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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘YU’

Jacob W. Heller: Model Jewish-American Lawyer

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

My beloved father, Jacob W. Heller – Yaakov ben Moshe Ze’ev, z”l – passed away on Rosh Chodesh Iyar. Though it is quite difficult to find the right words to publicly convey feelings that are so personal, I felt strongly that this needed to be written, as my father was a man who left a profound legacy and affected many lives.

Jacob Heller can fairly be described as the model of the 20th-century Jewish American attorney – and someone who blazed a trail that many others would subsequently follow. His formative years, in the 1940s and 1950s, were a time when Torah Judaism in America was still struggling to gain traction. Many Jews during that era believed the “American Dream” could be accomplished only through assimilation and the abandonment of Jewish tradition.

Even as a very young man my father was driven to achieve professional success. So extraordinary was his early academic performance that upon his graduation from high school, both Harvard and Yale pursued him with offers of full academic scholarships. This was unusual enough, but the offers were made during a period in which Jewish students were largely unwelcome in those institutions.

Though these scholarships seemed to be the prize my father had worked for, his parents, Elsie and Elias Heller, pioneers of the Young Israel movement and staunch supporters of Yeshiva University, felt strongly that the place for a Jewish student with my father’s abilities was YU.

Not surprisingly, my father’s academic performance at Yeshiva University was exemplary. In 1955 he was elected president of the Student Council (fellow officers on the council were classmates Julius Berman and Nathan Lewin). He was also appointed captain of the Yeshiva debating team, which was a hot ticket: That year, the Yeshiva debating team faced off against the top universities in the nation, almost all of whom YU roundly defeated – including Harvard.

That same year, my father took Yeshiva University debating into the national spotlight when he competed in the individual National Collegiate Debate finals, held at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City (then-vice president Richard Nixon was one of the judges). My father took second place in that competition, but people who were present that night assert it was Jacob Heller who won the competition hands down. Apparently, given the social climate that existed back then, the judges simply could not bring themselves to award first place to the contestant from Yeshiva University.

When his storied academic career at Yeshiva University came to a close, my father put in his applications to law school – and Harvard and Yale were back at his door with scholarship offers. My father chose Yale and went on to graduate 8th in his class.

After receiving his law degree in 1959, my father applied to the major law firms, which at the time were still largely closed to Jewish applicants, even those with my father’s impeccable credentials. Fortunately, he caught the eye of John P. McGrath, senior partner at Reavis & McGrath, who felt that hiring this promising young attorney was worth breaking with accepted convention. My father became a prized assistant to Mr. McGrath in several high profile cases, likely another factor in blowing open the doors of the major law firms to hundreds of aspiring Jewish attorneys who would follow.

Having already established himself as a brilliant and fierce litigator, my father was offered a senior partnership at one of the larger Madison Avenue law firms, which he accepted. Only 33 years of age, he was one of the youngest attorneys ever offered a senior partnership of this magnitude. After heading the litigation department at Weiss, Rosenthal, Heller & Schwartzman for eleven years, he formed his own firm in 1979 – Heller, Horowitz & Feit, a commercial litigation practice that established a reputation for the highest standards of integrity and excellence.

* * * * *

He was always sharply dressed and elegant, and had a magnificent, resonating baritone voice that could make a room stand still. He also had a beautiful singing voice, and many people fondly remember how he masterfully led the davening on the Yamim Noraim for so many years at the Young Israel of Woodmere.

YU Crashes Super Bowl with Its Own Halftime Show

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

All-star lineup of Yeshiva University faculty members to tackle “Torah and Sports” during Super Bowl XLVII

Yeshiva University announced on Monday that it would air its second annual YU Torah Halftime Show during Super Bowl XLVII, the February 3 showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans, LA.

The 20-minute online experience will feature exciting and inspiring presentations on “Torah and Sports” from an all-star lineup of YU faculty members, including Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future; Charlie Harary, clinical professor of management and entrepreneurship at Sy Syms School of Business; and C.B. Neugroschl, head of school at Yeshiva University High School for Girls.

