YU National Model UN Conference Showcases a Quarter Century of Honing Leadership and Collaboration Skills
After months of preparation and anticipation, 450 professionally attired young men and women from 44 Jewish high schools worldwide converged on the Stamford Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in Stamford, Connecticut, to collaborate and enact the roles of delegates at the 25th Annual Yeshiva University National Model United Nations conference (YUNMUN).
The event, held February 8-10, had students represent the various member countries of the UN and appointed to one of 15 model UN committees dealing with international issues including Ebola, ISIS, cyberterrorism, nuclear proliferation and North Korean food aid.
More than 60 YU undergraduate students and 65 faculty advisers facilitated the event, allowing the students to experience the intricacies of international diplomacy.
“Over the past 25 years, Yeshiva University’s Model United Nations has brought together high school students from across the country and around the world to experience what it means to engage in productive dialogue and work together towards making substantial change in the world,” said President Richard M. Joel in his remarks to the delegates. “I commend our undergraduate students for not only leading this tremendous undertaking, but for truly setting an example of what it means to be a Jew, engaged in the mission of Tikkun Olam [repairing the world].”
Students came from Canada, Brazil and South Africa and across the United States. Talia Kupferman, a participant from Maayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, New Jersey, “chose to come to YUNMUN because I thought it was a great opportunity to meet new people, to learn about different countries, their cultures, their opinions and their politics and see how they really view a crisis in the real world.”
Eli Levinson, a participant from Bnei Akiva Schools in Toronto, Ontario, recommended others attend YUNMUN “to learn about the world or to become a better speaker or even to have a fun time hanging out with other people and learn about other cultures.”
“It teaches really good skills like public speaking and confidence and I think it really builds character,” added Lilly Gelman, a participant from the Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, Texas.
After an intense, competitive, and intellectually rigorous few days of discussion and strategizing, SAR Academy of Riverdale, New York, was awarded first place as best delegation at the closing ceremonies, with YULA High School of Los Angeles, California, in second, and the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy of Rockville, Maryland, in third.
The conference originally launched as a Jewish alternative to the Harvard model UN and similar secular high school programs to enable students of yeshivot and day schools to participate fully without kashrut and Shabbat complications, according to Michael Kranzler, former director of YU undergraduate admissions. As a student at Yeshiva College in 1983, Kranzler participated in Harvard’s model UN program along with four other men and seven women from YU. Although his committee offered to wait until after sundown on Saturday to vote at the conference, the YU delegation opted not to participate during the Friday night through Saturday portion of the event, thus missing a significant portion of the program, he recalled.
Later, he said, in his first year as director of admissions/recruitment at YU, he approached yeshiva high school principals, thinking, “Why can’t we run a YU-centered model UN, allowing yeshiva high schools from throughout North America to attend?” The program would be what yeshiva high schools want, “an academic endeavor, informal education at the highest level in a wholesome environment and who else but YU to provide that opportunity?” said Kranzler. “It also provides a showcase for the YU product: its students!”
He called 25 high school principals who “were enthused that their students could participate in a professionally run high school model United Nations for the full duration with no Shabbat issue.” YUNMUN formally launched in 1990 with 150 student participants and a Shabbaton for the out-of-towners.
“It’s an intense academic, fun, social experience,” said Kranzler. “There is a strong feeling of camaraderie. High school students love meeting peers from different parts of the country and the world.”
The schools support and sponsor the effort, with the students’ faculty helping facilitate the extensive preparation required for the program. “It’s part of preparation in the real world, to be prepared and act spontaneously, to discuss, argue positions of the countries they represent. It’s a sophisticated skill set that they develop and it prepares them well for the real world,” said Kranzler. “Part of the process is learning how to play devil’s advocate, a very important skill as an adult, to understand where others are coming from.”
Dr. Roniel ’93YUHS, ’98YC and Aliza (Fox) Weinberg ’99S of Bergenfield, New Jersey, both participated in YUNMUN as high school and college students, with Roniel ultimately serving as secretary general and Aliza as undersecretary general in 1998. They became close friends and eventually married.
“YUNMUN was a major part of my high school and college experience,” said Aliza, who majored in Judaic studies and political science. “As soon as one session ended, we were already preparing for the next year.”
Dr. Carl ’97YC, ’02F and Karen (Dublon) Hochhauser ’00S, A’09, of Beit Shemesh, Israel, also cemented their relationship at YUNMUN. “I learned a lot about leadership,” said Carl. “The experience I received running YUNMUN helped me get started in learning how to run projects, writing grant proposals, and managing teams. I learned how to interact with people I didn’t know before, how to oversee a group of high school students, a skill that helped me later in life as a psychologist dealing with adolescents and groups.”
Karen said that for Yeshiva University, YUNMUN is an opportunity “to fly the Torah and Madda banner in the most appropriate way. Kids davening [praying] and engaged in political discussion. It’s a microcosm of YU, the fusion of Torah and the best the world has to offer. They want to make the world a better place while anchored in a Torah lifestyle.”