Barry and Jan Schochet grew up in Asheville in the 1950s and ’60s, the children of Jewish parents who owned several downtown stores that sold clothing and dancewear. Back then, Asheville had a thriving Jewish community, two synagogues and many prominent Jewish business owners.
The Schochets found a befitting way to honor the memory of their parents, Sidney and Mary, who died in 2005 and 2016, respectively, through the creation of a program that reaches North Carolinians far from Chapel Hill.
In partnership with the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies and Carolina Public Humanities, the siblings created the Sidney and Mary Schochet Family Series on Jewish Life and Culture, which supports UNC-Chapel Hill faculty travel to community colleges throughout the state to present their research, particularly on topics related to Judaism.
These “Humanities on the Road” outreach events have included a presentation from Kenan Distinguished Professor Jodi Magness of the religious studies department on her work at the Huqoq excavation site in Israel; a talk by Danielle Christmas, assistant professor of English and comparative literature, on “From Africa to Auschwitz;” and a deep dive by Carolina Public Humanities’ Rachel Schaevitz into the first-generation Jewish-American immigrants who founded Hollywood.
Wayne County Community College, Sandhills Community College and Robeson Community College have hosted the talks.
The Schochets were a Carolina family — Sidney was a 1940 graduate, and Mary, although a Virginia native, adopted UNC as her team. Several other
relatives were graduates, and both Jan ’75 and Barry ’69 are proud Tar Heels.
Barry found inspiration for the program from his family history and his experience as a founding member of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies advisory board. “My dad was a great believer in trying to give people in North Carolina who had very little exposure to anything Jewish an opportunity to learn and have them experience it,” he said.
Sydney was involved in the Jewish Chautauqua Society, a national group that once brought speakers to areas around the country to discuss subjects of Jewish interest. Jan and Barry wanted to recreate something similar for the citizens of North Carolina.
“It’s important for people to understand the extent and breadth of the Jewish experience in North Carolina, that Jewish people have been here for a long time — in big cities and small towns. We’ve contributed to culture, education and politics,” Barry said.
Jan spearheaded a project that documented the history and impact of Jewish merchants in downtown Asheville from 1880 to 1990, producing an exhibit showcased throughout downtown for multiple years. She and co-organizer Sharon Fahrer taped 70 hours of interviews with people in the local Jewish community that are now archived at UNC-Asheville.
“I believe we’re seeing a rise in antisemitism because people don’t have knowledge of others,” Jan said. “If you only stay in your own orbit, you’re not going to know about others in order to respect them.”
Schaevitz, who was Carolina Public Humanities’ associate director for state outreach and strategic partnerships when she gave her Hollywood talk at Wayne Community College in February, has seen the impact these events can have.
“Bringing these events to community colleges allows everyone in the audience to expand their horizons, learn new things and possibly even find a new intellectual passion,” she said. “We also help Carolina truly realize its mission of ‘serving the state’ and do so in a way that comes together through mutual collaboration that takes into account the needs and wants of our community partners.”
By Mary Moorefield