The Eulogizer: Speech therapist to stars, centenarian, educator, journalist


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at Read previous columns here.

Sam Chwat, 57, speech therapist to stars

Sam Chwat, a troo-bloo Noo Yawkuh born in Brooklyn, who founded a speech therapy clinic that has aided the famous as well as the average to lose, or add, regional accents and speech impediments, died March 3 at 57.

Chwat, whose grandparents immigrated to the United States from Russia, worked with A-list celebrities such as Robert DeNiro, Kathleen Turner, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart, Jude Law, Andie Macdowell and Isabella Rossellini.

He helped Leonardo DiCaprio trade his standard American English for a New York accent in "Basketball Diaries," and taught Tony Danza to trade his New York accent for standard American English and other accents. By his own website’s list, he taught actress Marcia Gay Harden a Brooklyn-Jewish accent for what became her Oscar-winning role as Lee Krasner in "Pollack," and actress Michelle Lee a Jewish New York accent. The lengthy list would be entertaining for a Hollywood buff to read.

Chwat often was called “Henry Higgins to the stars” for his celebrity work, which also brought him significant media attention. Just five months ago, The New York Times called him “the dean of speech therapists.”

In a business magazine profile in 2006, Chwat said he did “detective” work to help his clients overcome impediments in their speech. He told The Los Angeles Times that "In every culture, your verbal expression is considered an index of how smart you are. … Your speech pattern, your word choice and your grammar are all considered indications of your intelligence and sophistication. It’s a false assumption, but it’s a popular one."

Chwat was born in Brooklyn. The Times reported he retained “faint but audible glimmers of the borough” in his speech and noted that the unusual pronunciation of his last name, “schwu” (with the T silent) probably helped him choose his career.

After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology from Columbia University Teachers College in 1977, Chwat began to work in the field. In 1984, a Hispanic supermarket executive told him he worried that his accent was hindering his career, which helped Chwat focus his work.

“You can afford to find accents charming as long as you’re part of the power structure that has the accent of the ruling class,” Chwat said in 2006.

Holocaust survivor-centenarian, Boston-area educator, ex-CNN Jerusalem correspondent

Gina Borchardt Nencel, a Holocaust survivor, died at 100 in Israel on March 3. Her obituary in a Montreal newspaper unfortunately offered little detail of what must have been an extraordinary life. The Eulogizer is going to do its level best to get the names, at least, of all Jewish centenarians as they die. Any help on that front would be gratefully accepted.

Judi Resnick of New York’s Ramaz School wrote to tell us of the death of her aunt, Rose Bronstein, at 87, in Boston on Feb. 24. Bronstein was a Jewish educator in the Boston area for more than 50 years.

The Eulogizer did not want to let this one get away: Jerrold Kessel, former CNN Jerusalem correspondent, and a familiar figure on Emek Refaim Street and other Anglo enclaves of Jerusalem, died Feb. 24 at 66. The Jerusalem Post, where Kessel once worked, wrote a nice tribute about him that mentioned Kessel’s passion for English and European sports, such as cricket and soccer.

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