Last February, close to 3,000 people tuned in to watch YU’s first-ever Torah Halftime Show.

“Last year, the media became obsessed with the unabashed on-field religious exploits of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, and spirituality in sports became a hot topic. We realized that merging spirituality and sports was right up our alley, so we began speaking with some of the Roshei Yeshiva and the idea flowed naturally from there,” said Moshe Isaacson, YU’s director of interactive marketing. “This specially-produced video will focus on the Jewish lessons that can be gleaned from football and the Super Bowl.”

Noted speaker Charlie Harary will examine the importance of focus and the virtue of patience in today’s high-tech and social media-driven world; Rabbi Kenneth Brander will offer insights from Parshat Yitro on the benefits of perseverance and resilience, even as an outsider; and C.B. Neugroschl will discuss incorporating enthusiasm and excitement into our daily lives.

“Everyone enjoys the pageantry surrounding the Super Bowl. With so many people coming together to watch the game, it just makes sense to integrate Torah into the festivities,” said Matt Yaniv, YU’s director of media relations. “At YU, we see Torah lessons and educational opportunities everywhere we look. We are excited to demonstrate that even the Super Bowl, the biggest football game of the year, can be about more than just football.”

In addition to featuring the video on its YouTube channel, Facebook page and a dedicated page on its website, Yeshiva University also mailed out 400 DVDs of the program to synagogues, yeshivas, and individuals.

A Kaliver Example for the Torah World

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Most people who read this blog know that I am not a big fan of Chasidus as a Hashkafa. As a rationalist, I prefer the intellectual approach to Judaism over the emotional approach. Chasidus’s focus on Kabbalah and the spiritual world has little appeal to a rational mind like mine.

That said, I certainly do not have any issues with Chasidim who seem to gain a lot from their movement and their Rebbe. Although in some cases I have a problem with certain Chasidic movements and their Rebbes, it is for specific reasons based mostly on their overly negative attitude towards the outside world or for example in the case of Chabad with their Meshichism issues. But to be sure I do not have any personal animus with Chasidus as a whole.

Which brings up what to me is a significant event. One for which I applaud a Chasidic Rebbe. Specifically the Kaliver Rebbe. I know nothing about Kaliver Chasidus or its Rebbe. But when a Chasidic Rebbe goes to Yeshiva University and gives a Shiur there in the year 2012, that’s news. And as one can see by the picture above (reproduced from Hirshel Tzig’s blog) that is exactly what happened.

Of course this is not the first time that a great rabbinic figure from the world of Charedim has done this. Back in the pre Holocaust Bernard Revel era, many Gedolim from the Yeshiva world in Europe gave Shiurim there. Dr. Revel always invited them to do so when they visited these shores to raise funds for their Yeshivos. Rav Aharon Kotler who was the Rosh HaYeshiva at Kletzk being one of those.

In fact one such Gadol, R’ Shimon Shkop stayed on to become Rosh HaYeshiva at YU for about a year. I will never forget the picture Rabbi Nehemiah Katz had hanging on his office wall of his Chag Semicha from YU with Rav Shkop in the foreground. Rabbi Katz was R’ Moshe Feinstein’s brother in law (R’ Moshe’s wife was Rabbi Katz’s sister.) It was Rabbi Katz who was largely responsible for bringing R’Moshe to America.

The only European Gadol who refused to set foot into YU was Rav Elchonan Wasserman.

On the Chasidic side of the aisle, I don’t believe any Rebbe of stature ever gave a Shiur in YU. Certianly not the Satmar Rebbe, the Gerrer Rebbe, The Bobover Rebbe, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, or the Lubavitcher Rebbe (…to name a few of the more prominent ones).

