MARBLEHEAD – The infuriating moment when retired psychology professor Sheldon Brown knew he had to bring Holocaust education to North Shore Community College came at an unlikely time, during a faculty meeting on whether educators should unionize in the early 1970s.
A fellow professor suggested they not be hesitant “like Jews who walked to gas chambers like sheep to be slaughtered,” Brown recalled.
Brown’s uncle and aunt on his father’s side were murdered by Nazis and their collaborators in 1941, together with 5,000 Jewish residents of a shtetl called Nesvizh, which is now in Belarus. His father, Harry, already had left the village 20 years before.
Knowing there were Jews who resisted, including during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, Brown began researching human behavior during the genocide. The course, Literature of the Holocaust, was launched in 1994, and Brown taught it for 16 years. It served as a springboard to creating the community college’s Forums on Tolerance.
When the college holds its fourth annual Champions for North Shore Community College virtual awards program from 8 to 9 a.m. on Nov. 19, Professor Emeritus Brown will be honored for his philanthropy and volunteerism alongside The Women’s Fund of Essex County and Benjamin Patton, the founder and vice chairman of the Patton Veterans Project.
Brown, with the help of a volunteer committee of faculty and staff, founded the Forums on Tolerance in 1996. The forums bring together students, community members. and guest speakers to explore social injustice on any number of topics, ranging from immigration to civil rights.
“I’m very happy that the college has recognized me and more than that, I try to help out at the college even though I have retired,” said Brown, 87, who lives in Marblehead with Fran, his wife of 65 years. The couple raised four children, and have five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Their daughter, Ellen Brown Ragland, died in 2019 at age 61. The Browns are Bronze-level sponsors of the Champions event in her memory.
Brown served as the Forums chairman until he retired in 2014. He continues to be an active volunteer. “It’s become part of my life,” he said.
In 2018, the couple established the Forums on Tolerance Endowed Fund, with proceeds covering costs for guest speakers and critical resources to ensure the forum continues, said Nicole Marcotte, NSCC’s director of development.
The couple also have endowed the Professor Sheldon Brown Tolerance Scholarship and are members of the NSCC Lighthouse Society Founders Circle.
“We look for leaders who have really shown excellence in higher education,” said Marcotte, including those who have created opportunities for students, the community college, and the North Shore.
She noted that Brown has stayed involved by mentoring the current Forums on Tolerance’s chairwoman, Professor Laurie Carlson.
“Sheldon is one of kindest and most generous people I know, and he truly sees the best in humanity. What he has done with the Forums on Tolerance is truly a testament to this,” Carlson said in an email. She added that the forums “are rooted in Sheldon’s vision that sharing human stories can bring about empathy and understanding toward other people and help to combat social injustice.”
The Browns are well known in the North Shore Jewish community, and have been members of Temple Sinai since the 1980s.
Brown was born and raised in Chicago, attended Chicago public schools and Wright Junior College. He later graduated from Roosevelt University and earned a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Northwestern University. He earned a doctorate in education from Dropsie University in Philadelphia.
Jewish education also has been an important part of his life. He was valedictorian of Hebrew High School in Chicago and continued his Jewish education at the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew literature, graduating with his mother, Elizabeth, in 1954.
He did so while attending Wright Junior College, attending the College of Jewish Studies on nights and Sundays.
From 1963 to 1966, he served as principal of Temple Beth El Hebrew School in Lynn.
In 1965, he was hired by North Shore Community College to teach psychology when the school first opened in Beverly. He was appointed a full professor with tenure in 1972. He retired six years ago after 48 years at the community college, which now has campuses in Danvers and Lynn.
Brown said his oldest son, Marc, and he visited Nesvizh in 2007 and found no vestige of Jewish life there, but they managed to find the houses where his family once lived.
To register for the Champions for North Shore Community College virtual awards program, visit northshore.edu/champions.