Israel Edward Press, O.D., 1920 – 2015: Part 9 – End of Life Care

Let me be blunt.  End of life care in this country is horribly dysfunctional.  The problem is that you won’t realize how maddeningly dysfunctional it is until you have to navigate its many dead ends roads and potholes.  As tempting as it is, I won’t name names of specific institutions or individuals.  That would serve little purpose other than as an outlet for personal frustration, and that is not my intent here nor would it honor my father’s memory.  My purpose it to share some of our experiences in the hope that it may benefit others who will inevitably travel a similar path.


Elder care presents some basic choices:

  1. Care for an aging parent yourself at home.
  2. Hire an aide privately and self-pay to assist with care.
  3. Contract with an agency privately to provide aides.
  4. Contract with an agency through Medicaid.

When my father was ready to be discharged from the hospital in December, he was too weak to return to his apartment.  He needed supervised and ongoing rehabilitative care if he was going to maintain any semblance of independent function.  Dad therefore elected to go move into a local rehab facility in order to transition back to the apartment.  Let’s call it the Empty Nursing and Rehabilitation Center of Jamaica (NY).

It would be fair to say that the staff at this facility was of questionable competence.  The irony is that my father elected this facility because he had some personal connection with the management there.  On a number of occasions, when I went to observe his PT program, he was sitting in a wheelchair parked next to other aged and infirm patients, largely left alone due to the number of patients who far outweighed the number of therapists.  As one reverts to a childhood state in these late years, sometimes the patient has to be pushed to activity even when he doesn’t feel like it.  To do otherwise is a form of benign neglect.

The Social Service Department at the Hospital visited with my father and with us before he was discharged, and promoted the services of an Agency that would provide an aide for his stay at the Rehab Center.  This person would be a companion for 12 hours per day as an advocate of sorts, form 8 AM to 8 PM.  Within his first week of his stay, he pushed the buzzer for assistance to go to the rest room.  After waiting patiently for 20 minutes for assistance, he tried to get up himself and took a nasty fall.  We can’t be sure how long he was on the floor before someone appeared, but after that episode we realized he needed an aide serve as his voice on a 24 hour basis.


With the exception of one or two, these aides turned out to be virtually useless.  They were not allowed to assist Dad, because of potential issues medico-legal issues.  But sometimes we would visit and finding them sitting behind my father, or talking on their phones, making a mockery of the companionship role.  This for $20/hr ($28/hr on holidays), 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week.  That’s $3,360 per week!!! You konw these poorly skilled laborers couldn’t be making much – but someone was being compensated handsomely.  After Dad was released from the Rehab Center to return to his apartment, the Senior Agency continued to drag their feet on filing for any Medicare Reimbursement.  However they never missed a beat in processing the $3360 per week charges through our credit card which Miriam and I had to give them in order to retain the Agency.



My father agreed to set up a trust too late, having lived adequately off his retirement account and monthly social security check.  It was a nightmare trying to get him public assistance because his wife pre-dated him on Medicaid and the family had set up a trust for her years before.  That meant the rules to qualify Dad for Medicaid were complicated, and we hired an advocate who was recommended to assist us.  Unfortunately he misrepresented what he was able to do, and the time frame in which he could accomplish it.  Dad’s retirement savings were quickly depleted.

The money is not the principal issue here.  While Dad never wanted to be a burden to us, our primary concern was that he remain as comfortable as possible while he was visibly slipping away.  Seeing him grow gaunt and almost listless at times, particularly as each day wore on would have been tolerable were it not for the aides who did not accord him the respect and dignity to which he was entitled.  Once back in the apartment, my stepmother’s aides fought with his aides.  Even toward the end, when provisional Medicaid came through after months of waiting, and we used the same agency for both 0ur parents, the aides continued to be an issue.  They should have engaged him more.  They should have taken him out for fresh air.  They should not have taken their frustrations out on him.  Even if we had installed a “Nanny Cam”, as we had urged him to consider, I’m not sure that would have solved the problem, though in retrospect it was something that he decided to forego that may have helped the situation.

