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My Summer at Bar Ilan

It wasn’t until the fifth week of the YU-Bar Ilan Summer Science Research Program that I really began to regret my decision. Thinking back to that Friday in January when I had rushed to fill out the application, one question just kept running through my mind: ‘What in the world was I thinking?’

The program itself was a unique blend of recreation and academics. The main focus of the program was obviously the research; each of us visiting students was placed in a graduate level laboratory in our area of study. Personally, I was placed in a Computer Science lab that specializes in artificial intelligence, where I had the opportunity to work closely with Professor David Sarne and some of his graduate students. I thoroughly enjoyed my research and felt a real sense of accomplishment when I left the lab each day. Which was precisely the cause of my sincere regret; why had I only signed up for 6 weeks? Why had I not applied to stay for the whole two months? I wondered if there was any way that I could extend my stay. I approached Professor Chaim Sukenik, the Director of the YU-Bar Ilan Research Program, and with his assistance, I arranged to stay for two more weeks.

To be honest though, while I regretted my decision in retrospect, I know very well why I had originally chosen to stay for only six weeks. This was the first year of the program, and neither I nor anybody else knew what to expect. Yes, we knew that we were going to be staying in Yerushalayim and would have to commute back and forth each day, but we didn’t know that we would be doing so with a great group of friends, and so the bus ride wouldn’t be so bad. We knew that each one of us would be placed in a laboratory with a bunch of complete and total strangers, but we didn’t know about the incredibly warm welcome that was waiting for us.

Yehuda Stiefel, a YC senior majoring in physics, recalls his first day at Bar Ilan and how friendly his new colleagues were: “As they gave me a tour of the multimillion dollar facility, every person asked me the same question: ‘Here’s the electron microscope,’ said one of them. ‘Oh, and did they show you the coffee maker?’ ‘This is the magneto optics’, said another. ‘Do you know where the coffee maker is?’ They bent over backwards to make me feel welcome and comfortable in the lab. They made it clear that I was now a part of the team, and not just an observer.” And, apparently, that he could have coffee if so desired.

As amazing as the laboratory experience was though, it was the blend of this research with supplemental activities and outings that really made the program truly exceptional. Professor Sukenik went the extra mile to ensure that our Bar Ilan experience would be one that we wouldn’t soon forget. Every week we went on a half day tiyul, (most of which were) aimed to show us a different aspect of science research or industry in Israel. Our tours included the Israeli Aerospace Industries, Intel, and even a high-security army explosives lab. (Oh, and a winery, too). The trips gave us a good picture of the career possibilities available in our respective fields, and, at least for some of us, was a source of nationalistic pride. “Through the weekly trips to Israeli labs and development facilities, I have seen how scientific research similar to what I and my peers have been doing is implemented in reality,” remarked Jordie Gilbert, a biomedical engineering student at Rutgers University. “More than once, I’ve found myself wishing that my parents and friends in America could see the sort of development and innovation occurring in Israel, which we have been privileged to see.”

The program also had a strong religious component. We stayed on the YU Israel (Gruss) campus, and every night people from the program could be found learning in the bais medrash. Several times a week there were shiurim and chaburas—some given by the students, others by our dedicated Av and Aim Bayit, Rav Eliav Silverman and Adi Bitter. On special occasions, Dr. Sukenik arranged for interesting guest lecturers to address us. Perhaps the most important, and hopefully lasting, element of the program was the friendships my peers and I developed, both within the group as well as with the people in our laboratories. Erica Hasten, a Stern College senior majoring in biology, commented on both the unique research opportunities that Bar Ilan offered her, as well as what made the program special to her: “What I really loved about the program was the group of people I was with. During the day, I worked with human embryonic stem cells, something which I could not do in America since it is currently not funded by the American government. After work, I really enjoyed hanging out with the other people on the program.”

Luckily, the organizers from both Bar Ilan and YU are as happy with the program as are the students. They are quite impressed by the research that we managed to accomplish, and intend to run the program again next summer. If you are a serious science student looking for an amazing opportunity, you should definitely stay tuned for information on how to apply for next year’s program. Oh, and stay eight weeks!