The Tikvah Summer Institute, an academic two-week program for just graduated and rising high school seniors, is held at Yale University each summer, hosting a powerful and eclectic group of speakers and professors. The program seeks to bring together some of the most brilliant young Jewish minds from around the country and exceptional professors for learning and discussion about what it means to be a Jew and a citizen in the society we live in.
From the moment I walked into Yale’s Saybrook College and walked up one of its winding staircases, it felt magical. The dorms have a Hogwarts feel to them, and the environment hinted at what great things were to come. Before any seminars began, at the first meal shared by all the participants, there was already an energy in the air, a passionate interest in the topics at hand. Even when people barely knew one another, they immediately delved into heavy and difficult discussions. There were discussions on objective and moral relativism, and philosophical debates in an environment ripe for generating serious discussion on such topics.
The seminars, ranging from “War and Statesmanship” to “Sexuality, Family, and Virtue,” deeply explored and unpacked complex ideas. The sessions, combined with the substantive preparatory readings, did not end when the seminar ended. The topics would reappear at various times of the day, and lead to even deeper enlightenment.
Rabbi Mark Gottlieb, senior director of the Tikvah Fund, and a variety of well-established professors in a number of fields, were consistently present at meals and always engaged us in discourse. The program also allowed us to meet and talk with people who are considered some of the greatest minds of the generation. Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik was there, and one could easily have a conversation with him on a whim. Multiple times, he lectured us in groups big and small on various aspects of what it means to be a Jew with elaborations on our virtues and on the meaning of yehudi, one of our ancestral names.
We heard from former Senator Joseph Lieberman on political activism, success, and statesmanship, and experienced a week of seminars led by Kimberly Kagan, who was instrumental in the development of the surge in Iraq during 2007. I spoke with Professor Kagan about ISIS [the terrorist Caliphate taking over Iraq] in the Middle East, the area of her expertise, and could not have imagined getting that kind of opportunity anywhere else.
From the moment I woke up each morning, my day was jam packed with growth and development. My quintessential experience was the back and forth I had with a professor of political economics right after an enlightening seminar.
Similarly passionate minds from across the country and world converged at Yale to allow for an experience that differed from most in a sea of summer programs. I could, and did, strike up conversations with any one of the students present. We had similar interests and did not have to engage in an icebreaker to dive into more meaningful discourse. It was amazing to walk into the dining hall and feel like you wanted to sit down at every table and talk to everyone. You knew you could strike up an incredibly interesting discussion no matter where you went, and you always felt like dinner should have lasted just a little bit longer.
I reminisce about those meals, and savor the copious and brilliant conversations that took place. Whether the discussion concerned the compatibility and sincerity of American patriotism and Zionism, or the virtues and moralities of sexuality, it was always thoughtful and insightful.
When I first applied to the Tikvah program, I did not expect to be accepted. The application process is one I used to prepare for writing the kinds of college essays I would need to write when I applied to different universities. Even if I did not get into Tikvah, I thought, at least I took the preparation seriously and benefited from it. The fact that I did get in made it that much more incredible. This, in itself, is indicative of the kind of great experience I had at Tikvah. Even the application process, with all its rigors, was enjoyable and beneficial.
The messages imparted to me throughout the course of the program gain more substance as time goes on. Constantly, I was being exhorted to find a mentor, find a guide to life, to continue and expand the discoveries in deep texts from Hobbes or Adam Smith. These messages continue to appear as ever greater guiding lights imparted to me as I proceed beyond Tikvah. No matter the course for my life that I set, I know that what I learned, experienced, and enjoyed at the Tikvah Summer Institute will have an everlasting impact on my development.
Aaron Eckstein is a JLBC intern and a rising senior at TABC. This summer, he is also interning at Assemblyman Schaer’s office (36th district), and attending a wrestling camp.
By Aaron Eckstein