Here is a basic checklist you must master if neither you nor your aging parents are independently wealthy.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Israel Edward Press, O.D., 1920-2015 – Part 8: The Leader of the Band

Dan Fogelberg’s hauntingly beautiful song often comes to mind when thinking about my father.  I learned so much by observing him and having his office in our house, as was common in the 1950s and 60s, providing a unique opportunity to gain a feel for a very personalized level of care that is quickly vanishing.  My style and mode of practice has stayed true to his principles, and I repay him in my own ways.  Here are the key extracted lyrics that embody what I feel:

He earned his love
Through discipline
A thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand.

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul —
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go —
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think i
Said ‘i love you’ near enough

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul —
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band
I am the living legacy
To the leader of the band.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Israel Edward Press, O.D. 1920 – 2015: Part 7 – Back to the Future

Dad’s decision to stay in Logan was predicated on it being a special place, in a special time to raise a family and maintain a practice.


There are many memories wrapped up in that office-home at 4800 North 10th Street, at the corner of 10th and Louden, from the office phone of GL (Gladstone) 7 – 0900 to the improbable storage places that became more difficult to navigate as we grew.  The synagogue at 10th & Rockland, Cong. B’nai Israel – just one block north of us – was a significant focal point of our communal life.


I had the pleasure of reminiscing a bit last year about experiences there, recounted on page 23 in this report from The Pew Charitable Trusts on Philadelphia’s Changing Middle Class.


Dad had a branch office at 109 E. Butler Avenue in Ambler, PA.  In that location he hung out his shingle as “I. Edward Press, O.D.”.  Aside from his pursuits in education and optometry, Dad was a huge fan of football and baseball, both of which he played as a teenager.  He went to his first Phillies game at Shibe Park when he was 14 or 15 years old, and was hooked as a fan.  In turn he hooked me, and some of our best bonding occurred at the Park which was renamed Connie Mack Stadium.


My mother had significant health issues, and I’ll cut to the chase by saying that my parents were divorced before my mother’s inability to function resulted in her being consigned to Ashton Hall Nursing Home in Northeast Philly until her passing in 1987 at the age of 62.  In the interim my father married a widow from New York, Fay Portnoy, and they initially resided in Philadelphia beginning another phase in his life.  The phase changed states after several years, and they relocated to Flushing, NY, enabling them to be closer to Fay’s immediate and extended family.  My father confided in me that he never wanted to leave Philadelphia, though Fay’s family accepted him as one of their own and he was well-received and widely regarded in Kew Garden Hills.  He and Fay had a very loving relationship right to The End.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Israel Edward Press, O.D. 1920 – 2015: Part 6 – The Consummate Jewish Educator/Administrator

By this point in time, Dad was ready to take the skills in Jewish education he honed in South Philadelphia and utilize them closer to home.  The local Yiddish newspaper, דער מארגען זשורנאל – the Jewish Morning Journal of Philadelphia, carried an ad for Congregation B’nai Israel’s Talmud Torah.  They were looking for a teacher proficient in both English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.  The school was struggling, with enrollment having fallen from 35 student to six under the tutelage of a teacher who barely knew English.  The Board was delighted that my father applied, and they guaranteed him that if he lifted enrollment to 25 students by Passover, they would reward him with a salary of $20 per week!

The Passover deadline came, and as word of Dad’s influence spread enrollment had already increased to 30 students but didn’t stop there.  By the following September they were up to 50, and by the following Pesach were up to 140!  Menash Mauskopf and Bernice Idstein were among the faculty who propelled the growth.  The PTA was active, and that Purim the school put on a play – Purim High Jinks – that electrified the neighborhood!  Dad collaborated with Reba Bennett, who worked with Rabbi Samuel (Shmuel Koppel) Wohlgelernter of Congregation Beth Judah, and all was copacetic.

