On Feb. 9, 2020, the Yeshiva University National Model United Nations competition (YUNMUN) marked its 30th anniversary at the Stamford Plaza Hotel and Conference Center.
Organized and managed by YU students for three decades, YUNMUN has been bringing hundreds of high school students from across the country and the world together to learn about the complex landscape of international diplomacy. As “UN delegates” from assigned countries, the high-schoolers are appointed to one of 16 committees dealing with a specific global issue.
At this year’s competition, which ran from Sunday, Feb. 9, to Tuesday, Feb. 11, delegates were challenged to use as much creativity as possible to solve a host of issues facing the global community from climate refugees and gun control to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
“There is really nothing like this,” noted Marc Zharnest ’10SB, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Yeshiva University, “where participants from as far afield as Canada, Brazil and South Africa and as close as Teaneck, New Jersey, come together for one of the largest Jewish academic competitions of its kind.”
Zharnest speaks from deep YUNMUN experience. Fifteen years ago, he was a high school delegate. Then, as a YU student, he was both a committee chair and secretary general and spent three years after graduation as a YUNMUN coach to student delegates. “The student-run event is a great example of Torah Umadda in action.”
YUNMUN was first conceived in 1989 by Michael Kranzler ’84YC, then-director of YU undergraduate admissions. (He currently serves as director of business development.) He was inspired by his experience as a senior at the Harvard Model United Nations program in 1983, even though, as he pointed out, it wasn’t very Shabbos- and kashrut-friendly. So, seven years later, when he started his own model UN, he reached out to 25 high school principals in the first year and recruited 150 student participants, assuring them that all the activities would be appropriate for Modern Orthodox students.
What impressed Kranzler about his experience at Harvard, and what he wanted to bring to YU’s version of the program, was how “being a successful delegate requires academic rigor and a team spirit. Playing the roles of delegates to actual United Nations member nations means representing a variety of positions, often ones with which students as individuals may not agree. That, in itself, encourages intellectual growth.”
As he explained, in advocating for a given country, students must conduct thorough research of that country’s interests and policies across a wide range of issues and concerns, adding both to their knowledge of world affairs and to their appreciation of and facility with research, critical evaluation, alliance building and public speaking. “It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Kranzler says, “for students to learn and grow, both intellectually and socially, and, from my perspective, it’s the type of academic event that tests students mettle and one that yeshiva high schools have come to love.”
Now 30 years later, YUNMUN has become an international event attracting more than 400 student delegates from schools across North America and as distant as Brazil and South America.
“In 2020,” says Geri Mansdorf, director of undergraduate admissions at Yeshiva University “we were privileged to host over 45 high school delegations. Heading up our own YU undergraduates were Secretary General Moriya Schick ’20S, along with other members of the Secretariat: Yonatan Raskin, Brooke Ratner and Yaakov Schneider. Together, they led more than 70 undergraduate participants in running the program. The talent pool is enormous, and each of our participating students prepared months for the event.” Mansdorf goes on to note that “most of the YU students involved in YUNMUN at 30 have been participating since high school. If you ask them, they will tell you that the excitement of being here never wears off. It is this type of dedication that is at the core of YU’s Model UN.”
A case in point is Moriyah Schick. Like Zharnest, Schick became involved in YUNMUN in ninth grade. “And I’ve been participating as a delegate and then staff member ever since. This was my seventh year participating,” Schick proudly notes. “I would encourage other college students to participate in YUNMUN because in addition to being an amazing academic event, it is an eye-opening experience that really raises your awareness of current world issues at a time when it is more important than ever.”