On June 14, 2020, over 1,800 students from Yeshiva University’s undergraduate and graduate schools will receive their degrees at YU’s 89th Commencement Exercises, this year to be held virtually in light of the pandemic. Eight undergraduate students will be honored as valedictorians for their outstanding academic achievements.
As they enter this new and exciting stage in their lives, they will bring with them the dynamic and fulfilling Jewish, academic, extra-curricular and social experiences they received throughout their undergraduate years at YU.
YU News spoke with each of them to learn about who they are, their experience at YU and their plans for the future.
Stern College for Women and the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies
Elisheva Cohen, who is majoring in Jewish education with a minor in biology, has been selected as valedictorian of both Stern College for Women and the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies. She has had an active three years at Stern College. Among the many activities in which she was involved were serving on the Beit Midrash Committee, co-coordinating the Beren Bekiut Program and volunteering for Ezras Nashim, Stern College’s EMT group.
“I have had a very positive and meaningful experience at Yeshiva University that extended from the classroom and beyond,” she said. She has enjoyed being a part of the diverse student body at YU as well as “having had the opportunity to learn from exceptional professors and rabbis and be part of a cohesive, growth-oriented student body and community.” She has forged new friendships and deepened others and is thankful for the opportunity to have had a Gemara [Talmud] chavruta [partnership] with her sister, Adina, for two of her three years at Stern.
Next year, the Stamford, Connecticut, native plans to study in Israel to gain a deeper knowledge of Torah and cultivate the skills to be a master teacher. “I want to learn in order to give back and spread a love of G-d, Torah and the Jewish People.”
CJ Glicksman of Teaneck, New Jersey, valedictorian of Yeshiva College, is graduating with a double major in philosophy and music. During his busy three years on campus, he has worked with undergraduate and graduate students as a peer tutor, a tutor in the writing center and resident adviser of Rubin floor 7 as well as being the vice president of the Yeshiva College Student Association. In addition, he has been participating in the MafTeach Chinuch fellowship at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration.
Glicksman is thankful for what he has gained academically and socially as well as for the chance he has had to give back to the undergraduate community and the Jewish community at large. For instance, he spent the past two summers participating in YU’s Counterpoint Program, designed by the Center for the Jewish Future to place students as volunteers in underprivileged communities in Israel, an experience that shaped him in many ways.
He has also developed many close friendships with his professors, such as Dr. David Johnson, associate professor of philosophy and chair of the department of philosophy, and Dr. Daniel Beliavsky, professor and chair of the department of fine arts and music. “They have truly changed the way I think in a tangible way, encouraging me to pursue, along with my degree requirements, 21 elective credits in logic, math and computer science,” said Glicksman. He particularly enjoyed taking courses in the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and the Belz Graduate School of Jewish Music.
Next year, he plans to work at SAR High School in Riverdale, New York, as a Beit Midrash Fellow, during which he hopes “to gain a better sense of how I might enjoy teaching and decide whether to subsequently pursue a degree at one of YU’s graduate schools as well as semicha [rabbinical ordination].” He added, “I have pushed myself to use the opportunities given to me in order to learn and grow to the greatest extent possible. I am unbelievably proud to be a graduate of Yeshiva College and am so grateful for the past few years I’ve had at YU.”
Mazer School of Talmudic Studies
Natan Siegel of Silver Spring, Maryland, is valedictorian of the Mazer School of Talmudic Studies, graduating with a major in mathematical economics. He is grateful for the knowledge and guidance he received from his rebbeim [teachers], in particular, Rav Michael Rosensweig, a rosh yeshiva [head of yeshiva] at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).
As his rebbe throughout his years at YU, Rabbi Rosensweig has made, and continues to make, an indelible impact on his way of thinking and perspective on life. “Rabbi Rosensweig values the ideas and opinions of his students,” Siegel noted, “and even incorporates them into his teaching. But more importantly, Rabbi Rosensweig is always available to help his talmidim [students], past and present, in any way that he can, whether that means by offering advice or simply being an active listener. He has had a profound influence on my outlook and method of thinking, and I look forward to spending many more years learning from him.”
One of his favorite experiences at YU was staying on campus for Shabbos. “The atmosphere, complete with passionate singing and davening [praying], learning from our amazing roshei yeshiva and spending quality time with my fellow students, always gave me the boost I needed to start another week,” said Siegel. “I was able to get through some of the most challenging weeks because I had Shabbos at YU to look forward to.”
Siegel is grateful to his parents, his rebbeim at Yeshivat Hakotel, where he studied during his gap year in Israel, and to Yeshiva University for providing him the guidance, inspiration and tools to study Torah with diligence and sophistication. He plans on continuing his studies next year at RIETS, where “I will continue to learn from the extraordinary roshei yeshiva of this institution and hope to be able to maximize my time learning and growing together with my peers.”
Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies
Avidan Rudansky, from Mamaroneck, New York, is valedictorian of the Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies with a major in biology and a minor in finance. “YU is more than just a college—it is a community,” he observed. “From the rabbis and professors to the students and coaches, I was always in a learning and growing environment.” In particular, Rabbi Meir Fulda z”l, professor of Talmud, and Rabbi Benjamin Blech, assistant professor of Bible, who taught his father and all four of his brothers, had a strong influence on his development as a person and as a professional, “guiding me to integrate Torah and Middot [Jewish values] into my secular work.”