I may be wrong but I don’t think any Charedi Gadol, Rosh HaYeshiva, or Chasidic Rebbe of any kind has set foot in YU since Dr. Revel’s time. That fact is – in my view – one of the more divisive ones in Klal Yisroel – at a time now when Achdus is needed more than ever.

Along comes the Kaliver Rebbe and gives a Shiur to YU students. That tells me that to the Kalvire Rebbe Achdus trumps ideology. Not that this Rebbe has given up on his ideology. I’m sure he hasn’t. He is probably just as opposed to college as he ever was – assuming that his views are the typical Chasidic ones that considers college Assur.

But even though he probably does, he did not let that get in the way of going into YU and giving a Shiur to the students. That my friends is Achdus. He is embracing his fellow Jews. He realizes that there are other Hashkafos – some of which he opposes. But he respects those who have these Hashkafos as B’nei Torah.

Unlike Rav Wasserman he isn’t worried about sending the wrong message – that by going to YU and giving a Shiur there he is somehow endorsing the Hashkafa of Torah U’Mada. All that matters to him is that there are B’nei Torah that want to hear his Divrei Torah.

My hat (Shtreimal?) is off to the Kaliver Rebbe for doing this.

Now if we can get one of the other Chasidic Rebbes to do this (for example – I hear the Satmar Rebbe – R’ Aharon Teitelbaum is a huge Talmud Chacham) we may actually accomplish something big.

But an even bigger accomplishment would be if one of the mainline Roshei Yeshiva would do that. I’m sure that Yeshiva University would be honored to host Rav Matisyahu Salomon, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, or Rav Dovid Feinstein for example. I know that they do not agree with the Torah U’Mada Hashkafa. But neither is Yeshiva University an adherent of their Torah Only Hashkafa.

A Different Kind Of Camp: An Interview with Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Kenneth Brander

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future seems to expand with each passing year.

Founded in 2005, the Center – among other activities – now educates hundreds of ordained rabbis through its Rabbinic Training Placement and Continuing Education program; sends 1,000 students every year to help communities around the world through its Experiential Education and Service Learning program; makes 60,000 shiurim of YU rabbis and others available online through YUTorah.org; helps YU students and alumni find their Intended through YUConnects.org; and sets up kollelim around the country through its Community Initiatives program.

This summer, the Center ran day camps in five Israeli development towns: Dimona, Arad, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, and Beersheba. Staffed by 60 YU students, the camps serviced over 350 Israeli children.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the Center’s dean, about the summer camps.

The Jewish Press: What was the logic behind Yeshiva University students from America organizing summer camps in Israel?

Rabbi Brander: One of the things that attracted the campers to our programs – each one was sold out and there were waiting lists – was the fact that you had American students coming over to Israel. It was cool that they were American.

Some of these kids have lived very challenging lives; they come from poor homes, foster homes, one-parent homes, etc. I’ll give you an example. We took the campers from Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi to the airport to welcome in a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight; most of them had never been to an airport before.

Is the poverty really that bad in these cities?

There’s a significant divide between the wealth in the center of Israel and the south of Israel. The south is a very, very poor area. In a place like Dimona, two out of every three children are beneath the poverty line, which is significantly lower than the American poverty line.

One day, one of the kids from Dimona took a donkey to travel to camp. That’s what we’re talking about.

What’s the purpose of these camps?

They’re English-immersive summer camps. So, for example, we’ll take mishnayos and translate them into English.

Our other thing is that we want to build the campers’ self-esteem because they have very poor self-esteem. They’ve been told by everybody that they can’t accomplish – that for the rest of their lives they’re going to live in this cycle of poverty. But then, all of a sudden, they see – through arts and crafts, martial arts, dance, etc. – that they actually have skills and talents.

Are all the campers in the “poor self-esteem” or “troubled homes” categories?

They all come from challenging situations – some of the cities more than others. The population in Arad is nowhere near as financially challenged as the populations in the other camps. I would not put Arad and Dimona in the same category as Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi and Beersheba.

