YU focusing on being the bridge between Diaspora Jewry and Israel

University president Ari Berman: If antisemitism stays a Jewish problem, it will remain a Jewish problem

YESHIVA UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman speaks with students on campus in New York (photo credit: YESHIVA UNIVERSITY)
YESHIVA UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman speaks with students on campus in New York
(photo credit: YESHIVA UNIVERSITY)
“The Jewish world is at its strongest point when it’s one,” according to Yeshiva University President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, who puts a strong emphasis on building and growing ties with Israel.
Yeshiva University is “as a bridge, or what I call the YU superhighway... between Diaspora Jewry and Israel,” he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week.
“It’s a crucial connector, and Israel is in everything that we think about,” Berman said during a visit here. “It’s not separate from Yeshiva University. It is Yeshiva University.”
YU students spend one year studying in Israel at yeshivot and seminaries, he said, adding: “Now we have increased partnerships with Israeli universities and Israeli institutions. We have a memorandum of understanding with Israeli universities like Hebrew U. and Bar-Ilan, the Technion [in Haifa], and Ben-Gurion University [of the Negev]."
Berman said they also “bring Israeli ingenuity to America” and have recently opened an innovation lab “that features Israeli start-ups.”
The innovation lab was established in May in partnership with Yissum, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s technology transfer company.
The start-ups come in “and utilize the skill sets of the students” at YU, “and the students get clinical work in building start-ups,” Berman said.
YU alumni have established a new venture-capital fund, called MAC Ventures, LLC, early-stage technology fund that is associated with, but separate from, the university, he said, adding that they are partnering with both start-ups and Israeli start-ups.
Visiting professors from Israel who come to YU are “also a great source of connection,” Berman said, adding that they are constantly looking “to reinforce the bridge that YU uniquely serves as the premier Jewish higher-educational institute that is firmly and ardently Zionist.”
Regarding growing the YU-Israel ties, “there is a lot in motion… this is a constant,” Berman said. “Looking for partnerships is certainly one of the reasons I’m here [in Israel].”
Part of his reason for visiting Israel is to celebrate the completion of the seven-year Talmud cycle, which Berman said is an important event in the Jewish world.
“It marks the centrality of Torah and study, and in this world, in 2020, 70-odd years from the founding of the State [of Israel], it is only appropriate to celebrate it Jerusalem, the Holy City, which is the center of the Jewish world,” he said.
The issues of antisemitism and the divergence of Jewish students from their connection to Zionism and Israel are “twin concerns,” Berman said.
“On the one hand is assimilation, moving away from the national identity of feeling part of the Jewish people, and antisemitism on the other,” he said. “What we do is we bring our prime Jewish values out into the world, and we educate our students to be the leaders in the world of tomorrow.
“Yeshiva University students are educated now and have the skill set and inspiration to take leadership roles in addressing these challenges.”
For example, Berman said, many YU students are counselors on Birthright Israel programs.
“I think it was last year when I was at a Birthright dinner,” he said, “and someone asked why I was there: ‘Your students aren’t participants on Birthright buses; they spend at least a year studying in Israel?’ So I said, ‘Yes, that’s true, we’re not the participants on the bus. But who do you think are the counselors on the bus?’”
“Who are the people that can best speak to American college students and also Israelis and be that bridge? Who are the students that have the three core characteristics: who are firmly rooted in their Jewish identity, who are ardently Zionist and pro-Israel, and who are cultural conversant and successful in the broader world?” Berman asked. “These are Yeshiva University students. If you fast-forward 20 or 30 years from now, we’re the leaders of the Jewish community of the future.”
“Who’s going to be the bridge that’s going to be able to strengthen the ties and see the Jewish people as one? It’s YU students” he said.
YU is fighting the scourge of antisemitism in various ways, especially in the online sphere where it has increased a lot, Berman told the Post.
“We recently announced a masters [degree] in data analytics and a master in cybersecurity,” he said. “We’re going to now give the students projects that deal with antisemitism... So our students are now thinking proactively about what they can do.”
“The Jewish community [is] one people, and we establish that as the message in the battle against antisemitism,” Berman said.
Nevertheless, it is extremely important to forge and strengthen partnerships with the broader world and society, he said.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve had the archbishop of Paris along with a cohort of French priests come to YU to meet with our roshei [heads of the] yeshiva, visit the beit midrash and see how we’re translating the mesorah [Jewish religious tradition].” he said. “We’ve had a group of Muslim leaders from across the country come meet us, and we’ve had the chaplains from the US military. So we bring our students into these conversations, we want them to be educated… to strengthen our ties with the different worlds is a crucial vehicle in thinking about antisemitism – it’s not just fighting the scourge, but it’s also forging the partnerships.
“If antisemitism stays a Jewish problem, it will remain a Jewish problem,” Berman said.