For Stephen Scheinthal ’87 and Michelle Butensky Scheinthal ’86, Brandeis is a family affair
By Emily Evans
Credit Billy Joel and Brandeis for bringing Stephen Scheinthal ’87, P’16, P’16, and Michelle Butensky Scheinthal ’86, P’16, P’16 together.
In 1983, the pair was introduced by a mutual friend while working at a Jewish day camp the summer before Stephen arrived at Brandeis and just after Michelle, a year older, had completed her freshman year. They had no idea then that the University would become such a major part of their love story – and the Scheinthal family story.
Just as their matchmaking friend expected, once the two Billy Joel fans were united at Brandeis, friendship came easily, and they soon began dating.
A year after Stephen graduated, in the fall of 1988, he surprised Michelle by taking her back to visit Brandeis and proposing on the Massell Bridge. They have continued to visit the campus almost every year since; at first to reminisce, more recently because two of their three children are now Brandeisians themselves.
Though mom and dad say that Ari ’16 and Gabi ’16 (left) have enjoyed a different college experience than they did in the ’80s, it seems that the true essence of Brandeis has remained the same.
“Our sons’ majors are different than ours, so that changes their circle of friends. New buildings have gone up, locations of offices are different, and dining halls have undergone renovations,” says Michelle, a psychology major. “But really, the fabric of a Brandeis education – the connectivity with your professors, the classes that expand your view, the phenomenal mentoring – is the same. The boys have matured in ways I always wanted them to while at Brandeis.”
It’s no coincidence that two of the three Scheinthal triplets are Brandeisians.
“I have to say, we kind of stacked the deck,” Michelle says with a laugh. “Stephen and I so loved Brandeis and Boston. We made a deliberate effort once the kids were born to visit for a long weekend practically every year, to immerse them in the culture and make sure they felt comfortable.”
Gabi, Ari and third brother Eitan were all accepted to Brandeis. But Eitan, who Michelle calls the rebel of the family, ultimately felt that although Brandeis was home, he should step out of his comfort zone and go to Tufts. (He still spends many weekends visiting his brothers at Brandeis.)
Eitan is occasionally the subject of light-hearted teasing for not embracing the family legacy. The jokes are all in good fun, and Eitan reacts with grace.
“Our closest family friends went to Brandeis, and two of their three sons did, too,” Michelle says. “Now their family addresses holiday cards or birth announcements to the four of us, leaving Eitan out.”
As the parents of current students, Michelle and Stephen have happily discovered that Brandeis continues to offer a top-notch education in a supportive learning environment.
This support was particularly important when Gabi, like his father, wanted to combine his academic interests into a new major – technical theater. Thirty years prior, Stephen received tremendous assistance from Art Wingfield, the Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Neuroscience, when he wanted to merge biology and psychiatry into a neuroscience major.
“Art has had a profound influence on my life, and that’s not an exaggeration,” says Stephen. “One of the wonderful things about Brandeis is that they listen. They really work with you to help you become who you’re supposed to become.”
Stephen says the lessons he learned – in and out of the classroom – have stayed with him. Now an expert on geriatric neurological psychiatry, he chairs the psychiatry department at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. He also serves as president of American College of Osteopathic Neurology and Psychiatry.
“When I was admitted to medical school, Professor Wingfield told me to always remember the Brandeisian way of social justice,” Stephen remembers. “He told me I could make a lot of money in medicine, or I could be true to my roots and make a difference with my medical career. He wasn’t telling me what to do; he was pointing out that I had a choice.” Stephen credits his career to Wingfield’s mentorship, and feels a responsibility to give back to the next generation of physicians and leaders.
The Scheinthals have generously supported Brandeis through the years, making a gift to the Alumni Annual Fund every year since graduation.
When asked why they give back to Brandeis, Michelle and Stephen echoed each other’s thoughts:
“We run into Brandeis people all over,” says Michelle. “When you find out someone else went to Brandeis, it feels like instant family.”
Stephen agrees: “Brandeis is our home. We’re investing in the future. ‘Why wouldn’t you give back?’ is a better question.”