Yeshiva University News » Op-ed

Dr: Jess Olson: The Yazidis and The Armenians of Musa Dagh

The crisis faced by the little-known religious minority, the Yazidis of northern Iraq, captured the attention of western humanitarians. Their capitulation to their pursuers, the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), whose strict interpretation of Islam regards the Yazidis as polytheists, would mean physical destruction. To escape, thousands of these practitioners of an obscure faith, who have dwelt in the Ninveh region for centuries, encamped on the desolate summit of Mount Sinjar, desperate for rescue by a foreign power.

Dr. Jess Olson

Dr. Jess Olson, associate professor of Jewish history

A remarkably similar story was told a little over eighty years ago by German-speaking Jewish novelist Franz Werfel, in his blockbuster novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Virtually unknown today, the 900-page novel was widely read when it appeared. Just in time to serve as a prescient critique of Nazism, it was optioned by studio giant MGM in 1934 to produce an epic film starring a young Clark Gable, then on his way to winning an Academy Award for It Happened One Night.

Werfel’s inspiration was a footnote to the Turkish anti-Armenian atrocities of World War I. In June 1915, receiving news of mass expulsions and murder, the inhabitants of six Armenian Christian villages on the Mediterranean coast collected their few possessions and weapons, and fled to the summit of Musa Dagh, highlands on the coast of the Mediterranean, to escape the approaching Turks. The leader of the revolt, Moses Der Kalousdian, a European-educated Armenian gentleman, rallied the spirits of the villagers, held off assaults on their stronghold until, on the verge of capitulation, they were rescued by a passing French warship.

Although the revolt of 4,200 Armenians at Musa Dagh received scattered attention in the press, it was a small event in a much larger conflict. Read the rest of this entry…

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Dr. Rona Novick: How Educators Can Arm Students With Hope in an Increasingly Dangerous World

On my first day as Dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education, three innocent Israeli victims of terrorism – teenagers – were laid to rest. The unity of the past weeks and the pain and sheer terror of the past few days beg consideration: are there any lessons here regarding what educators should be teaching their students?

Dr. Rona Novick

Dr. Rona Novick, dean of YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education

We are not the first generation, and I fear we will not be the last, that needs to teach children about danger and safety. Difficult lessons about a world where even children who do no wrong become ill, and where there are cruel adults and children who can and will hurt other children have been and will continue to be taught. Such lessons require delicate balance. If we err on the side of lollipops and sunshine, we lose credibility as trustworthy and knowledgeable adults when terror or trauma strikes. If we open children’s eyes wide to the doom, gloom and ever-present dangers, we risk raising a generation of anxious, terrified citizens.

Whether it is the discomfort of modulating between opposite poles of all is good, and the world is evil, or the fact that when we cannot promise safety, it seems providing any guidance or support is futile, adults may avoid these tough lessons. Read the rest of this entry…

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President Richard M. Joel on Banayich and Bonayich: Two Halves of a Nuanced Whole

This past Sunday, I joined thousands of celebrants in Yeshiva University’s Lamport Auditorium for a most joyous occasion, as a record 230 of our young rabbinical students received their ordination, from our Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

13380712214_f4ef10fb63_zThe atmosphere at this quadrennial Chag HaSemikhah event, attended by more than 3,000 people on our Wilf Campus, was simply electric; the potential energy latent in the collective capacity of these young men reverberated in the room, throughout our campus, and around our Jewish world.

The moment was not merely memorable – it served as a dramatic demonstration of Jewish vibrancy and Torah vitality in our day, a ceremonial call to arms for the incoming leadership of our people. Read the rest of this entry…

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President Richard M. Joel: ‘University Must be About Not Just Making a Living But Building a Life’

Rising tuitions, stagnant job markets and bleak economic realities have finally compelled universities and their students to ask some tough questions: Is a college education worth it? Does a college degree actually offer value beyond an impressive wall ornament? And as universities across the nation carry on their struggles to stay afloat, why even bother?

President Richard Joel

President Richard M. Joel

Years ago, I had the honor of taking part in a meeting at the White House convening educational leaders for an open discussion with then President George W. Bush. At one point, the President remarked that “the purpose of higher education is to prepare our children to compete in the global economy.” I mustered the courage to respectfully respond: “Mr. President — at Yeshiva University, we take a slightly different view. We believe the purpose of education is to ennoble and enable our students.” “Ennoble and enable,” he said, smiling. “I like that.”

In many ways, the American university is in danger of losing its soul. Now we must ask ourselves: Long after students forget how to determine the number of valence electrons in a Palladium atom or how exactly to apply the law of diminishing returns, which ideas and ideals will stand the test of time and inform the remainder of their adult existence? Read the rest of this entry…

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Dr. Rona Novick Offers Four Steps Towards Positive Social Leadership

As September approaches, our thoughts begin to turn towards academic pursuits: Which teacher will be best? How much homework will there be?

