Zachary Corenblum’s family odyssey began in Odessa and ended in Birmingham, AL.
Corenblum, a History major and Jewish Studies minor and this fall’s recipient of the Brudnick Scholarship in Jewish Studies, grew up in Birmingham, AL. The family arrived there via the Ukraine. His paternal grandfather fled the Odessa pogroms that killed his parents when he was six years old and joined relatives already living in Alabama. After dropping out of school and serving in the military, Corenblum’s grandfather returned to Birmingham and, following a common path for Jewish immigrants, opened up a store. The family has never left.
Corenblum grew up immersed in the Birmingham’s tight-knit Jewish community. The entire state of Alabama has fewer than 9,000 Jews, a little more than half of whom live in Birmingham. Attending Jewish day school from kindergarten through 7th grade and Jewish summer camp from third through tenth grade, he knew mostly Jews until he entered a non-Jewish private high school, Indian Springs School.
Corenblum’s love of history began at Indian Springs, where he had particularly strong history teachers. “Tenth grade AP World History class with Dr. Cooper remains one of the most challenging classes I’ve ever taken, filled with long nights in the library, understanding the power struggle that was the Congress of Vienna and realizing the effect that the Enlightenment had on modern concepts of basic human rights and freedoms,” Corenblum recalls. “In the middle of tenth grade, I knew that I wanted to major in History in college, no matter what university I attended. Researching people and events that have been forgotten, making a case for why they were and should remain relevant, brings a sense of fulfillment that is akin to having the ability to find a valuable piece of art at a yard sale.”
After graduating from high school, Corenblum enrolled at the University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, with high hopes for a stimulating environment in the Honors program. Disappointed to find what he calls “high school 2.0,” he quickly began to explore transferring. Visiting Northeastern, he was immediately sold on co-op, the urban environment, and the admissions officers’ statement that they were looking for students “with fire in the belly.” He matriculated at Northeastern for his sophomore year, and never looked back.
Although Corenblum enrolled in Hebrew his first semester at Northeastern, he did not immediately think about minoring in Jewish Studies. After taking European Jewish History, however, he became more interested in combining his interest in History with his Jewish background. He quickly followed up with a class on the American Jewish Experience. “The classes in Jewish history that I’ve taken at Northeastern have, for the first time, created a personal investment in what I was studying,” he reflects. “My academic interest in Jewish Studies is born out of the fact that I’m personally invested in the subject, and studying my people’s culture and history. Learning about why my grandparents came from Eastern Europe in search of a better life is fascinating because it actually affects me, a phenomenon that isn’t so common in academia.”
Corenblum was particularly fascinated by the Pew Research Center’s 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which he studied in his American Jewish Experience class. Able to connect the results of the survey to developments he saw playing out in his own Jewish community, he felt for the first time very much part of history. Concerned about the communal apathy reflected in many recipients’ responses, Zach feels that “it is my responsibility to be well-informed” about Jewish affairs.
Corenblum will graduate in the spring of 2016. Long term, he is considering a joint JD/MBA, but, true to the Northeastern focus on experiential education, he knows he needs more experience first, and he is currently exploring job opportunities. Wherever he ends up, he knows he will remain an active and informed member of his Jewish community.
Read the rest of the Fall 2015 Haverim Newsletter here.