Dad became heavily sought after as he developed a reputation for building programs.  He catalyzed United Hebrew Schools on E. Wyoming Avenue in Feltonville and then went on to rekindle Yeshiva Mishkan Israel which had relocated to 16th & Champlost.  Victor M. Solomon, Ph.D. was a licensed psychotherapist who served as the pulpit Rabbi of Congregation Ezrath Israel in West Oak Lane.  The neighborhood was in decline and Rabbi Solomon was unsuccessful in convincing the congregation to relocate.  He accepted a job in Fairfield, Connecticut and the congregants regretting their loss besieged him: “Other than relocating the synagogue, is there anything we can do to entice you to return?”  Solomon picked up the phone and called Dr. Press, asking if he would be willing to come to Ezrath Israel to serve as principal of the Hebrew School.  Dad accepted the challenge, and while Rabbi Solomon decided to stay in Connecticut, the Hebrew School at Ezrath Israel remained strong during Dad’s tenure there.  One of my father’s favorite anecdotes comes from those days.


The mother of a student came in one afternoon to meet with him.  She urged Dad to  teach the boys some יידיש.  My father patiently replied that it was called a Hebrew School for a reason, and that their mission was to teach Hebrew, not Yiddish.  The boy’s mother pleaded: “Please, Dr. Press, can’t you at least teach him a bissel יידיש, so when I say to him “Boychik, push dem chair zum vindo”, he should know what I’m talkin’?”

Victor Solomon’s only regret in leaving Philadelphia was that he didn’t have someone of Israel Press’s caliber to serve as Principal of his congregation’s Hebrew School.  He grew determined to import Dr. Press, and convinced the congregation’s board to send a contract to him with a blank amount to fill in.  As flattered as Dad was by the offer, he declined.  He had been weighing retiring from education to enable him to focus more fully on his optometric practice owing to the advice of his first cousin, attorney Joseph Rappaport.


Rabbi Solomon remained undaunted, going so far as to approach one of the optometrists on the State Board in Connecticut to make Dr. Press an offer to join his prestigious practice!  Dad decided to remain in Philadelphia, and at Ezrath Israel to help the new Rabbi get acclimated before “retiring” to full-time practice.  That Rabbi was Abraham Pelberg, one of Dad’s former students from Yeshiva Mishkan Yisroel at 3rd & Catherine Streets in South Philly.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Israel Edward Press, O.D. 1920 – 2015: Part 5 – The Family Tree

Throughout his lifetime, my father shied away from being President of the many organizations with which he was involved.  One exception was the Hapoel Hamizrachi -מזרחי הפועל.  At the age of 24, he was President of the Eastern Seaboard Region of this American Group that supported pioneering efforts leading to the establishment of the State of Israel.   It was comprised of young adults predominantly from Philadelphia, Trenton, Wilmington, Washington D.C., and Baltimore.

In March 1945 my father was at a regional meeting of Hapoel in Baltimore when he met an attractive, local 20 year-old whose name was Violet Rosenthal.  They chatted briefly and agreed to carry on the conversation at a later time.  At the same meeting an acquaintance from Philadelphia, Anne Twersky, the Tolner Rebbe’s daughter, told my father that he had to meet a vibrant young woman to whom she had been introduced.  My father politely declined, having already decided that he should follow up on the mutual attraction with Violet.  But Anne was determined, and the following day she was persistent enough to introduce her fellow Loganite to the Baltimorian.  As it turned out, the young woman who Anne insisted my father meet was none other than Violet Rosenthal.

Israel and Violet were married on October 28, 1945, and the following year purchased the private house with a converted office in which they would raise a family and a practice in the Logan section of Philadelphia 0n the corner of 10th & Louden.  My sister Arlene was born in 1947 and brought along much joy.


1948 would be a year of euphoria for Dad tempered by great sadness.  There was a tremendous sense of gain in that the country that would bear his name declared its statehood on May 14, 1948.


… and there would be a tremendous sense of loss three months later with the passing of the courageous woman who was the bedrock of his upbringing.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Israel Edward Press, O.D. 1920 – 2015: Part 4 – Entering Adulthood

Word War II erupted in 1939 as Dad was building his reputation in Jewish education.  Now almost 20 years old, his plan was to embark on a graduate career at the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry.  He had saved enough to buy a used car to transport himself from South Philly to Olney, but the War effort resulted in the rationing of gasoline to the public.  It was time for the Press family to move closer to the College, and in late 1941 they purchased a home at 4807 N. 11th Street in the Logan section of North Philadelphia.


