Engaging With the World of Tomorrow

YU Conference Convenes University Experts and Communal Leaders to Tackle Challenges and Opportunities of a Rapidly Changing World

How can we help Judaism’s rich textual tradition resonate with children growing up in the age of digital media? What are the ways in which our changing world will impact the development, governance, and effectiveness of our nonprofit and communal institutions? In a professional environment that increasingly favors mathematics, science and engineering careers, what type of education and skills development are necessary to enable our students to compete on the global stage?

These are just a few of the complex questions the Yeshiva University community tackled at “YU and the World of Tomorrow,” a unique conference on Sunday, October 22, that convened scholars, educators and leaders from across the University and broader community for panel discussions on some of the most pressing issues facing the world and the Jewish people. More than 500 students, alumni and members of the YU community attended the event on the Wilf Campus, which featured more than 40 presenters during a series of breakout sessions covering topics ranging from textual learning to social media to careers in an automated world.

The conference was envisioned as part of President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman’s broader goal of leading YU to the frontlines of engagement with a rapidly changing world. “The forces of change are moving at an unparalleled pace,” said Dr. Berman. “We must seek a broader understanding of today’s challenges, hear about them from a variety of perspectives and use that knowledge to inform our future.”

In framing the necessity of leading these conversations, Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of the Center for the Jewish Future and lead organizer of the conference, noted, “Assumptions have changed, paradigms have shifted and we find ourselves confronting new challenges.”

Rabbi Glasser also announced a new initiative that will present the YU and broader community with tools to consider and discuss many of the challenges that would be dealt with over the course of the day. Called YU Ideas, the website will leverage the University’s vast interdisciplinary resources to frame conversations through a series of posts, each tackling a new topic relating to one of four themes of central significance to human society: education, the marketplace, leadership, and values in a rapidly changing world.

The conference opened with an interview of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, award-winning author and theologian, by Rabbi Ari Lamm, special advisor to the president at YU. The discussion covered topics such how social media has impacted Jewish faith, the future role of YU, and the conflict between concepts of universalism and particularism as they unfold in today’s political climate. “Judaism must go out and show that is not an either/or, but both/and,” said Rabbi Sacks.

In one breakout session, Alyssa Herman, YU vice president for institutional advancement, led a panel discussion on “Non-Profit Disruptive Innovation” with Patrick Schmitt, CEO and co-founder of Keshet Starr, managing director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot; and Daniel Perla, director of Financial Vitality for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools. The panel discussed how non-profit organizations can best garner all available resources to change and support society.

Schmitt, who is also the Head of Innovation at Change.org, noted that regardless of the mission of any organization, it’s important that it recognizes a responsibility for “sense-making” in a world evolving both rapidly and chaotically: “We have a wildly complicated world and people are desperate for some framework for a world that is turning out to be different than we thought it was. Trying to identify how the world works now and what we need to know about it is one of the leading roles of the kinds of organizations we’re talking about.”

Speakers from across the University and a diverse range of professional fields led conversations at the conference, including Sarah Hofstetter, chief executive officer of 360i; Professor Avi Helfand, associate director of Pepperdine University’s Diane and Guilford Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies; Bruce Taragin, managing director at Blumberg Capital; Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president of academic affairs at YU; Dr. Rona Novick, dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, I. Meier and Henrietta Segals Professor of Talmud; Rabbi Menachem Penner, The Max and Marion Grill Dean of YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; Dr. Danielle Wozniak, The David and Dorothy Schachne Dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work; and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Professor of Talmud and Contemporary Halakhah, in addition to many others.

After attending the session titled “Textual Learning,” Yeshiva College student Noah Marlowe said he was looking forward to learning more about the current state of learning in the yeshiva day school system. He particularly enjoyed the discussion of project-based learning, which he sees “as a means to approach education from a 21st-century perspective.”

The conference concluded with a presidential address from Dr. Berman, who talked about the importance of convening these conversations and the special opportunity it presents for Yeshiva University and the Jewish people. Jewish tradition and technological innovation can often conflict, he said, citing the example of how improvements in clean water technology seemingly require to rethink the emphases in the annual Jewish prayer for rain. “The very existence of these challenges and opportunities are a sign that we live in an era where history is moving forward,” Dr. Berman said. “It is incumbent on us all to raise the next generation of people who can grapple with these changing realities.”

For more information on the conference and to view video recordings of the sessions, visit www.yu.edu/worldoftomorrow.