Series returns in-person

The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center’s Summer Institute speaker series is back, and ready to face the biggest challenges of 2021.


The Summer Institute at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center continues its speaker series this year with a new group of notable speakers. According to the institute’s website, the mission of the forums is to enrich the lives of Islanders by providing thought-provoking speakers and films. 

Due to COVID last year, the speakers held their forums exclusively online. This year, however, the series is taking a hybrid form; all but one being both online and in-person. The in-person lectures will be on Thursday evenings starting July 8 and continuing through August 12. The speakers will include a wide range of topics from political discourse to theatric news to COVID. “We see what the trending topics are and find the people who have the most expertise in that area,” said co-chair Shelly Eckman.

In planning this event last January, co-chairs Shelly and Bruce Eckman wanted to include a Zoom option for people who may not feel comfortable returning to an in-person event, or are not fully vaccinated. “We want to create a program that will appeal to our audience and yet provide flexibility and safety during this year of transition.” Eckman said.

The speaker who kicked off the series July 8 was Harvard Professor Michael Sandel. His online forum focused on justice and merit, and was titled “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?” 

Following Sandel on July 15, Danielle Allen, another Harvard professor, is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. She is widely known for her work on ethics. Her program, titled “Our Common Purpose: Reinventing Democracy for the 21st Century,” is both online and in person.

July 22 brings renowned CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper for his forum, “Fiction, Facts, and Lies: On Writing Novels and Covering Politics in 2021.” In 2017, he was awarded the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism. In addition to his reporting, Tapper has authored five books, and has been active in bringing attention and support for veterans’ issues. Tapper’s in-person session is sold out, but the Zoom forum is still available.

Another included speaker in the series is George Q. Daley on July 29, an expert on COVID with his forum “Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness’s Response to COVID.” Daley is dean of the faculty of medicine, Caroline Shields Walker Professor of Medicine, and professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. This session is both online and in-person.

On August 5, Ben Brantley will discuss the theater industry with “Theater, Now and Forever: Why the Fabulous Invalid Isn’t Dying.” Brantley joined the staff of the New York Times as a drama critic in 1990, and became the paper’s chief theater critic in 1993, stepping down from the post in October 2020. In his 27 years as critic, Brantley wrote more than 2,500 reviews. This season is also in-person and on Zoom.

The final speaker in the series brings an important discussion of race in the U.S. with Michael Eric Dyson. His scholarship has spanned a wide range of topics including race, religion, politics, hip-hop, popular culture, and contemporary issues in the Black community. This forum is titled “Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America” and is in-person and online.

In addition to the speaker series, there are three films that are available for members of the Hebrew Center to stream for free and nonmembers to purchase access to on its website,
The first offered film, available on July 18, “Here We Are” details the experience of two divorced parents with differing views on how to raise their son. July 25 brings, “’Til Kingdom Come” which focuses on a small evangelical church in an impoverished Kentucky mining community. The final film offering on August 1 is “Thou Shalt Not Hate,” which features a child of a Holocaust survivor faced with a man struggling for life, but who has a Nazi tattoo on his chest.

Both Bruce and Shelly Eckman are excited to return to in-person participation, and to have an online option for viewers. “Following the pandemic, our goal has been to re-establish a sense of community that we have enjoyed in the past,” said co-chair Bruce Eckman.

Tickets for the in-person event and Zoom links are accessible via, and vary in price depending on location.