Every summer, the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center (MVHC) brings renowned people to the Island for a speaker series open to the public. These speaker events started 25 years ago on the Island, serving as a way to introduce and encourage more intellectual and cultural enrichment. It has grown to be an important cultural entity for the Island, and a place to discuss pressing global issues, bringing in new speakers with valuable experience and work that keep sponsors and Islanders coming back and spreading the word.
Starting in October each year, the co-chairs of the Summer Institute, Bruce and Shelly Eckman, begin working together and planning how to make the series a balanced program. To them, this means having speakers who will cover a variety of topics, rather than just endless politics. Their process for doing this, as Bruce Eckman told The Times, is to “think about some of the hot topics that would be important for the following summer … we anticipate those kinds of needs, and try to balance between a little bit of everything.”
In recent years, the series has had to transition online, and to accommodate a hybrid crowd. While participation and engagement did not seem to waver during those past hybrid years, Bruce Eckman told The Times there was a lack of a sense of community, as audience members online were restricted to Zoom’s chat feature for interaction. However, last year specifically, the Institute moved from inside the synagogue to outside, putting tents up in the parking lot. Eckman said, “We kept the safety issue important to the process, but we also had much more personal interaction.”
This year, the transition to outside will hold, in hopes of keeping that level of personal interaction, as Eckman said: “In-person is much more collaborative, and feels more satisfactory in developing a sense of community.” The Summer Institute will also be broadcasting the events to members alongside the in-person audience, with a live Q and A. Eckman hopes this will provide resources to participate and be engaged at varying levels of comfort for members. For the in-person crowd, proof of vaccination and one booster will be required. Masks will also be highly recommended, but a personal choice.
This summer’s speaker series will consist of six visitors, from July 7 to August 12. For the first week, July 7 and 8, Dennis Ross will be joining the MVHC to talk about his involvement in Middle Eastern policy and peace processes for the U.S., as well as being the William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The following week, July 14 and 15, Dr. Ronald C. Petersen will talk about his research in Alzheimer’s disease as a professor of neurology and the current director of the Mayo Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. Clint Watts will speak the week after, July 21 and 22, talking about social media and mind control as a distinguished research fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at the George Washington University. July 28 and 29, Ross Gregory Douthat will speak about the state of American politics, as an American political analyst and author. August 4 and 5, Mark Bittman will speak about the food system as an author and strong voice for global food culture and policy. In the last week of the series, August 11 and 12, Linda Greenhouse will talk about the Supreme Court as a senior research scholar in law at Yale Law School, and as an award winning journalist. All speakers will start at 7:30 pm at the M.V. Hebrew Center (130 Center St., Vineyard Haven).
Since these speakers have been announced, the MVHC has gotten positive feedback and excitement, according to Eckman. He also says that some speakers are already selling out faster than others, so he expects a good turnout for this year, as a well-known and well-liked program. The details for tickets and access to buy them can be found at ticketstage.com/T/MVHCSI.