My wife, Betsey, grew up in Andover, Massachusetts. Her paternal grandmother, Rose Shack, was probably the first Jew to graduate from its high school, in 1920, when the town’s population was about 8,000.
Betsey’s late father, Norman, was born in Andover in 1928 and spent most of his adult years there. But he grew up in Lawrence, in a far larger Jewish community.
Temple Emanuel, which was founded as a Conservative congregation in Lawrence in 1920, built a new synagogue on Lowell Street in 1957. But soon the Jewish exodus to Andover accelerated, so the congregation’s third synagogue, under Reform auspices, wasn’t built until 1979. Betsey and I were married on its light-filled bimah in December 1983.
In 1990, in honor of Rabbi Harry Roth’s retirement from Emanuel, I was commissioned to write a history of the congregation’s roots in Lawrence. It was based on interviews with representatives of about 20 families, almost all of whom are now buried in the congregation’s bucolic cemetery.
One of my favorite interviewees was Thayer Warshaw (1915-2000), who actually had a Providence connection. His eldest daughter, Elinor, was a boarding student at Lincoln School, graduating in 1958. And there was also a Rhode Island connection to Andover. Charles Shartenberg, a Jewish lad from Pawtucket, had graduated from Phillips Academy in 1907. One of America’s most prestigious prep schools, also known as “Andover,” Phillips Academy was founded in 1778.
Thayer, one of the first Jews from Lawrence to attend Phillips, graduated in the Class of 1933. The academy accepted a few sons of prominent Jewish families from Boston, New York City and elsewhere, but my uncle, George Rosenthal from Cincinnati, was denied admission. Yet, some local Jewish boys, with less-than-stellar social credentials, were welcomed as day students. Even Jewish kids were required to attend the academy’s daily Protestant services.
Thayer, a gifted student, much enjoyed Andover’s challenging academics. Not surprisingly, after prep school he entered Harvard, along with 47 of his 184 Phillips classmates. He so enjoyed his classes there that he dreamed of becoming a philosophy professor.
Of course, there were very few Jewish professors at Harvard, or elsewhere, during the 1930s and ’40s. (The first to gain tenure at Brown was Israel Kapstein, in 1946.)
But there was another impediment to Thayer’s academic career. He was an only son, and his father, Max, wanted him to join the family business. A successful auto dealership, it had been established in Lawrence in 1922. Max told Thayer, “I built this business for you.”
Thus, following his Harvard graduation in 1937, Thayer began as a mechanic at Nevin’s Auto Company, and later became a salesman and manager. Also, having taught religious school at Temple Emanuel for many years, he eventually became its “superintendent” –but he never gave up his dream of becoming a full-time teacher.
Thayer eventually quit the family business, and in 1959 earned a master’s degree at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. While still living in Andover, he taught English for 17 years at Newton High School. Thayer became prominent nationally as a teacher of a secular subject, the Bible as literature.
Among the few other Temple Emanuel boys who graduated from Phillips was Richard Kapelson, born in 1935, a close friend of my in-laws. His grandfather, Elias, had established a dry goods store in Lawrence, and Elias' son, David, turned it into Kap’s, a fashionable men’s clothing store on booming Essex Street.
“Dickie,” who was born in Lawrence, enrolled at Andover with 215 young men in the Class of 1951. He boarded for four years, attended compulsory chapel services and became a talented athlete. David wanted him to obtain a practical business education at Penn’s Wharton School, but Dickie sought to deepen his Andover friendships by enrolling at Yale.
The young man’s college counselor explained, however, that every Andover senior needed a second choice. So Dickie thought of applying to Harvard.
When interviewed in Cambridge, he was asked why he was interested in studying at Harvard. Dickie explained, “My college counselor told me that everybody needs a second choice.” The admissions officer replied, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kapelson, but we cannot accept your application.”
Thus, Dickie entered Yale with 63 of his prep-school classmates, and joined Beta Theta Pi, an Andover fraternity. Dickie also explained that Phillips graduates at Harvard were regarded as “preppies,” but “everybody at Yale” fell into that category.
While majoring in economics, Dickie enjoyed a wonderful social and athletic life. Though intrigued by some of his courses, he didn’t let them get in his way. Seeking a commission in the Air Force, he enlisted in R.O.T.C. After graduating from Yale in 1955, he was sent to flight school, but was eventually dropped because of poor eyesight. He and his wife, Judy, were then sent to a base in Nevada, where their first son was born. Dickie then served 18 months in South Korea.
After completing his military service, Dickie and Judy returned to Lawrence, where he helped Kap’s grow and prosper. Indeed, Judy also joined the business, as did their three sons, who would establish branches in nearby towns.
Blessed with a talent for golf, tennis and schmoozing, Dickie also became one of the few Jewish members of the North Andover Country Club.
Now a widower in his mid-80s, Dickie lives in the same retirement complex as my mother-in-law, Roberta. They gather for Friday night dinners, along with a few other Jewish residents.
So where do I fit into the business or teaching conundrum? Though a busybody, I’m clearly in the latter sphere. I spent two years as a prep-school boarder, and I can also claim some affinity with Andover – at least with its eminent Addison Gallery of American Art, which I have visited perhaps 80 to 90 times.
When Betsey and I met in Los Angeles in 1982, I naturally asked where she grew up. When she replied, “Andover,” I remarked that I had visited the Addison in 1976. At that time, I was teaching art history and she was employed as a systems analyst in the business world. I’d say that both realms have helped nurture our family life. And occasionally, both of us still enjoy wearing some preppy garments.
Remember when business people and teachers used to get dressed up, especially when attending services? Remember when numerous Jews were successful haberdashers?
GEORGE M. GOODWIN, of Providence, is the editor of Rhode Island Jewish Historical Notes.