The diversity of students and course offerings at YU allowed him the opportunity to explore other areas of interest. Although a biology major, he discovered a passion for venture capital and entrepreneurship cultivated in courses taught at the Sy Syms School of Business taught by Mark Finkel, clinical associate professor of management, and adjunct professors Moshe Bellows and Bruce Taragin. Thanks to being part of YU’s tennis team, he was able to form lifelong bonds with students and coaches who shared his passion and drive, with a “shout-out to coach Jon Rubinstein.”
Being named valedictorian “is a really great honor and a blessing. One of the reasons I came to YU was for the Judaic program so I could continue my growth both religiously and spiritually by learning Torah from amazing, righteous and brilliant rabbis and professors. I feel this honor is about them as much as it is about me, and I couldn’t have achieved it if it weren’t for their wisdom and direction.”
As he enters the next chapter of his life, “I hope I can bring the knowledge, lessons and morals I was fortunate to learn at YU into the real world and contribute positively to society. If I could help change, inspire or uplift even one person’s life, whether that be religiously, educationally, professionally, socially or economically, that would truly be something I’d be extremely proud of.”
Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program
Los Angeles native Chananya (Nani) Shapiro is valedictorian of the Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program (SBMP) and a business management major with plans to pursue a career in marketing. One of his primary goals in the coming year is to continue the close relationships he had with his rebbeim, among them Rav Moshe Tzvi Weinberg and Rav Azriel Kuschnir, SBMP Mashgichim Ruchani [spiritual guidance counselors]. “Being from out of town, it was hard to be away from home for so long,” said Shapiro. “But the warm relationships I formed with my rebbes really made me feel like I had a home away from home.”
Shapiro was involved in many campus activities, including the Breslov Club and trips to the Ohel in Queens where the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is buried. He also helped organize the YU trip to Uman in Central Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah this past year with 20 students taking part, a trip he describes as “a journey of self-discovery and exploration of one’s relationship with Hashem.” The hope was that after the trip, each student would use what they learned “to help spark others and incorporate it into their daily lives.” Shapiro also arranged trips to Boro Park in Brooklyn to give fellow students the opportunity to experience a different side of Judaism.
“I really enjoyed my time at YU and am sad to see it come to an end,” he said. “I learned so much from all my rebbeim, including how to be a Ben Torah [follower of Torah] as I now enter the working world.”
James Striar School
Lior Brik, from Zichron Yaakov, Israel, is valedictorian of the James Striar School of General Jewish Studies (JSS) majoring in computer science (data science track) and minoring in math. Although Brik came from a secular background, Jewish studies always interested him “because it’s part of my identity and tradition and is also very insightful.” He is thankful for having been part of JSS, where “I learned how to be a better human being and was given many tools for daily life.”
During his time at YU, he developed a love of learning Gemara [Talmud] and for the fascinating discussions that followed, and he will always be grateful to the rebbeim of JSS for taking in a student far from home. “Each one of them is a rock star!” he said. “From day one, all the rabbis were so nice and immediately made me feel like part of a family. Having rabbis who invite their students for Shabbat meals is amazing and enjoying ‘Mom’s’ types of food when my mom is far away is something that filled me not only with food but with joy, too.”
There are so many people he wants to thank. First and foremost is Rabbi Yonason Shippel, director of JSS, who was his main mentor. In addition to Rabbi Shippel’s constant guidance, Brik is thankful to him for giving him the opportunity to pay a shiva call to the families after the tragic shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. “Rabbi Shippel taught me to think bigger than our own small community. The trip was an experience that I will remember for my entire life.”
Other rebbeim who made an enormous impression on Brik include Rabbi Daniel Lerner, instructor at JSS, “from whom I learned how to be a good Jew,” and Professor Harvey (Chaim) Sober, assistant professor of Jewish History, whom Brik calls “a special soul. He is so strong but also so kind. He is a big inspiration!”
Others include Rabbi Matt LeVee, administrator and mashgiach at JSS, “who welcomed me to his home as if we are family, and in his classes I had some of the most interesting discussions”; Rabbi Mordechai Becher, professor of Jewish history and philosophy, “a walking encyclopedia and the funniest man in the world!”; and Rabbi Jon Green, assistant director of JSS, “who is always looking to improve JSS and make all the students come together.”
His computer science professors also influenced his YU experience. “I want to thank Judah Diament, the chair of the computer science department, for building an incredible department.” He also complimented Rich Dutton, adjunct professor of machine learning, and Avi Rosenfeld, adjunct professor of computer science, for their efforts: “their enthusiasm and knowledge introduced me to the world of data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence and made me realize I want to be part of this world.” He is also thankful to the CS Data Science track guys and Data Wranglers squad “who helped create an atmosphere together that I will cherish forever.”
