Isaac Bindman: A Quirky Academic and Biddy Martin’s Doppelganger

From his tea drinking habits to his academic interests, Isaac Bindman draws a lot from his heritage as a German, British Jew. But he owes his intelligent sense of humor, meticulousness, and genuine care for others to none other than himself.

Isaac Bindman: A Quirky Academic and Biddy Martin’s Doppelganger
Bindman’s history thesis centered around Jews in India during British colonial rule. Photo courtesy of Claire Beougher ’26.

If Isaac Bindman is known for one thing on this campus, it’s his 2021 Halloween costume.

Bindman dressed up as the 19th President of Amherst College and distinguished German scholar Biddy Martin. He wore a black robe embellished with purple duct tape (to match her Commencement gown) and round Harry Potter glasses that he ordered on Amazon. It didn’t take more than a few costume tweaks to get the look right, Bindman said, because of their natural likeness.

The costume got lots of attention that weekend, so, a few weeks later, at Homecoming, his friends convinced Bindman to show Biddy the photo. She found it hilarious and asked him to email it to her.

“I don’t think many people can say they interact with the President on something as entirely stupid and frivolous as dressing up as them for Halloween,” Bindman said.

Although the time has passed for Bindman to be Michael Elliott for Halloween, Bindman doesn’t mind, saying that it would have required a lot more manipulation: “I look a lot more like Biddy than I do Michael Elliott.”

But Bindman and Biddy have more in common than their face shape and tufts of brown, curly hair: Bindman is also a German scholar, having double majored in German and history at Amherst.

We talked soon after Bindman submitted his history thesis on the Jewish experience under British rule in India. He was very relieved, given the stress he was under toward the end of the process. As part of Bindman’s anxious writing rituals, he paces.

“I used to be known for the Biddy costume. Now, if people see my face, they’re like: Oh, the guy who paces around Frost or the Science Center,” Bindman said.

One of his friends came up with the split that if he’s working for two hours, only half an hour will be writing, and the rest will be pacing. Bindman thinks the split is a little hyperbolic, but, he admitted, mostly true.

Three Family Members and Three Passports

Bindman grew up in Manhattan with a total of three family members, three citizenships, and three passports. His mom is Jewish and from the United Kingdom, and his dad is from Germany. He joked that whenever he goes out to dinner with his family, the waiters are always confused because each of them has a distinctively different accent.

This blend of cultures has led to eclectic passions. From his dad, Bindman got his steadfast support of Bayern Munich Football Club. From his mom, Bindman inherited his love of tea. He goes through about 300 tea bags each semester. It’s generally Earl Grey, so he stops at 5 p.m. — “Only for caffeine’s sake.”

That he ended up having his bar mitzvah and getting his German passport in the same month is very unique, but it’s a perfect representation of his heritage and his academic interests.

During trips to visit his family in Southwest London and Munich, Bindman would visit medieval castles, which inspired a fascination with knights and Robin Hood, and a lifelong love of history.

The combination of his early interest in history and the impact of transformative history teachers in high school solidified his desire to major in history as well as pursue teaching history after college.

Living with Quaker Values of Service, Justice, and Activism

Bindman ended up at Amherst in a “pretty conventional way.” Apart from the open curriculum, academic rigor, and reputation, Bindman was drawn to Amherst because it is a good proximity to home — not so close that his “mom would show up with a sandwich for lunch,” but close enough to get back easily.

Because Bindman went to Friends Seminary, a small, Quaker high school in Manhattan, he knew for a long time that he wanted to go to a small college like Amherst. At his school, they would have weekly Quaker meetings, which consisted of 25 minutes of silence in a traditional Quaker meeting house.

“It’s a very beautiful practice. It’s very touching and spiritual and it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to convert you or proselytize you or anything like that,” Bindman said. “It just feels like a meditative process and a community bonding thing that I certainly miss.”

“Halloween isn’t a competition, but I won that year,” Bindman said, of his 2021 Biddy Martin costume. Photo courtesy of Isaac Bindman ’24.

