April 19, 2024
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YUNMUN: Where Students Dialogue With Research and Urgency

Position papers instead of text messages.

Coalitions rather than cliques.

Take every American teenage stereotype you have and they become so….20 minutes ago.

On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Stamford’s Crowne Plaza Hotel was the site of the 29th Yeshiva University National Model United Nations (YUNMUN) attracting 425 high school delegates from 48 mostly Modern Orthodox Day Schools from the tri-state area all the way to Brazil.

Here’s a sampling of what these intelligent, expressive teens were discussing in committees in the various hotel conference rooms. And LOL, they weren’t using text language to communicate, instead drawing on detailed, well researched presentations, some with diagrams.

The Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. This included satellite warfare and the monetization of space.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This included the situation in Myanmar and the human rights of prisoners.

The World Health Organization (WHO) which covered water cleanliness and shortages and antibiotic resistance.

Middle East Summit which included reconstruction post ISIS and the topic of a Middle East Proxy War.

There was a summit discussing the food crisis in Africa. Another one covered cyber warfare and small arms sales. Still another took on the difficult issues of eliminating violence against children and protecting and including children with disabilities.

Another important committee focused on the status of women, covering maternal mortality and the involvement of women in government.

There were even more.

If only the real UN operated as efficiently as YUNMUN. Between committee sessions, students davened and had their meals. Many of the students were eating their food, carrying the conversation from the discussion rooms to the meal tables and arguing in between gulps of lasagna and salad.

YUNMUN, according to Yeshiva University, “is a student-run simulation of the workings of the real UN that gives students an opportunity to experience and learn about the complex landscape of international diplomacy.”

What is so interesting as well is the schools represent member UN nations. Many of those nations certainly have policies that the students must carry on, even if they disagree with those positions personally. That means that YUNMUN delegates come to Stamford prepared to discuss their designated nations after spending research time on position points and really getting a taste of world affairs.

The high school students, YU students and staff members brought some 550 people to the event this year. Anne Neuberger, senior advisor to the director of NSA, and an Orthodox woman, talked to a crowded first night audience about her career in government as an observant Jew.

She was followed by Azi Fine, YUNMUN’s secretary general and a graduate of The Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC).

“This is where they want to be and this is what they want to be doing,” said Dena Feigenbaum, who was pointed to by YU’s Undergraduate Admissions Director Geri Mansdorf as being the person who takes care of the program’s every detail.

“YUNMUN is the brainchild of Michael Kransler,” said Mansdorf, who during the Monday afternoon sessions, was running the event but also keeping a careful eye on snow forecasts, as many students needed to get safely back to local airports. “He was the director of admissions here for 25 years.”

Feigenbaum said that the event attracts so many schools, because unlike other Model UN programs, this one will never be held over a Shabbos and there are no issues for shomer kashrut students.

Over 60 nations were represented. Schools bringing 10 or more students can represent two countries, and it is not unusual for a Jewish school to represent an Islamic based nation or third world country.

“The students do an unbelievable job,” said Feigenbaum, who is an information specialist for YU’s Department of Admissions.

And those students she is talking about include those coming from high schools and the 60 YU undergraduate men and women who spend a great deal of their school year planning and preparing for the event.

Fine works closely with Under Secretaries Noa Eliach from Woodmere, Jack Lebenbom from Southfield, MI and Mori Shick from West Hempstead.

Already, according to Mansdorf, she and her staff are looking to next year’s event, which is on the schedule for Feb. 9-11.

“The students are quite impressive,” said Mansdorf. “But imagine 425 students coming in, and we plan it from the minute this one ends for next year.”

Perhaps Sec. Gen. Fine put it best when he urged the high school students to set the goal of being impactful people in current lives and in the future.

“We want to keep on going forward with intensity,” said Fine. “We do so preferably with really knowing what’s going in the world as students, not just with what we read in the headlines.”

By Phil Jacobs

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