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!
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.