Friends Seminary’s focus on service, justice, and activism was something Bindman tried to carry on to Amherst. He’s done so through his work as a tour guide, member of the Education Professions Fellowship, and what he considers the most important activity for him at Amherst: A Better Chance Tutoring.

Bindman is the co-head tutor for Amherst’s chapter of A Better Chance, a national non-profit organization that brings high-achieving students of color from underserved communities to well-funded public school districts. Since the 1960s, the Amherst Regional Public Schools (ARPS) have been identified as distinguished schools. Continuing the tradition of teaching, Amherst College students have served as tutors for A Better Chance students who live in a house behind the CVS — partly launched by the college — and attend ARPS.

Since his freshman year, Bindman has gone three times a week to tutor Ethan, who is about to graduate high school. Bindman has been able to see Ethan mature and take on leadership roles within the house. And because both Bindman and Ethan, also a New York City native, are graduating and figuring out their plans for next year, it feels like they’ve been on parallel paths.

“It’s been a very nice experience, not only to continue doing service that I started in high school and gain practical experience in terms of teaching … but also as a nice way of connecting with a local community,” Bindman said. “I don’t think Amherst students are the worst offenders of this, but there’s definitely a town-gown gap.”

Bindman noticed a lack of local community engagement in addition to moments of political apathy.

As vice president of the nonpartisan club Amherst Political Union, which was founded in 1938 by Robert Morgantheau ’41 and Richard Wilbur ’42, Bindman is attempting to combat that apathy. The club was struggling with low attendance, but it’s been “pulled from the brink” of dissolution this year due to increased attendance in the context of an election year, Trump’s trials, and the Israel-Palestine war.

For Bindman, it’s important to emphasize that “no one has to be hyper-literate or hyper-informed” about an issue before attending a meeting; it’s a safe space where students can test out ideas and figure out how things work.

Leben in Amherst/La vie à Amherst

Bindman’s international background led him to study abroad in Paris through the Middlebury program.

Bindman said that the decision to go to France “is sometimes confusing to people, rightfully so, because I’m a German-history double major.” But it came from his desire to not lose the French he learned in high school.

“But also, Paris is heavenly, who wouldn’t want to go?” Bindman said. “There’s a movement on TikTok saying like, ‘Paris is overrated.’ But it’s all lies — please print that — it’s not overrated, it’s properly rated, it’s fabulous.”

Bindman had a great time with a “really lovely host family” that he’s still in contact with. He had just texted them about the Bayern Munich game before our interview. (The Champions League semifinal score was 2-2 versus Real Madrid.)

Through the program, apart from signing the rigorous Middlebury language pledge, Bindman took two classes at Sorbonne University, which was “very intimidating.” Thankfully, his professors and classmates were used to having foreign students there, so were understanding.

But the French system felt outdated to Bindman: “It’s like how I’d imagine education to be like in the 1950s. What the professor says is God and they do not ask for your opinion on anything.”

Bindman said that’s definitely not what he would be like as a teacher, and it made him appreciate the way classes are structured at Amherst. In his junior fall, he took a one-on-one class on the early modern Indian Ocean world with Asian Languages and Civilizations and History Professor Mekhola Gomes. It served as good training for the thesis process because of its individualized structure and research component and gave him the idea for his thesis topic.

I asked him if he was tired of talking about his thesis, since other seniors I know certainly feel that way. But Bindman said he never gets tired of talking about it because he’s always loved his topic.

After learning about the early history of Jews in India in the class with Gomes, Bindman was curious to research what their experience looked like in the British colonial context. Professor Ellen Boucher advised his thesis: “He came to me at the end of his junior year with this idea … and I thought: that’s fantastic. I don’t know anything about that subject, and I think it’s really understudied,” Boucher said.

Through his research, Bindman realized “an amazing coincidence.” In the same two weeks of the summer of 1858, the British government formed the British Raj in India and emancipated British Jews on the British Isle.

“So in a two-week period, the houses of Parliament have elevated one community of Jews to full legal and political status, while simultaneously subjecting three other communities of Jews to colonial rule. And it was that contrast that was really exciting to me,” Bindman said.