A leader on the men’s tennis team, Brik is grateful to his coach Jon Rubinstein; assistant coaches Ralph and Chris; Joe Bednarsh, athletics director; and Greg Fox, associate athletics director. “They helped me improve my game, and their constant encouragement made the dream of a 12-year-old kid from Israel come true.” In addition, he will always cherish the support of his roommates, teammates, friends and mentors Mikey Ozery, David Papis and Adam Rosemblaum.
Brik feels that a big part of who he is today is due to YU. “I came here without ever having opened a page of Gemara in my life, and 3½ years later, I finished two masechtot [tractates] and gained a lot of knowledge and values.” He added, “Using the lessons I learned while at YU about life, sports, friendship and computer science from good people who know the right and good way, I feel like I can now grow to be the best version of myself and do good things for the world.”
Sy Syms School of Business
Shayna Doretsky from Plainview, New York, is the valedictorian of the Sy Syms School of Business with a major in accounting and a double minor in finance and information decision sciences.
During her time at YU, she participated in exciting clubs, been challenged by and learned from brilliant professors and made wonderful friends. She spent much of her time participating in extracurricular activities, such as the Beren Campus Student Council, the Israel Club, The Langfan Constitutional Oratorical Competition and The Accounting Society.
Doretsky says will always appreciate her professors at YU “for their commitment and dedication to their students’ successes and their own respective fields.” For her education in Torah studies, she wants to thank Professor Nechama Price, director of the Graduate Program for Advanced Talmud Studies (GPATS) and senior lecturer of Judaic studies and Bible; Shoshana Schechter, associate dean of Torah Studies at Stern College for Women and instructor in bible; and Rabbi Daniel Wolff, instructor in Jewish studies.
At Sy Syms, she was especially grateful to Dr. Sharon Poczter, associate professor and chair of the strategy and entrepreneurship department, Sidney Mehl, senior lecturer in finance; Dr. Aliza Rotenstein, associate professor of accounting; Marc Spear, clinical assistant professor; Dr. James Kahn, The Henry and Bertha Kressel University Professor of Economics and chair of the department of economics; Laizer Kornwasser, adjunct clinical assistant professor of management; Bruce Kamins, clinical assistant professor of taxation; Dr. Moses Pava, professor of accounting and the Alvin H. Einbender University Professor in Business Ethics; Francine Mellors-Rothenstein, adjunct professor of accounting; Dr. Yasar Levent Kocaga, associate professor of operations management; Dr. Noam Shamir, visiting associate professor of information and decision sciences; and Dr. Avi Giloni, who bears many titles: director of the Sy Syms Business Honors and Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, associate dean, chair of the information and decision sciences department and associate professor of operations management and statistics.
“Not only have I benefited from the incredible teachers but also the school administration and YU staff members. They have all contributed behind the scenes to create opportunities and build a community on campus that are crucial parts of the experience that I and my peers are so grateful for,” said Doretsky.
Most importantly, though, are the friendships she has made. “During the past three years, there has been a lot to celebrate but also a lot of tragedy,” Doretsky said. “Seeing the resilience of our community, the chesed [charity] organized, and the unity of the YU family both on and off campus during challenging times has been an enormous source of strength that I know I will take with me.” She looks forward to incorporating daily Torah learning into her schedule as she begins working at EY (Ernst & Young) next fall. Among her goals is to complete Sefer Melachim [Book of Kings] as well as learn each week’s parsha [section of the Torah].
Doretsky is humbled and profoundly grateful to be named this year’s Sy Syms valedictorian. “I am extremely thankful for my experience, and I wanted to particularly thank HaShem, my supportive family, my brilliant and encouraging teachers throughout the years, my extraordinary peers and the generous donors who have made my education possible,” she said.
Sy Syms School of Business
Yona Rom from Toronto, Canada, is valedictorian of the Sy Syms School of Business with a double major in finance and accounting. He expressed a deep appreciation for all the positive experiences he had during his four years at YU and the lifelong friendships he formed as well as the many opportunities he was given to get involved in chesed projects in order to give back to the community.
Rom makes specific mention of the dynamic faculty and rebbeim at YU, saying, “I have been exposed to role models who embody real principles of success, integrity, altruism and a commitment to a Torah life, and for this I am so grateful.” As for being selected valedictorian, “Being chosen as valedictorian is an extraordinary honor. I feel that it is an opportunity to represent both YU and the broader Jewish community by living my life in a way which reflects Torah values and principles.”
Rom says he will always be grateful to the exceptional and dedicated members of the alumni community of the University. He attributes much of his success to the advice and mentoring he received from them. Rom plans to continue to make use of this guidance after graduation as he pursues a career in the business world. He looks forward to continuing in this same spirit by providing meaningful support and guidance to other students in the future. “I hope to be able to contribute to their future successes as they embark on their own careers,” he said.
He will always remember his experience at YU as a positive and valuable one. “I know I will look back at my four years at YU as some of the best of my life,” Rom said. “All I have learned there, in theory in the classroom and in practice through my internship experiences as well as the many personal connections I have made, will stand me in good stead as I embark on the next chapter of my life.”
It’s clear the graduates will look back at their YU experience as one of religious growth and being prepared to be successful in their chosen careers. The administration, teachers and students of YU are immensely proud of these exceptional students and wish them much success in the future.