Alumni A Four Generation Relationship with Hebrew College: From 1920s Prozdor to the 2023 Teen Beit Midrash
Four generations after Samuel Zaritt (z’l) began the family journey as a member of one of the first graduating classes of Hebrew College (`31), the Zaritts’s connection to and involvement with Hebrew College’s educational philosophy still holds strong through Samuel’s son Yitzie Zaritt, a Prozdor and undergraduate alumnus of the College (`70); Yitzie’s wife Shoshanah Zaritt, who earned a Hebrew College Master of Liberal Studies; their sons who all attended then Hebrew College affiliate Camp Yavneh, including Will Corrdin who is also a Me’ah graduate; and great–grandson Ruben Corrdin, a third-year member of Hebrew College’s Teen Beit Midrash. A framed family photo of Samuel Zaritt is pictured to the right.
“Seeing so many members of my family discover their true Jewish identities […] has also allowed me to discover what being Jewish actually means for me. I think that the pressure to essentially keep my family’s Jewish traditions alive has been really beneficial for me,” said Ruben Corrdin, the youngest member of the family’s deep Hebrew College ties. “Teen Beit Midrash and Hebrew College mean a lot to me because it allows me to really decide for myself what it truly means to be Jewish and how I want that to look like in the real world,” he added.
Yitzie Zaritt, a Prozdor and undergraduate alumni of the College (`70), was born into the “House of Israel,” as he puts words to the story of his family lineage. “It is a House, to borrow a phrase, ‘of many mansions.’ My father, Samuel, for instance, was born into one of religious orthodoxy that viewed the mastery of biblical and rabbinic texts to be supremely important. But after cheder and high school, he heard about a new, different ‘accommodation’ in the House of Israel—an institution of the Hebraist movement that was rising in America and abroad that cherished a reborn Hebrew language and the studying of traditional texts without a strict theological focus,” Yitzie summarizes. “This was Hebrew Teachers College in its earliest years on Crawford Street in Roxbury and he enrolled there while pursuing studies towards a career in dentistry.”
Speaking of his father’s personal commitment to Hebrew College, Yitzie recalled, “As a result of [my father’s] experiences there, he ardently held a love of the Hebrew language and of Israel (people and land) to the end of his life. He was a proud supporter of the College and was happy when I followed in his footsteps, studying in the Prozdor (in Worcester) and then at the College on Hawes Street in Brookline.”
This is the world that Sandy Deutsch, now Shoshanah Zaritt, married into. “I came into this family and entered a world I had no idea about,” said Shoshanah, who met Yitzie when he was teaching Hebrew language through Hebrew College Ulpan. “I enrolled in an Ulpan course and this teacher, Yitzie, would fly around the room in a cloud of chalk dust. He asked me if I wanted a ride home on his motorcycle, and we started to go out,” said Shoshanah. The couple are pictured to the left.
In 1971, Shoshanah and Yitzie married in the gardens at the Hebrew College campus on Hawes Street in Brookline. “So, I’m ever connected to Hebrew College even from my personal life,” she added.
All of Shoshanah and Yitzie’s four children—Will, Jesse, Saul, and Eli—attended Camp Yavneh, then an affiliate of Hebrew College, their two younger children went to Gann Academy, and their children later earned several graduate degrees from various prestigious schools among other considerable accomplishments. “What was I, chopped liver?” quipped Shoshanah with a smile. “I have to do this. I have to go back to school,” she rationalized her decision to study at Hebrew College.
“My work at Gann was to promote experiential education experiences…and I just wanted to know more deeply what I was promoting, [so…I] signed up for a Facing History course at Hebrew College,” she said. In 2017, while working at Gann Academy, Shoshanah earned her Master’s in Liberal Jewish Studies from Hebrew College. Since retiring from Gann, she has spent the last five years studying Talmud with rabbinic and cantorial students, though she’s not an ordination student.
“I am less concerned—as a parent, a person in the world, or as a Jew in the world—whether you are Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform; agnostic; not involved at all; or are more interested in history than anything else. What I am interested in is that you have the tools to explore whatever you want to explore about yourself as a Jew in the world,” Shoshanah said. For their family, that preparation involved Day School, Camp Yavneh, at least a year in Israel, and various educational opportunities.
That intention certainly translated into the lives of their children. Will, who attended and worked as a counselor at Camp Yavneh for a total of 12 years and later studied with Hebrew College Me’ah, also speaks with great fondness of the importance of Jewish literacy. “I am proud to be a conversant Jew in all aspects of Jewish life—history, culture, language, literature, etc.,” he noted. “I like knowing how to look things up in Tanach, having a backlog of Jewish songs in my head, being able to understand Israel, and the ability to walk into a synagogue and figure out pretty quickly what page to turn to in a siddur. That kind of literacy or situational knowledge and background, I think, is tantamount to being able to understand one’s place within Judaism and also provides the basis for various decisions about observance among other Jewish life choices.”
From the youngest member of the family’s Hebrew College connection, Ruben, to the oldest, Yitzie, they all speak of a mark left on their life that’s best described as indelible. “It is in no small measure the result of my own time [at Hebrew College] that I also remain a committed member of the House of Israel,” added Yitzie. “I think we were lucky that, before the proliferation of university Judaic and comparative religion programs, we had in our small college access to the best European-trained Jewish scholars whose opportunities were limited in America,” he added.
As the College has changed and evolved, it now inspires the Zaritt and Corrdin families in both familiar and new ways. “For me, Hebrew College is both a place of nostalgia (my parents meeting there, Yavneh reunions at Hawes Street) as well as a now very present entity in my adult life (my own adult learning and my son’s participation in Teen Beit Midrash),” added Will Corrdin. “This has only grown with the move to the shared campus as we are members of Temple Reyim and we participated in many of the public forums in favor of the partnership. I am looking forward to what the future might hold for myself, my family, and the college together with our synagogue and beyond.”
Tell us your stories about Hebrew College and your own family by emailing Joshua Polanski.