Jewish Life Stories: Princeton’s longest-lived alumnus dies at 109


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Joe Schein, 109, Princeton’s longest-lived graduate

Joe Schein, a 1937 graduate of Princeton University who was the Ivy’s longest-living undergraduate alumnus, died on May 24 in New York City. He was 109.

The son of Russian immigrants, the Newark, New Jersey native was one of only 11 Jewish students admitted to Princeton’s Class of 1937, and led some of the earliest Jewish services on the campus when chapel attendance was compulsory. According to the alumni society, he enlisted Albert Einstein — then a scholar at the nearby Institute for Advanced Studies — to attend services in Murray-Dodge Hall.

After graduation, he trained as a pathologist at the University of Pennsylvania and later as a psychiatrist. He became a fellow at NYC’s Mount Sinai Hospital, where 70 years later a fellowship in experimental/molecular pathology was endowed in his honor.

Schein walked in the annual Princeton homecoming parade well into his 11th decade. “I worshiped the time that I was” at Princeton, Schein told the Princeton Alumni Weekly last year. “I always felt that I will never, ever have another opportunity to live and think and grow in a place like Princeton.”

Shoshana Pakciarz, 81, a trailblazer in Boston’s Jewish arts scene

Shoshana Pakciarz.

Shoshana Pakciarz was a founding board member of The Boston Jewish Film Festival. (Courtesy Aaron Gruenberg)

In the early 2000s, when Boston’s most influential Jewish leaders launched a major initiative to establish a Jewish arts and cultural organization, they tapped Shoshana Pakciarz as its founding director.

Pakciarz, vice-president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston, was a transformational leader of what became the Jewish Arts Collaborative, or JArts, according to Mark Sokoll, then the CEO of JCCGB. ”Shoshana was masterful about putting the right people in place … and translating vision into reality,” Sokoll wrote to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “She was passionate about the arts.”

Pakciarz laid the path for groups that have become part of the fabric of the city, from JArts to Project Bread to the Boston Jewish Film Festival. “She was a legend and a gift to Jewish film,” recalled Susan Adler, executive director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, where Pakciarz served on the board.

Born and raised in Argentina to Jewish immigrants from Poland, Pakciarz lived in Israel in the 1960s before settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she lived the rest of her life with her husband, Leonard W. Gruenberg. While she was not religious, “Their home became a focus for friends for Shabbat dinners and Passover seders,” recalled Gruenberg’s son Aaron.

Pakciarz, 81, died on May 19 in Cambridge. — Penny Schwartz

Sigmund Rolat, 93, a survivor devoted to the memory of Poland’s Jews

Holocaust survivor and POLIN Museum benefactor Sigmund Rolat in 2013. (Marcin Szpadrowski/Wikipedia)

Sigmund Rolat survived the Holocaust in Poland’s Częstochowa Ghetto; his parents and older brother were killed during the German occupation. In 1948, at age 18, Rolat immigrated to the United States, where he graduated from the University of Cincinnati and New York University. He eventually built successful international transport and finance companies.

He also devoted himself to the memory of Polish Jewry, and became an early advocate and benefactor of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which since its opening in 2014 has become a Warsaw landmark. He also supported the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Warsaw and the Kraków Jewish Culture Festival. Rolat died May 19 at age 93.

“Rolat never became embittered by the suffering he experienced and witnessed. He was optimistic and fiercely proud to be Jewish and he never ceased believing in Poland, with which he felt a deep positive connection,” said the American Friends of POLIN Museum in a statement.

Richard Sherman, 95, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Disney songwriter

Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman.

Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman at the London Palladium in 2002 during the premiere of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Stage Musical.” (Wikipedia)

Al Sherman was a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who wrote a few minor hits as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter. Legend has it that he challenged his sons, Robert, above left, and Richard, above right, to write a hit song of their own.

The brothers more than obliged: In a long career with Disney, the two wrote the songs and Oscar-winning score for “Mary Poppins”; songs for “The Jungle Book,” “The Aristocrats” and numerous other films; and the earworm “It’s a Small World (After All),” a mainstay at the company’s theme parks. After leaving Disney they won another Academy Award for their work on the children’s film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Richard (played by Jason Schwartzman in the 2013 biopic “Saving Mr. Banks”) majored in music at Bard College. In 2014 a London revue, “A Spoonful of Sherman,” featured music by all three Shermans — father and sons.

Richard Sherman died May 25 at 95. His older brother Robert died in 2012.

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