Bindman took advantage of the New York Public Library and was able to get college and department funding to access archives in the U.K. in January.

“Isaac is a real intellectual and a very meticulous researcher,” Boucher said. “One of the wonderful things about working with him was that he would go into the archive and come back with all of these gems that he had found.”

It was difficult to manage the volume of primary sources he found — Boucher explained that it’s because Bindman “won’t rest until he’s found absolutely every source related to the question he’s working on.” Still, Bindman “never lost the forest for the trees,” Boucher said, always staying mindful of the broader themes of the thesis.

For Bindman’s third chapter, he felt overwhelmed by the number of sources. That chapter looked at the rise of Zionism in India through Zionist Indian newspapers of that era.

“That was interesting, especially after October 7, as the history of Zionism was being brought back into the political center. Even though it was from a very distant Indian vantage point, they were still reporting on the events going on and the British mandate in Palestine,” Bindman said.

Next year, as Bindman pursues a master’s in history at Yale, partially funded by the college, he’ll have the opportunity to take classes with “amazing Jewish historians … and hopefully, my background now in Indian Jewish history would allow me to write something original in those classes.” He added that it’s exciting to further pursue an aspect of de-Westernized Jewish history, outside of the traditionally Yiddish-speaking, Ashkenazi Jewish population.

“I’ll have to make fun of Connecticut the whole time I’m at Yale. As a New Yorker, it’s my duty. But I will enjoy it for sure,” Bindman said.

The Suite Life of Isaac

Before he starts his master’s program, Bindman is planning to zero in on his cocktail-making skills, and possibly pursue bartending as a side job. (He wants to say, for the record, that he is 22.)

Bindman got into making cocktails junior year because he was “annoyed of drinking the things college students drink.”

“Now I have real glasses and I use real citrus juice that I squeeze out of real limes and lemons and I have a shaker and I have a whole freezer full of ice. It’s extremely eccentric,” Bindman said. “But my friends are very nice to indulge my silly habit and it is a lot of fun.”

Bindman keeps the ice chest in his suite, where he lives with four other seniors. His collection of posters lines the walls of the suite’s common room. Some are prominent, like the one of the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Others are random. If Bindman thinks a campus event poster looks cool, he takes note of the day it will occur, and then takes it down after.

“Something I’ve really enjoyed in my time in college is living in the suite. It’s been really nice to have unstructured, unplanned, social engagements. That’s what’s so nice about college,” Bindman said.

All five of the suite members wrote a thesis in five different majors. Bindman sees their suite as incredibly diverse in terms of academic preferences, allowing for unconditional, earnest support without “awkward competition” (except when it comes to playing board games).

In the suite, Bindman is known for his cleanliness: “You’ll hear him vacuum like 10 times a day. We also have this running joke in the suite that he’s always doing his laundry,” said suitemate Phoebe Eccles ’24.

Bindman is immensely thoughtful in his relationships with his suitemates. For each of their birthdays, Bindman hand wrote them limericks on wide ruled binder paper. And on German Christmas, Bindman texted them to leave their shoes outside their doors, later filling them with candy, a custom he learned from his dad.

Aside from these traditions, Bindman is known as having a “very intelligent sense of humor,” Eccles said. During our interview, she pulled up a section of a document dedicated to Bindman’s quotes. Here are some of them: “Cuomo is a bad person, but, man did he fix the infrastructure.” “It has Gaylor subreddit vibes, something I’ve been dabbling in recently.” “Boston is a provincial outpost.” “(While holding a hammer): Anyone got demons?”

Although Bindman’s sense of humor is valued around the suite, he’s also been there for suitemates struggling with loss and other tragedies and pressures, adapting the way he responds based on each suitemates’ coping mechanism, Eccles said.

Pacing Beyond Amherst

Through talking to Bindman, it became evident that he’s much more than someone who bears a strangely exact likeness to former Amherst president Biddy Martin. He’s an impressive scholar in history who has carried out the Quaker values of service and justice in all of his extracurricular activities, all while caring deeply about his friends, family, and heritage outside of academics.

And each step that he takes will take him far beyond the third floor of Frost Library.