By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
More than religious affiliation or training, Tim Schlindwein’s Catholic family instilled in him an appreciation for education, a curiosity for what lies beyond the familiar and respect for individuals from all backgrounds and beliefs.
Schlindwein, a veteran investment advisor and lifelong Chicagoan, has parlayed his intellectual curiosity and love of academia into major leadership roles with Tel Aviv University and its support group American Friends of Tel Aviv University.
He is one of the few non-Jews who have risen quickly up the ranks, inspired by his personal goal to help expand the university’s presence outside of Israel.
“I’m a latecomer to Israel,” Schlindwein said of his first visit, a mission trip in 2012, during which he became captivated by the country and the university. “I really got to appreciate the breadth and depth of the university. My interest is driven in part by the geopolitical importance of Israel. Also, I’m in the investment world and the investment activity in Israel in recent years has been outstanding.”
A University of Notre Dame graduate, Schlindwein is driving significant international collaborations in higher education and funding groundbreaking research. He spearheaded the development of a collaborative initiative between Tel Aviv University and his alma mater, Notre Dame, and established an endowment fund to support cooperation between the partnering institutions. The first recipients of his grant were just selected—expert researchers from Tel Aviv University and Notre Dame for a project that will explore interpretive cultures in Late Antiquity.
Tel Aviv University does have collaborations with other universities, the Ivy Leagues, Northwestern and Stanford, but Notre Dame “is a game changer,” said Richard Sincere, president of the 47-member board of American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU). He recruited Schlindwein to the AFTAU board of directors in 2015. “There are people from all over the world that go to TAU, but it’s great to have collaboration between a Catholic school and predominately Jewish school.”
Notre Dame has been on the ground in Israel for 50 years south of Jerusalem in a facility owned by the Vatican. There it hosts a number of religious and ecumenical programs. The collaboration with Tel Aviv University is all together different. “Over the next two years we’ll develop programs and research,” Schlindwein said. “I think it’s all very exciting.”
Gail Reiss, President and CEO of AFTAU praised Schlindwein and his passion for education. “He’s interested in education, in bridging partners in academic institutions and he’s interested in Israel for its spiritual life, its dynamism and the character of the country.”
In May, Schlindwein accepted an offer to join the Board of Governors of Tel Aviv University. “I do feel today, and some recent events have demonstrated this more, that Israel needs friends in many places and not just in the Jewish community,” Schlindwein said. “So I felt that if in my own little world, I could somehow spread the word of both Israel and Tel Aviv University, it’s something I ought to give some effort to. Those are the drivers for me.”
Tel Aviv University became a good venue for Schlindwein’s activism, said Sincere, also a Chicagoan, who has known his friend for more than two decades. “It’s an intellectual university where he’s able to test things and learn from people.”
Schlindwein says that when he visits Israel, he can’t help but see the “vibrancy of the people, what they’re about, what they are trying to accomplish. You get a sense of we don’t suffer fools lightly. We’re here and looking to accomplish and yet at the same time, amidst this existential risk that surrounds the country, there’s a joy of life, a desire to do good things. I think it’s just something to really be respectful of, frankly.”
Of the university, he says the mission is broad. “They’ve got a law school, a medical school, all of the liberal and fine arts. They’ve got a live zoo on campus to support research. In all that, they are also a very open university. You see students from all walks of life and all parts of society. I think it just reinforces and adds to what really should be a strength of any major university.”