her background in Judaic studies and love of literary correspondence to create a solo art exhibition at an art gallery in Manhattan while still an undergraduate. Her research and artwork were supported by the Henry Kressel Research Scholarship program, which offers students the opportunity to craft a yearlong intensive research project under the direct supervision of University faculty. “A class on science and Victorian British Literature taught by Dr. Linda Shires [David and Ruth Gottesman Professor of English and co-chair of the English department] made a deep impact me, because it inspired much of my research and artwork at Stern,” she said. “I also loved [Associate Professor of Bible] Dr. Michelle Levine’s Bereishit class, which inspired me to continue my Jewish learning in a structure way after college.”

Next year, Roberts will be a student on the Year Program at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, an intensive post-college program that combines classic Jewish text study with the exploration of ethical, spiritual, philosophical, legal and societal issues facing the Jewish people today.

For Mordechai Smith, a biology major and public health minor from Lawrence, New York, a Center for the Jewish Future winter mission to the Jewish community of Kharkov, Ukraine proved life-changing. “I was one of 18 students who helped the community by shopping for food and delivering it to the impoverished and housebound elderly who had no family or support system,” he said. “We helped clean the demolished Jewish Community Center and interacted with local students our age. Spending two weeks with a small group of men and women in a country far beyond the safety of the familiar had a transformative effect—coming back from Kharkov, I discovered within myself an insatiable desire to continue my involvement.”

That drive to make a difference pushed Smith to volunteer for nearly 100 hours at the step-down ward at the New York Presbyterian/Allen Hospital and tutor at the Intermediate School in Washington Heights. He also volunteered for the Yeshiva University Student Medical Ethics Society, where he began to envision the role his Jewish values would play in his career as a doctor. “What YU offers that can’t be found anywhere else is the unique opportunity to learn how to synthesize the living values and traditions of Torah Judaism with the culture of Western civilization,” he said. “This is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Sarah Noble, a biochemistry major and art history minor from Scarsdale, New York, felt the individual attention she received at Stern College helped her thrive. “Because of the small class size, I was able to have really close relationships with my teachers—and this wasn’t just limited to advanced classes in my major,” she said. “I took a fantastic Jewish history course in art and poetry as it relates to the Jews of medieval Spain with [Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Chair in Sephardic Studies] Dr. Ronnie Perelis and a complicated physical chemistry course with [Associate Professor of Chemistry] Dr. Chaya Rapp, both of which were small enough to make sure students received the attention they needed to understand the material and encouraged them to voice opinions and ask questions.”

Benny Silver, of Los Angeles, California, felt his education in accounting at YU’s Sy Syms School of Business paved the way for his new job in the audit department of Grant Thornton after graduation. “My advanced accounting and audit professor Constance Crawford has really given me fantastic insight into what it’s like to work in public accounting and has really prepared me for the challenges that stand before me,” he said. But his favorite memory from his undergraduate experience will always be representing the University on the court as a guard/forward for the men’s basketball team. “I feel YU was the only place in the world I could have played NCAA basketball while getting a fantastic education and continuing to build a connection with my Jewish heritage,” he said.

As an entrepreneurship major at Sy Syms, Doron David, of Hollywood, Florida, co-founded a software company with other YU students looking to pioneer a new field within the cloud-computing industry. “As a young entrepreneur, [Rosh Beit Midrash] Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank’s Halacha in Business class helped me gain a better understanding of myself as a Jew in the business world and what it means to always conduct myself in an ethical way,” he said. “One of the things I truly enjoyed about YU is that it gave me the ability to do the things I wanted to do and the faculty was always supportive of my business initiatives, while the small student body allowed me to stand out as an entrepreneur.”

Hannah Dreyfus, an English literature major with a concentration in journalism from New Haven, Connecticut, clearly remembers the excitement and pride she felt when her first article appeared in The YU Observer, Stern’s official undergraduate newspaper. “I wrote an opinions piece about the value of liberal arts education—I remember spending hours and hours on it before sending it in,” she said. “When the paper hit stands, I proudly brought it back to my Brookdale dorm and pinned it to the bulletin board next to my bed. I have written in every single issue of The Observer since and was honored to serve as editor-in-chief this year.”

Dreyfus will continue her career in journalism after graduation, starting as a full-time reporter for The Jewish Week, where she interned for a year and a half during her time at Stern. “Because of its midtown location, I was able to balance exciting internships in journalism with my course load throughout my years at Stern,” she said. “The Career Center has also been an incredible asset to me—I’ve met with [Assistant Director] Rebecca Weiler regularly since I first marched into her office sophomore year. If you’re motivated and passionate, YU will help you open every door you knock on.”

Chanan Freilich, a pre-dental student majoring in psychology from Jamaica, New York, is looking forward to beginning his semicha studies at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary next year. As an undergraduate, he was especially inspired by shiurim with [Nathan and Perel Schupf Chair in Talmud at RIETS] Rav Michael Rosensweig and [Assistant Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Bible] Rabbi Dr. Shalom Carmy. “Rav Rosensweig has taught me to look at everything in life, whether it be a page of gemara or any life situation, with a certain complexity and nuance,” said Freilich. “How he teaches embodies what I believe is YU’s goal: to raise students with a passion for Torah Judaism and life, giving them the skills to approach everything with sophistication and honesty. Rabbi Dr. Carmy is also a profoundly deep thinker who has a profound, philosophical, and sometimes humorous explanation for everything he encounters, be it a perek [chapter] in Job or a piece by Rav Kook.”

One of Freilich’s favorite memories is the strong ruach [atmosphere] during Shabbat on campus. “Something that jumps out at me immediately is Friday night of Shabbos Zachor during my second year,” he said. “The beit midrash was packed for this much-hyped Shabbos, with tremendous anticipation for Purim which was right around the corner. Eitan Katz was the guest chazan for kabbalat Shabbat [Friday night prayers], and at the end of Lecha Dodi, hundreds of talmidim [students] broke into enthusiastic dancing.”

Elliot Shavalian, a psychology major and double-minor in Spanish and theater from Los Angeles, California, tried to avail himself of as many of the exciting extracurricular opportunities available in YU’s vibrant campus life as possible, joining the Yeshiva College Dramatics Society, YU’s official undergraduate radio station, the psychology club and Student Life Committee, among others.

“I’ve had so many unique and fun experiences at YU that have created these memories that will stay with me forever,” he said. “Whether it was riding the YU float at the Celebrate Israel Day Parade, that time I chased a goat at the petting zoo at the Yom Ha’Atzmaut festivities during my sophomore year, or even experiencing my first snowstorm while drinking hot chocolate on the roof of my friend’s apartment, it’s hard for me to accept that my time here is almost up.”