The saga of J. Press began in the Pale of Settlement, the Russian territory in central Europe decreed by the Tsar a residential territory and boundary for the Jews. My grandfather, Jacobi, born in 1879, completed his rabbinical studies under the strict supervision of his eldest brother, Rebbe Moishe Gedalia (i.e. Man of God) who chose Jacobi to carry on a Press tradition for a rebbe in each generation.
Moishe imposed upon him an unforgiving life of Talmud study that became a torture. Fleeing from the Pale, he threw out his family rebbe proxy also affording his brothers and sisters escape from the grinding poverty and ongoing pogroms of the shtetl in Baltromonsk, Latvia.
Jacobi, along with his brothers and sisters were met in 1896 at the Boston pier by his cousins who ran a custom-tailor shop in Middletown, Connecticut. Jake immediately bonded with them and quickly mastered the trade. He was a gregarious man who ingratiated himself with the shop’s customers, among them Edward Campion Acheson, Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut (father of Dean Acheson, later Harry Truman’s Secretary of State).
Bishop Acheson took a liking to my grandfather and when Grandpa confided to him that his fiancé didn’t want to live in Middletown, Acheson suggested he consider New Haven, a city with a large population of students from Yale University that might offer great opportunity for the ambitious young man. Acheson knew an elderly tailor in New Haven who might be willing to take him on. Bishop Acheson arranged the shidduch (an orthodox Jewish practice where unmarried men and women are introduced to each other for the purpose of marriage). The shidduch worked and in 1902 Goldbaum and Press became J. Press, Inc.
A second Episcopal Bishop, The Right Reverend Paul Moore, Jr. attached himself to my grandfather. In the book My Harvard, My Yale Moore recalled that after an inebriated night of singing Christmas carols to fellow classmates, he momentarily found himself residing in the New Haven jail. Jacobi Press, his local college tailor, appeared in a three-piece suit with prominent watch chain and Derby hat to bail everybody out. Moore recorded that Mr. Press owned a small store on York Street and did more than anyone else to establish the Ivy Look. “We became friends as well as customers of the Press family,” he jocularly recalled, “Who else would you telephone from jail at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning? Not your father, not your college master, God knows. So, you called J. Press.”
Another Reverend, Yale chaplain Sidney Lovett became Grandpa’s confidant. Sid Lovett was a spare man, his tweed suits loosely strewn on his granite features. “Uncle Sid,” he told me to call him. He was also a fishing partner along with my grandfather’s immigrant Jewish cronies on Captain Al’s boat in Branford.
I was thirteen years old when Grandpa Press died. Uncle Sid gently placed a New Haven Pond Lilly on the coffin. The funeral was performed in Mishkan Israel’s Moorish styled temple that was originally the Third Congregational Church of New Haven, Grandpa’s final joust against Jewish Orthodoxy.
“Paul,” Uncle Sid told my father, “when I said goodbye to him, I simply said, so long Joe Press.” Sid always called my grandfather, “Joe Press.”
Faith of our Fathers! Holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
When at Ohio State in the 60s the J Press would arrive at the Neil House and myself and many others would enjoy ordering J Press Mens ware.
The distinctive Press suits had three button high buttonhole stance and Brest Pocket top 1” wide and slanted on an angel.
You could always identify J Press cuts by observing this detail. Please bring it back !
Another great story, elegantly told. Thank you.
Mr. Press, this is one of your finest essays. A gem. An example of telling a story in the briefest and most elegant manner possible with an emotional ending.
I would wear no other ribbon belt. I have a dozen!
I’m now the bishop of the Episcopal Church in Europe. For some years I was a minister at Memorial Church, working for Peter Gomes. Whenever I walked into the (late, lamented!) shop on Mount Auburn Street, I would invariably be greeted, “Good afternoon, Reverend.” Still wear the suits!
Great story, Please follow up with more details if possible.
What a wonderful story! I also enjoyed your earlier story about Loomis and Mr. B. I can see why your Grandfather wanted you to go there!
As a fully indoctrinated Episcopal in New Haven (Trinity -on-the -Green choirboy) and adherent of the Ivy look (Hamden Hall, Mt Hermon School, and later Yale) this story resonates with my background. Especially, at Hamden Hall where many of my close mates were Jewish. I am still in contact with these many childhood friends after 60 years. And I still wear grey flannel slacks with a blazer and button down (Gant ) shirt and a BBs tie!
Only in America!
Only in America!
Yasher Koach Richard for sharing such a marvelous story.
I greatly enjoyed this reminiscence. I am a priest in the Episcopal Church, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, and a long-time J. Press customer. I am also the son of a nice Jewish boy from The Bronx and a nice Gentile girl from the Midwest. Both of my great-grandfathers on my father’s side were immigrants from Hungary. One was a vest maker. Richard Press’s story resonates with me for many reasons.
Our country, indeed, the world, needs to read this heart warming story. It lifted my spirits today. Thanks!!
Sublime and divine!
Richard! I addressed you as Paul, my sincere apologies. Every Monday morning I look forward to your interesting blogs and after reading I forward them to my brother Paul. I must have had him on my mind. Sorry.
Thank you for sharing this family history – a wonderful tribute to a great man! A great American story!
Paul, your timing for this story is perfect for this moment in history. Thanks for lighting a candle.
Compassion. Tolerance. Respect. Friendship. America.
As a priest in The Episcopal Church, and a graduate of The General Theological Seminary like Bishop Moore, I certainly appreciate the connection between J. Press and The Episcopal Church. On more than a few Sundays I’ve worn your khakis under my vestments, and your seersucker jackets are especially value at coffee hour and brunch following worship, especially here in the South!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thanks! John Merrill, Waterford , Ct .. 45 year Press customer .
Such a delightful story and a wonderful tribute.
Fascinating, even touching. Ecumenism at its best, too.
Keep em coming
What a legacy…