Walter Shuchatowitz, Founder Of Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy: ‘Visionary’ and ‘Guiding Soul’
(Courtesy of BCHA) Walter Shuchatowitz, founder and former longtime principal of Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy in Stamford, died Wednesday, Nov. 27. He was 92.
Shuchatowitz, affectionately known by students and faculty as “Mr. S.,” founded what was then called Bi-Cultural Day School in 1956, creating a Jewish day school with a dual curriculum for students in grades pre-K through eight. Mr. S. served as Bi-Cultural’s principal for 50 years, retiring in 2005.
Even in his 90s, Mr. S. was still a member of the school’s board of incorporators, and was actively involved in the 2018 merger of Bi-Cultural Day School with the Jewish High School of Connecticut to form Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy (BCHA), the first comprehensive K-12 Jewish day school in Connecticut.
“He taught with a sense of humor and innovation. He wanted to make learning exciting,” said Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, where Mr. S. was a longtime member. “He was somebody that never got tired of educating and creating impact.”
David Pitkoff, president of BCHA and the parent of Bi-Cultural alumni, knew Mr. Shuchatowitz for nearly 20 years.
“It was his dream to give kids a Jewish education that would last, to light that spark within them that would give them a love of Judaism,” said Pitkoff. “It was especially important to him to reach out to the entire community. He built the school as a community day school guided by the principles of Modern Orthodoxy because he felt you had to reach out to everybody and embrace the entire community. And it’s been that way ever since.”
Born June 21, 1927, Walter Shuchatowitz was the son of Rabbi Aron and Rose Shuchatowitz. His father was a longtime spiritual leader in the New Haven area.
In 1948, he graduated from New York’s City College and was about to begin law school when he met Gershin Churgin, dean of Teacher’s Institute at Yeshiva University, where he had concurrently earned a degree in Judaic studies. Churgin lamented the fact that many students were going into medicine, dentistry, law or business.
“Who is going to carry on Jewish education?” he wondered.
“That question burned in his heart that night,” recalled Cohen, with whom Shuchatowitz shared the story. “He awoke the next morning and courageously decided to postpone his career in law. He told Churgin, ‘Send me wherever you want. I’ll give it a year.’”
Shuchatowitz began his career in Jewish education in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Seven years later, in the early 1950s, he arrived in the Stamford area to start a Hebrew school at Congregation Agudath Sholom. U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman was one of his Hebrew school students.
It wasn’t long before he began his efforts to open a community Jewish day school.
“The impact he had on our community is extraordinary, infinite and eternal,” Rabbi Cohen said. “Here is a person who came to the community in the early 1950s to realize a dream that nobody felt possible, which was to establish a day school in Stamford, Connecticut…to educate the future of the Jewish people.
“He started Bi-Cultural with just a handful of kids and knocked on doors to bring people in. He was tireless in really trying to continue to push hard to unlock the potential in Jewish children. And when he was able to do that he literally not only changed children’s lives, but changed the trajectory of their families for generations.”
Mr. S. is also credited with launching what is now called “The Eighth Grade in Israel Experience,” a month-long trip that includes study, touring and other experiences.
“He was very devoted also to cultivating a love of Israel,” Rabbi Cohen said. “He was the first to start the now popular idea of sending kids to Israel for an extended period of time. That was really important to him.”
In the 1990s, Mr. S. received the coveted Jerusalem Prize, presented to him by Ezer Weizman, president of the state of Israel. And under his leadership, Bi-Cultural was named one of the outstanding elementary schools by the U.S. Department of Education.
In a letter to the community, the leadership of Bi-Cultural Day spoke lovingly of their longtime leader: “Mr. S. was far more than our school’s founder and founding principal. He was our father, grandfather, mentor and guiding soul. He was the voice that told us we can do better, he was the neshama who helped us dream of what our school and community could be.”
Walter Shuchatowitz was predeceased by his wife, Deena. He is survived by his wife, Jackie Shuchatowitz; three children, Avrom Shuchatowitz, Robert Shuchatowitz and Phyllis Lander; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy will pay tribute to the school’s founding principal with a Yom Iyun (day of learning) and memorial tribute to be held Thursday, Jan. 23, at the school, 2186 High Ridge Rd. Evening service begins at 7 p.m., followed by the memorial.