JULY 27, 2107 – For Jack Stahl, the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore has always been like a second home. As a child growing up in Lynn, he attended Camp Simcha and learned to play basketball at the original center. He earned a four-year basketball scholarship to Suffolk University, served in the Navy, and went on to start Boston Traders with his childhood friend Arnie Kline. That company grew into a $100 million clothing business before Stahl sold it in 1995. He has been married to his wife, Arlene, for 55 years. They live in Lynn, and have two daughters, Susan and Elizabeth, and a son, David Stahl, and four grandchildren.
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Jack, what was it like to grow up in Lynn in the 1930s?
I was born in 1930 in Lynn and am an only child. My parents were immigrants from Poland. We never had any money so it was day to day. My dad was a shoeworker, and my mom never worked. When I was young we lived on Neptune Street. My father worked in a shoe factory for $5 a week. In 1935, I went to Camp Simcha.
As a child you experienced anti-Semitism?
Yes. We went to Lynn Hebrew School on Blossom Street and all the gentile kids used to wait for us when we got out of Hebrew school. They used to harass us. Sometimes we had fights.
I moved to Auburn, Maine in 1939 with my parents – my father got a job up there as a shoe worker. It was the middle of the Depression. I was up for there for four years. When I first got up there I had many fights with French Canadian kids, but then I became the best baseball, football and basketball player in junior high and it stopped. When I told the coach I was going back to Lynn he cried.
After you came back to Lynn you spent a lot of time at the JCC on Market Street?
Yes. The Market Street JCC was absolutely one of the greatest things that ever happened to our Jewish community. All of us loved being there. It was like a second home –
all of the Jewish kids went there after school. There was a big gymnasium, a bowling alley, we had dances. Also, B’nai B’rith Girls was there, and the Lynn AZA. Being Jewish, it gave us a place where we felt safe because we were among ourselves. And we have great role models and mentors, like Shep Simons and Bob Harris.
And we played a lot of basketball – I was on the JCC and AZA team there, and I was also on the junior high school team where I met Arnie Kline. He became my best friend and business partner and we started Boston Traders.
You earned a basketball scholarship to Suffolk?
Yes. I was the captain of the Lynn Classical basketball team, and all Essex County in 1949. I played with Harry Agganis – he was a great player and a good friend of mine. Then I went to Suffolk, and played on the varsity team for four years, and averaged close to 20 points a game. I was the captain for two years, and I was also a player-coach for six months. I was a business major at Suffolk, and I was the first person in my family to go to college.
You met your wife, Arlene, at the JCC?
Yes. She was also from Lynn, and lived in the Highlands. I was coaching the JCC basketball team that her boyfriend was on. We started to date in 1960 and got married in 1962.
You also competed in the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
In 1957, I went to the Maccabiah Games in Israel and competed in volleyball for the US. We came in third. That was the first time I went to Israel. I loved it. The people were so dynamic.
Could you tell us about your business?
I started Boston Traders with my childhood friend Arnie Kline, in Lynn. It became a $100 million company, and at one point we were the hottest men’s clothing line. We manufactured in India and China and Taiwan. I used to spend three or four months overseas every year. We sold it in 1995.
As an adult you stayed closely connected to the JCC.
Yes, I was president from 2000 to 2002, and I’m also a life board member. The outdoor pool at the JCC has a plaque with the Stahl and Kline family names on it. Also, Lenny Lunder, Gary Bernstein and I raised $2.5 million so we could build the Fitness Center, the Exercise Room, the Dance Studio, and the Spinning Room.
At the JCC, I learned a lot about life, getting along with people, and making friendships. I still have all my friends from the JCC; I met my wife there, and my partner Arnie and I have been in business for 60 years, and we still own property in Lynn.
You recently moved back to your old city, Lynn.
I love Lynn. I feel very good about the move. We had lived in Swampscott for a while and then had a house on the water for about 10 years in Swampscott. We sometimes go to downtown Lynn to Brothers Deli, where the JCC was. There’s a plaque there that says that the JCC once stood there.
What’s your hope for the future for the JCC and the community?
I want people to get involved, to use the JCC for health, for programs and to meet new friends. It has a great preschool and health club and camp and people should support it.