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Alumni 60 Years Later: Alumni from 1964 (and more) Are Still Learning Together

By Joshua Polanski

More than six decades after they graduated from Hebrew College’s undergraduate program, alumni from Hebrew College’s Bachelor of Jewish Education program in 1964 returned to the classrooms of Hebrew College together, only this time on Zoom. “We are people who like to learn—and the notion of being back together and learning is a good feeling,” said the College’s former Director of Development Marsha Katz Slotnick, a graduate of 1964.

After reconnecting with the College at the Centennial and with each other through reunions and impromptu get-togethers, several alumni from the classes of 1958-1964 bonded and learned together through a special course offering from Hebrew College. The course, “A Genuinely Candid Conversation: A Brief History of Race and Judaism in America,” was taught by Rabbi Dan Judson, the Dean and Chief Academic Officer. “It was illuminating,” said Slotnick.

The class tried to understand the complex history of Jews and African Americans in the course of American history. The ‘genuinely candid conversation’ in the course title comes from a famous essay by James Baldwin about the state of Black-Jewish relations in the late 1960s which appeared in the New York Times.

“It was truly eye-opening,” said Sharlene Kamens Finkel, a former alumni relations coordinator and a member of the 1964 class. “I was struck by the Tulsa Massacre and how in the Yiddish paper they called it a pogrom and in the American press, they really downplayed it. The Yiddish paper called it what it was.”

Judson provided several options as to what they might learn together and this was the overwhelming choice. “It reflects how central this issue has become in our lives, and it reflects the real desire to understand a complex history that is not simplified to say this relationship was always good or always helpful,” Judson noted. “It was a wonderful course and I’m so glad we did this,” said Susan Fish, a 1964 graduate and retired physical therapist.

“When you go to school with people for eight years (four at Prozdor, four at the College), you develop a bond. If you don’t see someone for 10 years, you can pick up almost where you left off because you shared the same experiences,” added Slotnick.

“One of the wonderful things about the seminar was that as each new person appeared on the Zoom screen, a squeal of delight would go up that so-and-so had joined,” Judson said of his time teaching the group. “It was remarkable how much Hebrew College seemed to shape their professional paths, the class had Jewish teachers and Jewish professionals, people whose entire professional lives were shaped by their experience at Hebrew College,” Judson continued.

Over 60 years later, Hebrew College remains an important aspect of the lives, memories, and experiences for many of these alumni, including the three friends from the class of 1964. “Hebrew College has done a lot for me, and I believe in giving back Slotnick added. “I’m so glad my parents sent me to Hebrew School and Hebrew College,” said Fish. “It gave me an identity I’ve never lost. I don’t take this identity for granted.”

“I’m so grateful my parents encouraged me to attend Hebrew College. It helped shape my strong connection to Judaism to this very day,” said Finkel.

The group’s continued connections and relationships testify to how foundational their time in Hebrew College’s various programs was. “I was fortunate enough to be able to visit one of the sessions, and the bonds were so clear across the years, miles, and Zoom screens,” said Rosa Franck, the Director of Development. “The group’s continued care for each other and for Hebrew College is so very special.”

“I believe in giving back to all of the institutions that have shaped me,” Slotnick said. “Hebrew College is one of those institutions.”

Hebrew College alumni are Jewish leaders and lifelong learners all over the world. If you’re an alumnus/ae and would like to connect, reconnect, or share your stories, please let us know. Read more stories about alumni from our diverse and rich history of programs on our blog.

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