Robert Kantowitz ’73

Robert Kantowitz ’73

Some observations about YUHSB

There is a lot that can and will be said about Yeshiva University High School in every decade, and some of it will be revisionist history.  I would like to note two things about the early 1970s that probably will get shorter shrift among the encomiums than they deserve: more diversity than one typically sees today and an emphasis on academic excellence and achievement.

My classmates came from all over the metropolitan area (except Brooklyn) and from other cities.  TI was a solid and viable Jewish Studies program, with no need to apologize for not being “all Gemara, all the time.”  More of us went to YU than anywhere else, but every year, a number chose elite colleges, knowing full well that there was virtually no way to continue Jewish learning in a significant way at Columbia, let alone “out of town.”  Even from the perspective of religion itself, there was a spectrum.  I recall no one who was brazenly non-observant, but there were students from Conservative homes or who may have been in YUHS mainly because their parents wanted no part of troubled public schools, and minyan attendance was surely not what it is now.  The sky did not fall down.

That gets me to the point about academic excellence.  Rabbi Weinbach O”H was an educator and was indisputably the head of this school.  He did not treat secular studies as a mere afternoon adjunct to a kollel.  We had school on Sundays, and for most of the year that included three afternoon periods.  A student who excelled in English or math but not so much in limudei kodesh could still feel respected for it.  I could not fit French into my schedule, so Rabbi Weinbach arranged for the instructor to teach me privately twice each week during a study period.  (He also showed insightful judgment in allowing me to cut one Sunday when a family friend offered me a coveted ticket to a Giants game at the old Yankee Stadium.)

And the academics were rigorous.  When we took Regents exams, we breathed a sigh of relief knowing that they were trivial compared to the fiendish finals that some YUHS teachers devised.  When I moved over to Yeshiva College in the middle of my senior year, I gingerly approached the formidable Professor Lisman to ask how much I would need to catch up going into the second semester of calculus; it turned out that our AP class with Mr. Stepelman was actually two weeks ahead of the college pace.

Times have changed, and it seems that most families now send their children to the neighborhood high schools that have proliferated on a scale that could not have been imagined fifty years ago.  But we had something great back then.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *