Alumni “We Were the Double Load Kids”: Alumni from the 1960s Reunite & Reminisce

By Joshua Polanski

“Our social life was Hebrew College and we loved that,” said Susan Fish, a graduate of Hebrew College’s Bachelor of Jewish Education program in 1964. “We weren’t taking piano lessons, or any of the other lessons that kids can take today: our lives were Hebrew College,” she said referring to the dual-enrollment requirements of students in the College’s undergraduate degree program in the 60s-70s.

Susan Fish

Students enrolled at Hebrew College completed their liberal art requirements at other local schools, such as Boston University, Simmons College (now University), Harvard University, and Brandeis University. Because of the way credit transferring worked, this often meant being fully enrolled at multiple schools. Many of them, if not most, also experienced the double load at the high school level too, attending regular high school during the day and then making their way to Hebrew College for Prozdor.

One dual-enrolled graduate, Ellen Kaner Bresnick `71, attended both Simmons College and Hebrew College full-time. “There were moments when everything would be really intense,” she recalled, “especially when all 10 finals were scheduled at the same time during the same week.”

Sharlene Kamens Finkel, a classmate and lifelong friend of Fish and Marsha Katz Slotnick, came to Hebrew College from Chelsea every day after public school. Finkel, a member of the 1964 class, also attended Boston University. After graduation, she spent much of her career as a lawyer and also worked in various capacities at Hebrew College. “I went to Chelsea High School, then I came home, had a snack, and then I took three buses to get to Hebrew College in Brookline [for Prozdor]. It took an hour,” said Finkel.

Marsha Katz Slotnick

Being two years younger than most of her classmates, Slotnick went on to complete her B.A. in Art History at New York University and later, when she was back in Boston, earned a master’s degree at Wellesley College in the same field. Her career involved first the teaching of Hebrew and later the leading of fundraising efforts for a number of Jewish organizations, including Hebrew College and Hebrew SeniorLife.

As part of their Hebrew College degrees, most members of the junior class would study in Israel for a year. For Fish’s class, the year was 1962-63. Jerusalem was still a divided city and junior year abroad was not yet the norm. The year abroad, for many, remains a strong and fond memory 60 years later.

“That trip was a highlight of my life,” remembered Slotnick. “It was our North Star,” Finkel added. “In Israel, we also studied in two places—the Hayim Greenberg Institute and Hebrew University—and we had some distinguished professors, including Yigael Yadin, the archeologist who excavated Masada and helped acquire the Dead Sea Scrolls, and one of Israel’s foremost poets Yehuda Amichai.”

“We were exposed both from the early generation to this range of Jewish culture and Jewish scholarship that was kind of a living cultural Zionism,” said Michael Fishbane `64 in 2021, a Hebrew College graduate and Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “There was a shared sense of creativity. Everyone was intelligent and creative in their own way. The experience was extremely rich and penetrating.”

Fishbane, who recently co-edited Ḥiddushim: Celebrating Hebrew College’s Centennial, started his double-load in high school and carried it through the college level. “We were taking 10 to 12 courses, and shared a unique bond,” he said. “It required an enormous amount of dedication. But it was also very exhilarating. Hebrew College was an everyday event, and was a continuous source of intellectual stimulation, alongside my secular studies.”

Susan Fish, who was also one of Fishbane’s classmates along with Slotnick and Finkel, graduated from Sargent College at Boston University in 1965, one year after finishing her degree in Jewish Education. Unlike most students in B.A. programs at their second school, Fish was going for a B.S. degree in physical therapy and her year in Israel couldn’t count for credit at Boston University as it did for many of the “double-load kids.”

As the years went on, it became harder and harder to keep in contact with each other—especially before the coming of the internet and mobile phones. “We got really close that year, but on return, after graduation, we drifted apart, marrying, starting families, going to graduate school and developing careers,” said Fish.

The class of `64 has reconnected with each other and with the College, thanks to alumni outreach efforts. Once the pandemic turned the corner for the worst, they decided to meet a few times over Zoom to catch-up and reminisce. “I had a Zoom account, so I volunteered to use my account. And all of a sudden, I was the organizer,” said Susan Fish, the group’s major connector.

Sharlene Kamens Finkel

With or without a Zoom account, it comes as no surprise that these three classmates—Fish, Slotnick, and Sharlene Finkel—helped connect their peers. They are no strangers in coordinating Hebrew College alumni meet-ups and events. All three women testify to the College’s impact on their own lives and have found varying ways to remain involved. Previously, in the 90s-00s, Fish along with Slotnick and Finkel helped facilitate a New York and New Jersey alumni group. Slotnick put her fundraising skills to work as the Director of Development of Hebrew College and has been involved with the College in a variety of other capacities throughout her life, including art programming and lay leadership. Finkel worked as the Alumni Relations Coordinator, serving as Vice President of the Board of Directors and various lay leadership roles.

“We were the double load kids, we bonded in Israel together, so why not connect again?” Fish commented about their recent Zoom meetings.

“[Hebrew College] was a wonderful group of friends who always cared for one another. We had this double load, the grind of going to public school and Hebrew school, and it didn’t matter where you came from: everyone was equal,” said Slotnick. “Hebrew College was a haven to be with like-minded young people who cared about Hebrew and Judaism, and it provided me with a wonderful education from which I benefit to this very day.”

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 at hebrewcollege.edu/blog.

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