April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I spent 20 years on the Yeshiva University campus. I entered what was then MTA in 1958, graduated Yeshiva College in 1966, received semikha in 1969, my MA in 1970 and my PhD in 1978. Add to that the years I spent teaching at YC and Stern; I saw a lot of changes, had many superlative experiences and made lifelong friends.

Reunions were never my thing, but when I received the invitation to my 50th college reunion, something resonated and I went. I didn’t know quite what to expect. I still see some of my classmates and was anxious to see those who were among my friends while in college. I also knew from the grapevine and via the YU alumni emails that many of my classmates are no longer with us.

The gala and lavish event was held at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. It was preceded by a shiur given by Rabbi Saul Berman on the real meaning(s) of Birkat Kohanim. Then we had a cocktail hour to meet and greet. I must say that my classmates were and are quite a distinguished lot. Among them are prominent rabbis, professors, doctors, Jewish educators, attorneys, engineers, communal workers, businessmen, dentists and government workers at highly classified jobs in Washington, D.C.

YU can be justly proud of its many illustrious alumni, but my class was something special. Just to cite a few of my classmates illustrates this point. Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn; YU Prof. Rabbi Dr. Moshe Bernstein of Teaneck, one of the world’s experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls; Dr. Jonathan Halpert, longtime coach of the YU basketball team in whose honor their gym is named; Dr. Howard Salob, my childhood friend from across the street with whom I walked to and from elementary, junior high, high school and most of college every day, team dentist for the Washington Capitals, Bullets and currently the Mystics; Ira Rapaport, former mayor of Shilo, leader of the settler movement; Rabbi Ronnie Gray, head of Boys Town Jerusalem and two judges. And over 20 percent of my class has made aliyah.

And then there are those taken from us too soon: Rabbi Steven Dworken, Executive Director of the Rabbinical Council of America; my chavrusa Aaron Gaffney, winner of the Chidon HaTanakh; Rabbi Abraham Wahrthaftig, Director of Camp Morasha who grew up on my block; Shelley Rokach, great basketball star; Joe Berlin, who gave his all for Dean’s Reception and Student Council; Phil Lieberman, who died during his freshman year and 15 others.

There is so much to capture that it is impossible to do so in one evening. Vic Didia represented the class of ’66 and spoke of his experiences at YC as the token Sefardi in our class. I have so many memories, all of them positive. I was very fortunate to learn from outstanding professors in every subject who were great scholars willing to share their knowledge with us. Most importantly, I feel very privileged to have been among the last generation to study with the great European rebbeim that Rav Belkin was able to bring to YU. True, you had to know Yiddish, but that was part of that particular mesorah. Each one was a gadol in his own right: Rav Yosef Weiss, Rav Henoch Fishman, Rav Dovid Lifshitz. These were among my teachers. But I cannot omit Rav Gorelik, Rav Borenstein, Rav Volk, Rav Poleyoff, Rav Cyperstein, Rav Arnest, Rav Katz and Rav Shatzkes. I was also privileged to study with Rav Aharon Soloveitchik and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Although he may have been under appreciated, Rav Yakov HaKohen Lessin, our mashgiach, was an amazing link to the world of mussar. These experiences were magical. We were in the presence of greatness.

There is so much that enriched my college experience: being a member of the Debating Society and traveling cross country to debate other colleges, performing at the Deans’ Reception, which was unfortunately cancelled after many years because young women came as dates to this annual competition, and just being exposed to so many fascinating courses. Prof. Manfred Weidhorn opened my eyes to Shakespeare, and Prof. Fleisher did the same for the Romantic and Victorian poets. The most exciting and demanding class I ever took was Greek Tragedy, team taught by two Harvard professors teaching at YU—Prof. Louis Feldman and Prof. Aharon Lichtenstein. One took the Greek and the other the various translations. The four of us in the class will never forget it.

Back to the present. Some of my classmates were in wheelchairs or walked with canes, a few I did not recognize, but soon we all became reacquainted and the years fell away. President Richard Joel spoke at the dinner about YU’s many accomplishments and we schmoozed again at the lavish dessert buffet.

The physical campus has changed a great deal. My bio lab was located in a Quonset hut where the library now stands. Hint to budding doctors or scientists—when you have to dissect an animal, leave it on the radiator the night before in its bag. The fat will melt and the dissection will be much cleaner and easier. Dorm life, Shabbat and Yom Yov at YU all deserve more extensive treatments. No one who experienced it can ever forget Rav Lifshitz’s clear voice as he sang B’ran Yachad from the Tefila Kodem Tefila after learning all night on Shavuot and dancing together with us singing Moshe Emet V’Torato Emet. We had no real gym and we swam at George Washington High School b.a. It was a magical time and I’m glad I went to the reunion.

Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene is a proud graduate of Yeshiva University. His son (Associate Director of Admissions at YU), one daughter, one mechutan and one son-in-law also attended YU.

By Wallace Greene

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