The republic of letters - the story of a beneficiary turned benefactor

The republic of letters - the story of a beneficiary turned benefactor

  • Yuval family snapshot
    A young Dr Yuval with his mother and father

Image used with kind permission of Dr Yuval

Churchill College has always pursued a policy of actively seeking out those who might not normally consider applying to Cambridge, echoing the University ethos of ensuring excellence in education is available to all who meet the intellectual criteria, irrespective of background or financial status. It is a policy that has paid huge dividends for the College, helping to shape the futures of countless brilliant young minds and earning Churchill a reputation for the diversity and international nature of its student body.

Surely no personal journey could illustrate the Churchill story better than that of Dr Gideon Yuval, a beneficiary who became a benefactor.

It’s a story rooted in the 20th Century, it’s one that spans generations, decades and international borders, and ultimately one with implications for centuries to come. It begins in Berlin in 1912 with the birth of Dr Yuval’s father, Adam, as Europe was about to descend into a war that would dictate the political climate for the foreseeable future. As a young man Adam studied medicine at Heidelberg, but as a Jew found himself unwelcome in Hitler’s Germany. His first port of call was Italy where he was soon to be met with the rise of anti-Semitism under Mussolini. He spent some time at Cambridge before moving to Cyprus, where he found himself interned as an enemy alien by the British on the outbreak of war, on account of his German passport. His response was to go on hunger strike, and, upon being granted his freedom, he promptly signed up with the British Army, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps fighting Rommel in the Western Desert. Here his freedom was once again threatened, this time by the advancing Germans, to whom he was supposed to hand over the hospital he was running. Armed with a phial of hemlock he prepared to take his own life rather than fall into the hands of the enemy. As fate would have it, the enemy never came, but neither did peace. Moving to Palestine at the end of the war, he once again found himself swept up in conflict, this time fighting for the newly-formed state of Israel. Although resuming his medical career, he was still serving his country in his sixties during the Yom Kippur, or Arab-Israeli, War of 1973.

Learning without borders

By way of contrast, just six years earlier in Michaelmas Term 1967, in what was for some the 'summer of love', his son Gideon had arrived in Cambridge to study for a PhD in theoretical physics at Churchill College. He was the recipient of a scholarship from the Caloustie Gulbenkian Foundation, one of the original donors that helped set up the College in 1958. He had come across the scholarship while casting around for a place to conduct doctoral study while completing his Masters at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and discovering options for young Israelis were fairly slim.

“I opened up the UNESCO book ‘Study Abroad’” he recalls, “And paragraph after paragraph said 'UK only', 'US only', 'Commonwealth only', 'Irish only', or a combination of these. It made for very rapid reading.” Happily, the Gulbenkian Fund, in line with Churchill’s founding principles, had no such stipulations.

For someone who wanted to study it was an earthly paradise.

Dr Gideon Yuval

He recalls of his arrival at Churchill: “All I wanted to do was study. And I really liked the small community where you could find your place, but which is part of a much bigger institution with all its resources.”

Giving back

Since leaving, Dr Yuval has enjoyed a successful career as a consultant and lecturer, and spent the last 26 years at Microsoft in Seattle, USA, as a senior consultant in the field of cyber security. He has never forgotten his time at Cambridge and wants to make sure that others can benefit from the same spirit of charitable giving that enabled him to study at Churchill. Augmenting the original Gulbenkian gift with a major benefaction, and providing a fitting tribute to his father, he has helped create the Gulbenkian-Yuval Studentship at Churchill, open to scholars from around the world in perpetuity. Dr Yuval explains: “I feel scholarship and support for Cambridge should be open to all countries. The republic of letters….”

Further information

Read more about the Gulbenkian-Yuval Studentship at Churchill College

Next steps

If this story has inspired you, you can make a gift of your own now to support graduate students at Cambridge. Or continue reading our philanthropic impact stories.