Walter Shuchatowitz was a “visionary” and “guiding soul”
By Stacey Dresner
STAMFORD – Walter Shuchatowitz, the founder and former longtime principal of Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy in Stamford, died on Wednesday, Nov. 27 at the age of 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 8.
Mr. S. served as Bi-Cultural’s principal for 50 years, retiring in 2005.
Even in his 90s, Shuchatowitz 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-12th grade 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 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 Pittkoff. “It was especially important to him to reach out to the entire community, not just the Orthodox or this or that or the other. 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 not only reach the entire community, but 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 rabbi in the New Haven area.
In 1948, he graduated from New York’s City College in New York with a degree in accounting, and was enrolled in law school. A week before the semester began, he was visiting friends at Yeshiva University (YU), where he had concurrently earned a degree in Judaic Studies, when he met Dr. Gershin Churgin, dean of YU’s Teacher’s Institute at Yeshiva. Churgin lamented the fact that most of the best 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 Rabbi Cohen, with whom Shuchatowitz shared the story. “He awoke the next morning and courageously decided to postpone his career in law. He told Dr. 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.
“Literally, the impact he had on our community is extraordinary, infinite and eternal,” Cohen said. “I mean, 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. Hebrew schools were certainly where most people went.
“He started Bi-Cultural with just a handful of kids and knocked on doors to get people to come 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 their children’s lives, but changed the trajectory of these families for generations.”
Since Shuchatowitz’s death, Cohen has received emails and heard from people whose lives were greatly affected by their former principal.
“People came to the funeral and said, ‘If not for Mr. S. I wouldn’t have gotten a Jewish education,’” Cohen said. “I got an email from people who were teachers that said, ‘He gave me my start. He saw in me potential that I thought I never had.’”
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,” Cohen says. “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, Shuchatowitz 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 founder and longtime leader:
“His legacy lives in us and future generations. 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 Walter Shuchatowitz z”l with a Yom Iyun (day of learning) and memorial tribute to be held on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the school, 2186 High Ridge Rd. Evening service begins at 7 p.m., followed by the memorial.