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.