In the latter cities, we only worked with kids who were basically on the cusp of failing out of school, who are classified by their schools as being in the “Nachshon group.” In Dimona and Arad, though, we had a mixture of all different kinds of kids.

Were these campers mostly Sephardim? Ashkenazim? Russian? Ethiopian?

It’s a klal Yisrael program. You have everyone. Development towns such as the ones we were in have a lot more Ethiopians and Russians than maybe other towns, but it’s a mixture….

You’ll also have kids who wear kippot along with kids who don’t. But I have to tell you – it’s such an unbelievable thing to see – even the kids who don’t wear kippot are very traditionally inclined. For example, they’ll say a berachah before they eat or they’ll put on tefillin in the morning. It’s an interesting perspective, which I don’t think we see as much in America.

What ages are the campers and what are the hours of these camps?

Ages 12 through 16 or 17. They start at eight in the morning and go to very late in the afternoon. But our students live in the towns, so the relationship doesn’t end at the end of the day. They hang out with our students on Shabbos or they’ll join us for Seudat Shlishit. It’s a fully immersive experience.

Merging the Orthodox Streams

Monday, August 27th, 2012

As ridiculous as it may seem, one of the things that I wish would happen is a merger between Beth Medrash Gavoha (Lakewood) and Yeshiva University (YU). Although I can hear the howls of laughter and screams of protestation on both sides of the Hashkafic aisle, I really think this would solve a lot of the problems we have today in Orthodoxy.

The truth is that this is not as far fetched as one might imagine. At least from a purely Hashkafic perspective. If one looks back to the early days of American Chinuch post Holocaust, one would see exactly this kind of institution existing at the grass roots level.

Outside of New York – elementary schools catered to all kinds of students from all kinds of homes. My classmates came from Yeshivishe homes, Chasidic homes, Modern Orthodox homes, Lubavitch homes, and even non observant homes. Our teachers respected those differences and taught us accordingly. Learning Torah came first, but secular studies were considered very important and treated seriously. Even among those on the right. The idea of attending college was a given then in almost all circles. Parnassa, was the number one concern in those days.

How important was college to the right wing in those days? If one looks at Yeshivos like Chaim Berlin and Torah VoDaath, the vast majority of their students attended college while in the Yeshiva – usually at night. They got degrees in fields like accounting or went on to professional schools to become doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers… what have you! All while maintaining Yiras Shomayim and a strong commitment to Torah and Mitzvos.

The idea of learning full time for long periods of time well into marriage was an ideal reserved for very few people. Only the most elite and most motivated people would even consider doing that.

But somewhere along the line the paradigm started changing. As the religious communities grew new schools were created to cater to specific Hashkafos.

On the surface that might seem like a good idea. But that was the beginning of the divide that ‘keeps on giving’. We are moving further and further apart. As the community grows, there are new schools with even more fine tuned Hashkafos being formed – adding to the division. I believe that all this fine tuning is one of the most divisive forces in Orthodoxy.

There are now schools on the right that consider secular studies a waste of time at best. Secular studies are belittled! There are schools on the left that are pushing the envelope of ordaining women and allowing them to act as Chazanot in certain parts of Tefilah. Some may see these divisions as a plus. But I don’t.

I prefer an Orthodoxy that has a broad Hashkafic spectrum under one roof. While we may (and I emphasize the word “may”) lose some on the fringes of the right and left, the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry would experience a far greater sense of Achdus. We had a hint of that at the last DafYomi Siyum. Although it was sponsored by Agudah it was attended by almost the entire spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. And it was a positive experience for the vast majority of them – over 90% were inspired by it according to one poll (mine).

So in theory I think it is possible to create this hybrid. The practical benefits of such a merger would transcend even the sense of Achdus that it would generate.

Each Hashkafa has a weakness that is hurting it. On the right, the disdain for a decent secular education pushes their masses into a life of poverty. On the left the weakness is in the inability to produce enough great rabbinic leaders. While there are exceptions in both communities, I think that this is basically the rule.