Dad made a name for himself in many ways at the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry in the early 1940s.  He was a gifted student and clinician, but also clung fiercely to his religious principles which caused him to face down the Dean during his first semester.  The festivals of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos occur on one another’s heels every Fall, and during his freshman year at PSCO in 1941 the dates conspired to require his absence on a series of consecutive weekdays: Rosh Hashana on Sept. 21 &22 (Mon/Tues); Yom Kippur on Oct 1(Wed); the first two days of Sukkos on Oct 6-7 (Mon/Tues) and the latter days on Oct 13-14 (Mon/Tues).

The Dean of the College did not take kindly to my father’s repeated absences the first five days, and threatened to expel him if he didn’t attend class on October 13 and 14.  My father stood his ground, but six months later before the Passover holiday, which would require his absence on April 2-3 and 8-9, all weekdays, the Dean posted advanced notice on the campus bulletin board that anyone absent on those days for non medical reasons would be expelled.  Jacob Nevyas, Ph.D., a highly valued and respected member of the faculty, championed my father’s cause.  He gave a public lecture that evening to the College community on the importance of religious freedom, and wrote a letter of resignation to the  Dean indicating his non-willingness to work in an institution of religious intolerance.  The following morning the Dean removed the notice from the bulletin board, and my father graduated in the class of 1944 without further incident.  This episode is recounted in Hindy Krohn’s The Way It Was (pages 205-207) published in 1989.


My father earned the Dean’s begrudging respect, and to his classmates such as Irving Bennett – who would go on to become one of the most revered and beloved members of our profession (and is still one of my better pen pals!) – my father was an inspiration who became fondly known as “The Reverend”.  Dad was sufficiently regarded by the administration at PSCO to be offered a position as Instructor in Clinical Optometry which he accepted after graduating in 1944.


I entered the College as a first year student in 1973, two years after Jake Nevyas formally retired from the faculty.  He would still periodically come by the College to visit, and one day I went over to him and introduced myself as Israel’s son.  His eyes lit up, and a big smile spread across his face, but he never told me why.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Israel Edward Press, O.D. 1920 – 2015: Part 3 – The Academic Years

As a 12 year-old student Dad’s aptitude was already evident at the Lydia Darrah Elementary School.  His grades were exemplary, but he did fail one thing: the school vision screening!

Eye Chart

He went to an old-time optometrist in the neighborhood, Dr. Melvin Weiss, and couldn’t believe how well he saw when he got glasses.  “Wow!  Wow!” he exclaimed when receiving his first prescription.  “I had no idea what I was missing” … and Dr. Weiss took an instant liking to the expressive young man.  He invited him to shadow in the office, and Dad decided at that point that this was a career he would pursue.


Dad was proud to be a member of the 167th graduating class of Central High School in Philadelphia, an all boys school that had rigorous academic standards and consistently ranked among the top high schools in the nation.   He took public transportation every day, and rounded out his academic pursuits with involvement in the Hawks Athletic Club, playing organized football and baseball with buddies Sol Hasiuk, Joe Auspitz, and future pharmacist George “Weiney” Weinstein.  During these years he also participated in early JDL activities with Sam Bortnick and future dentist Joe Feinstein.


Central High School is the only high school in the United States that has the ability to confer academic degrees upon its graduates.  And so it was that Israel Edward Press received his Bachelor of Arts degree in January, 1937,  at the tender age of 16.


Although his intent was to attend the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO) with his Bachelor’s degree in hand, Dad had to earn enough money to afford the tuition.   He continued his teaching career at Yeshiva Mishkan Yisrael, which had begun extemporaneously as a 16 year-old substitute for a Rebbe unable to teach his class due to an extended illness.  That was the origin of the famous jacket story, documented on pages 177-178 of The Way It Was by Hindy Krohn.  It was heartwarming to hear him share this story with our boys just a few months ago.


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments