12/15/08

Yeshiva University Will Survive the Madoff Affair

A prominent blog, University Diaries, has been following the Madoff Affair as it unfolds vis a vis Yeshiva University.

UD wanted to know today why no article has appeared at the student paper web site. I went to YU (admittedly a while ago). I know that immediate scoops were not something that students on the newspaper were after. We don’t expect the quality or immediacy of the reporting of the Brown Daily Herald or Harvard Crimson there at YU's student newspapers.

UD is right about the scale of this scandal. It is unprecedented. And UD is right to expect a news release today from the school to reassure the students, faculty, staff and supporters -- even if it only a broad and general no-content release.

The lack of that PR event worries me deeply. The word on the street is that due to the Madoff unpleasantness there was a loss is $100 million to the endowment - a big one day loss. But recall that the YU endowment lost $400 million already this year on market declines and stood at $1.4 billion before the Madoff Affair.

Remember further that when I graduated the college in 1970, the YU endowment was basically non-existent. During that era, Yeshiva survived and grew on hand-to-mouth fundraising.

In that context, and lacking an official press release from the YU PR office, let me offer my own reassurance to the world that Yeshiva University will survive this crisis. Appropriately, I present my affirmation in the form of a rabbinic anecdote.
As a courtesy, when I was his student, I used to drive the legendary Rav J. B. Soloveitchik, the Rabbinic head of the Yeshiva, to the airport on Thursday after he finished his teaching for the week, so that he could return home to Boston.

During one such drive around 1971, with some concern I inquired about what the Rav thought about the serious financial crisis of that time that YU faced. I was surprised to hear both the certainty and the flavor of the Rav's response to me. He said:

"The Yeshiva has survived many serious financial crises for many years and I am sure it will survive many more serious financial crises for many more years."
Even in light of the severe setback of the last few days, I am sure of that survival too.

PS: Irony... Rav Soloveitchik was the Leib Merkin professor of Talmud and Jewish philosophy at YU. (Times)

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