On the right – the aggrandizement of full time Torah study for everyone and the default second class status of the working man has resulted in 1000s of families who are unable to make a decent living. Unless they have some family connection or have the courage and determination to do the unthinkable and go to college late in their lives, most of these people are qualified to do little else than go into Chinuch. And most of those are not properly trained to do so.

The Evolution Of American Orthodoxy: An Interview with Yeshiva University Librarian Zalman Alpert

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Books. Some people love them; others claim they can do without them. For Zalman Alpert, they are essentially his life.

For the past 35 years, Alpert has served as a reference librarian at Yeshiva University (YU). Educated at Columbia University’s School of Library Services and New York University’s School of Education, where he attained a master’s degree in Modern Jewish History, Alpert is one of those individuals who knows a little (sometimes a lot) about everything. Over the years, he has contributed articles to such works as Encyclopedia of Hasidim; Jewish American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia; Encyclopedia of Jewish American Popular Culture; Midstream; and The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: In your three decades as a YU librarian, what would you say was your most interesting experience or encounter?

Alpert: Well, one recent one took place last summer when I noticed a Catholic priest in the library. I started talking to him, and through conversation it became clear that his mother was a little girl during the Holocaust, was hidden by non-Jews, and never came back to Judaism. She adopted the Catholic religion and eventually married a Catholic in Poland.

For some reason, however – I guess because of the pintele yid inside her – she and her husband moved to Israel in the 1960s or so. This young man was born there and attended Israeli schools, but the family later left Israel and moved to a Polish enclave in New Jersey. Subsequently this young man returned to Poland, studied for the Catholic priesthood, got a doctorate in Old Testament studies using the Hebrew he had acquired in Israel, and is now a professor at a Catholic theological seminary in Poland.

I couldn’t really get this priest to admit he felt Jewish although he knew the halacha and didn’t deny he was Jewish. He said he came to the library to familiarize himself with midrashic literature because he wanted to see how the Jewish rabbis interpreted the Bible.

Have you ever met people in the library who would otherwise never dare step in YU due to ideological reasons?

Absolutely. In fact, many of the more interesting people I have met over the years are chassidic rabbis from Williamsburg. The Pupa dayan, for example, was here, as was the spiritual head of the Organization of Young Satmar Chassidim.

They come because everything is in one place, and many of them don’t want to go to the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for theological and halachic reasons. In recent years, though, there’s been a marked decrease in the number of chassidim who come here because of the availability of such databases as HebrewBooks.org, Otzar HaHochma, etc.

Many people claim JTS’s library is far better than YU’s. True?

If you’re doing research that requires use of old manuscripts, JTS is better. But if you’re doing research that involves books published in the last few hundred years, I would say YU compares favorably to JTS and in some areas is even better.

Why does JTS have a better manuscript collection?

They started building their collection a lot earlier than YU. When Solomon Schechter took over the seminary in 1902, he brought part of his library with him, which included a lot of Cairo Geniza fragments. Also, Schechter brought faculty members with him who were very interested in creating an academic library, and they went to Europe actively seeking manuscripts and rare books.

In contrast, YU’s college was first created in the 1920s and the Jewish studies graduate school only started in the late 1930s. YU’s library only really became very professionalized after World War II.

How many Jewish books does YU own?

I would say 300,000-400,000. We also have something like 50 incunabula, which are books printed before 1500.

You possess something of an interesting family background. Can you share?

My parents were Holocaust survivors from Lithuania/White Russia. In Europe, my father was part of the Lubavitch community, but my mother came from a misnagdic background. I attended Lubavitcher school in New Haven for many years growing up, and then went to YU later on.

Do you consider yourself Lubavitch?