Rona

Dr. Rona Novick

But perhaps students returning to school are most plagued by issues relating to social skills and challenges: Will I make friends? Who will be nice to me? Will I fit in?

Schools are social places. Students spend a considerable amount of time in groups, both as part of their learning and in unstructured activities. Collaboration is a critical life skill, and learning to be a responsible and caring social leader is a wonderful goal. Although developing social skills, empathy and social leadership is a complex, ongoing process, parents can set the stage for success, and help children obtain healthy social attitudes with some fairly straightforward September adjustments. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ilana Turetsky: How Online Learning Enriches the Teaching and Learning Experience

The upcoming summer semester will mark my fourth semester teaching online courses at Azrieli Graduate School. I have found the experience to be enriching, broadening, and stimulating. While some may envision online teaching as a direct transfer from the live classroom to the virtual setting, I perceive online teaching as a categorically different enterprise. Allow me to share three brief thoughts on my experiences teaching online, highlighting some of the unique features that I believe online learning affords. Read the rest of this entry…

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Dr. Lawrence Schiffman on the Growing Popularity of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Why are literally hundreds of thousands of people streaming to exhibits of the Dead Sea Scrolls all over the United States and the rest of the world? Why should anyone even care about these remnants of close to 900 scrolls from the second and first centuries BCE and the first century CE? What possesses some of us in academia to devote our professional careers to teaching and research about the Scrolls?

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Yeshiva University presents its first annual Dead Sea Scrolls conference on May 19.

The discovery of the first scrolls by Bedouin in 1947 in Cave 1 at Qumran, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, set off a wave of excitement. But this initial interest was misused by scholars who were intent on understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Second Temple period Jewish sect that gathered them as a precursor of Christianity. To make matters even worse, the long delays in publication that ensued understandably fostered conspiracy theories worthy of Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code, and served as a great distraction from the Scrolls’ real significance and message. After all, they are Second Temple period texts authored, copied and left for us by Jews who lived and breathed devotion to God’s Torah and its commandments, even if they represented an approach that, from the point of view of the sweep of Jewish history, was sectarian. Read the rest of this entry…

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Chani Wiesman Berliant on the Need for Genetic Education and Testing

In my role as genetic counselor, I meet with men, women and families who have personal or family histories of cancer. I take a detailed medical and family history, assess the chance for an hereditary risk for cancer, and recommend appropriate genetic testing. Genetic testing can help identify what that “hereditary factor” is. When the results come back, I interpret them in the context of the family history and help make screening and management recommendations.

Chani Wiesman Berliant

Chani Wiesman Berliant is a genetic counselor at YU’s Program for Jewish Genetic Health

Inevitably, the following statement would come up in discussion:

“…and if you carry one of these BRCA mutations, it means that there’s a 50/50 chance that you could have passed it on to your kids…” Read the rest of this entry…

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President Richard M. Joel: Israel Must be Seen as a Destination for Our Destiny

As often as possible, I leave the confines of my 12th-floor office and meander around the campus of Yeshiva University. I do this for many reasons, principally because I so enjoy speaking with our students and absorbing the sights and insights of our campus experience as much as they do.

Israel FlagBut even when students tuck themselves away in their classrooms and study halls, I examine the magnificent buildings in which our students pore over their texts, both Judaic and secular. Those edifices themselves seem to speak almost as loudly as the passionate, smart and vociferous undergraduates studying within them, serving as architectural symbols of the many great institutions of learning that we Jews have built together in North America and around the world.

One particular structural feature of our campus always strikes a chord in me. Three flags, each flapping and flailing in the unremitting Washington Heights wind: The flag of Yeshiva University, the flag of the United States of America, the flag of the State of Israel. Degel Yisrael, that 65-year-old symbol of hope with its ancient Star of David affixed at its center, with thousands of years of Jewish endurance and hope enchantingly summarized in its blue and white hues.

And I ask myself: What message does that flag bear for the sprawling, growing, Diaspora-based institution over which it flies? Why fly the flag of Israel? Read the rest of this entry…

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Rabbi Benjamin Blech on the Sin of the Innocent Bystander

The latest revelation about the Holocaust stuns even the scholars who thought they already knew everything about the horrific details of Germany’s program of genocide against the Jewish people.

It’s taken more than 70 years to finally know the full facts. And what is almost beyond belief is that what really happened goes far beyond what anyone could ever have imagined.

For the longest time we have spoken of the tragedy of six million Jews. It was a number that represented the closest approximation we could come to the victims of Hitler’s plan for a Final Solution. Those who sought to diminish the tragedy claimed six million was a gross exaggeration. Others went further and denied the historicity of the Holocaust itself, absurdly claiming the Jews fabricated their extermination to gain sympathy for the Zionist cause.

But now we know the truth. Read the rest of this entry…

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