For Menachem Aharon Wallach, Yehoshua Fineberg and Avrumi Mermelstein, Yeshiva’s University’s 91st Commencement represented a major achievement in their lives because their dream of sharing a rite of passage with their peers from Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women and Sy Syms School of Business had been finally realized.
Amid celebratory cheers from family and friends gathered at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on May 26, the three friends proudly received their certificates of completion from the Makor College Experience, a multiyear non-degree program that creates a college-like experience for young Jewish men with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Located on the Wilf campus, the program is a partnership between Makor Care and Services Network and Yeshiva University. Nine students have completed the program since it opened in 2017, with 14 currently enrolled.
According to Dr. Stephen Glicksman, founder and director, the Makor College Experience is thriving, its successes having been noted in such academic publications as The International Journal of Child Health and Human Development and at multiple conferences. “We’ve definitely impacted the lives of the program’s participants as well as the broader campus community,” said Dr. Glicksman.
Dr. Glicksman’s enthusiasm is contagious. The three 2022 graduates describe the Makor program as a place “to be yourself and to be happy.” The vehicle for that happiness: an innovative curriculum designed to maximize students’ potential by enhancing their intellectual and practical life skills while furthering their Jewish education.
“Like all students at YU, Makor students spend the mornings learning Torah,” noted Dr. Glicksman. “In the afternoon, our classes cover topics ranging from cultural literacy, science and civics to classes on life skills and personal development.” Through vocational courses and a career exploration program, students explore different possibilities for employment. The goal is to place graduates in the workplace so that they can transition to a life of independence post-Makor.
This fall, Menachem Wallach is headed to the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary as a beit midrash assistant, Yehoshua Fineberg hopes to clerk at a bookstore, and Avrumi Mermelstein plans to work with the elderly.
But as Dr. Glicksman points out, the Makor program is more than just vocational training. “For our students, studying at YU is the next step in their growth as Jews and as members of the Jewish community. Participating in the program is not just about acquiring skills for the future. It’s the chance for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to integrate into the larger world, to interact with their peers, often in the very same classrooms and beit midrash that many of their siblings, parents and even grandparents learned. That’s an amazing opportunity for them and for the YU community.”
That opportunity for inclusion will be extended to more young men this fall semester when the Makor College Experience welcomes their largest incoming class to date. In the words of 2022 graduate Menachem Wallach, the Makor College Experience is the “place to be.”