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, said there were three sorts of Lubavitcher chassidim: chassidei ha’geza, i.e., people descended from Lubavitcher chassidim; chassidei ha’nusach, i.e., people who live their lives according to Lubavitcher minhagim; and chassidei Lubavitch, which I imagine means people who study Chabad chassidus and have a personal connection to the Rebbe. I would put myself in the first two categories.

YU’s Halpert: Molding Men Through Coaching

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Yeshiva University men’s basketball coach Jonathan Halpert now has his signature on the school’s men’s basketball court. The Coach Jonathan Halpert Scholarship Fund, an endowment to be awarded annually to children of YU alumni living in Israel wishing to study at the university, now bears his name. Later this year Halpert, who earned his high school, college and graduate degrees from YU, will receive an honorary book, recognizing donors to the scholarship fund as part of an interactive display documenting the history of the YU Maccabees.

After 40 years of coaching and mentoring seemingly countless YU athletes and students, the tributes are pouring in for Jonathan Halpert. The aforementioned activities highlighted the recent celebration of Halpert’s four decades of unstinting devotion to YU’s Torah and academic doctrines.

As YU President Richard M. Joel put it: “For four decades, Coach Halpert has imbued the Melvin J. Furst Gymnasium with the values of sportsmanship, teamwork and Jewish pride. With this deserving honor, Coach Halpert’s example and leadership will inform the play and actions of the future scholar athletes of Yeshiva University for generations to come.”

While winning in sports competition, never a consistent pattern at YU, is always one’s goal, it’s far from the only thing. In a recent interview with The Jewish Press Halpert touches on that issue, among other subjects.

The Jewish Press: When did you first get interested in leading a college athletic program?

Jonathan Halpert: My desire to coach began in Camp Raleigh where, as waiter’s counselor, I had the opportunity to coach MTA and future YU greats Stu Poloner, Larry Schiffman and Harold Perl. I also had the great fortune to learn from Hy Wettstein and Red Sarachek. In my senior year of college I decided to pursue a career as a special education teacher, and therefore coaching was a natural continuation of my desire to teach. I never thought about being a college coach and certainly not the YU coach. In 1972 both Hy Wettstein, MTA’s coach, and Red Sarachek, YU’s coach, retired. I was offered both jobs and chose the challenge of YU.

Yeshiva University has always placed academic excellence ahead of athletic success. Did this YU tradition ever conflict with your natural competitive desire to win at almost any cost?

No, because I do not believe that you should ever sacrifice your values and what you represent for any endeavor. What I am most proud of is that we have won without ever forgetting who we are.

With YU student-athletes facing the challenges of a time-consuming double curriculum of religious and secular studies, how do you balance the natural time and stress demands on your players?

I have tried to stress that basketball is only important when you are engaged in basketball, but once the game or practice is over, whatever you do next is the most important.

How hard was it to succeed Sarachek, the legendary YU coach?

It wasn’t hard because Red made it easy for me. He was always there to help and support me, especially after a loss. I also never felt I was in competition with Red. I always felt that I was in competition with myself, to be the best that I could be. I do not think it is healthy to see yourself only in the context of someone else’s achievement.

In a 2010 interview with the Daily News, you said, “If you really want to learn how to coach, lose.” What did you mean by that?

Losing is a recognition that you have not reached your goal. You have two choices after a loss: blame someone else and never get better, or try to determine what mistakes you made and how you can improve. Winning lulls you into a false sense that you didn’t make any mistakes, and therefore there is no need to self-examine and improve.

How humbling was YU’s recent tribute to you?

There is no more rewarding feeling in the world than to feel appreciated. The outpouring of feelings by Yeshiva University, my friends, colleagues and former players was emotionally overwhelming and will be cherished forever.

What is your YU legacy upon retirement from coaching?

Despite the constraints of time due to study and religious observance, the teams and players won 400 games without ever sacrificing Torah observance. Even in our losses we still earned the respect of the college basketball community.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/yus-halpert-molding-men-through-coaching/2012/05/23/

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