YU’s Richard Joel tells students to pursue Judaism in young adult years

BP Photo by Emilie Benyowitz

Rebecca Mandel, 11th Grade

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Chuckles spread among 11th and 12th grade students in the Beit Midrash Thursday as Richard Joel, the president of Yeshiva University, imitated former President George Bush’s Texas accent, recalling his excitement on a trip he had made to the White House.

At an Oval Office meeting with the then-president and other Jewish leaders, President Joel offered his philosophy that education should both enable students and ennoble them — that is, make them more noble, selfless and purposeful.  President Bush responded favorably, he said, trying to recapture the sound.

“He said, ‘Enabling and ennobling — that sounds nice,'” President Joel said, in a cadence definitely not that of YU’s neighborhood in New York.

President Joel – who was previously the International director of Hillel spoke to students not solely about Yeshiva University, but about the importance of being Jewish and making decisions based upon Jewish values.

Students listened attentively as he spoke about Jews’ struggle not to assimilate and how students can connect to Judaism through its values.

“We are growing up in a time where the Holocaust is history, all careers are open to us, and we tend to feel ambivalent about Israel politically,” he said. “Our history as Jews must be our collective story and we must live and learn from our narrative.”

He also said it was important for students to pursue their Judaism in the “critical time” after high school, whether by attending a school where they will be able to be active in Judaism and be around people that share their values, or by having a Rabbi they can turn to.

“Attending a Jewish undergraduate college program will provide you with the opportunity to develop and flourish in our core values that you should adhere to at this critical time in your lives,” he said.

“By obtaining such an education, you will be better equipped to model a vision of Jewish life that will permit you to make a difference in this world.”

All juniors and seniors attended the last-minute assembly, which had been announced the night before and took the place of Period 2.

“President Joel is a very motivating and inspirational person that I had the honor to listen to,” junior Michael Lenett said. “I am very happy that Shalhevet is bringing people like this to speak at school, and to teach us about important values that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.”

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