Carole and Dr. Jack Skowronski have long been active in the Jewish community on the North Shore. Jack worked as a primary care physician in Marblehead, and Carole is a teacher. The family has belonged to Temple Sinai in Marblehead for decades. They are the parents of three children: Tamar, Uri, and Rafi.
We know you both have very interesting and varied family histories. Can you share a bit?
Jack: My parents both grew up in Lodz, Poland and were active in the Zionist youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair. During World War II, my father was in the Jewish underground. He was a courier and delivered messages between underground groups in the various ghettos. He was almost caught by the SS, but escaped by pretending to be a gentile Pole, and was recruited to work on a farm in Germany as a gentile Pole laborer. He did this for two years and was never found out as a Jew. Most of his family perished in the Holocaust, although one brother escaped to Palestine in 1939 and another brother ended up in the U.S. My father eventually made his way to Palestine.
My mother was in Ghetto Lodz and at the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. After liberation, she went to Palestine/Israel on the sister ship of the Exodus. She had lost most of her family in the Holocaust.
Carole and I found out after we met that both of our mothers were in Auschwitz at the same time, and both were in the death march to Bergen-Belsen. They did not know each other then. My parents knew each other growing up in Lodz and met again in Palestine/Israel.
My family left Israel in 1960 to come to the U.S. to join my father’s brother. The plan was to return to Israel after a few years. However, as is the case with many similar Israeli emigrants, that never happened. We remained emotionally strongly attached to Israel, though.
Carole: My parents were both from the Rhine area of Germany. Their families could trace their lineage back to this area for several hundred years. When my parents could no longer go to gymnasium [high school] because they were Jewish, my mother was able to become a nurse and my father went to an ORT school and became a plumber and welder. When the hospital was closed in 1942, both were sent to concentration camps. My father was able to stay with his immediate family in Theresienstadt for a little while, before being sent with his younger brother to Auschwitz. He ultimately survived the war by escaping in early 1945 during a forced labor march.
My mother was an inmate in four concentration camps. She was liberated in 1945 and made her way back to her home in Germany. She hoped that one of her younger brothers might have survived the war, but neither they nor her parents or grandparents returned. She was, however, reunited with my father, whose mother, brother and sister, and even one grandfather, survived. They were all able to come to the U.S. in 1947 and settled in New York City.
My parents married in 1947, just two months after arriving here, with my uncle in attendance. My mother worked as a nurse, and my father opened his own plumbing company. By then we had moved to New Jersey, where my brother and I grew up. Tragedy continued in the U.S. when my aunt and my father died as young adults. My mother continued to be a positive force for me and my brother. She remarried another German Jewish immigrant, and they were married for nearly 50 more years.
Where did you first meet?
Jack: Carole and I met at Brandeis University. I was in the class of ’69 and Carole was in the class of ’71. We were attracted to each other for many reasons – and have been happily married for 52 years now, so apparently it was a good match.
Carole, can you tell us a little about your teaching career and your philosophy of having your students try to think beyond the walls of your classroom?
I always loved working with children, watching them explore their ideas and environment and began my career teaching in a preschool-kindergarten in New York City. When we moved to the Boston area, I was able to work in several schools, and when we ended up in Marblehead I worked for a year at the preschool at Temple Beth El [now Shirat Hayam].
After starting our family, I took a 20-year break from teaching, working in Jack’s office and learning calligraphy, after which I was given the opportunity to work at Cohen Hillel Academy, now Epstein Hillel. All three of our children had gone to Hillel, and we strongly believed in the mission of the school. A part-time job as an assistant morphed into a permanent position. I was able to learn and grow with the children, families and colleagues I met while there. I had the freedom to bring what I considered most important to my classrooms.
Jack, what interested you early on to want to become a doctor?
I have always wanted to be a doctor, as far back as I can remember in childhood. I guess it was an altruistic desire to help people. I also was attracted to the science of medicine. My practice was a primary care internal medicine and I worked for 40 years in the same location in Marblehead. I was fortunate to practice during the heyday of internal medicine, when internists and family practitioners followed their patients from the outpatient setting to the hospital, and then to rehab or nursing home when needed. [I actually made house calls at times!] It was satisfying to care for patients along this entire continuum, both during routine care and crises in health. Knowing the patients and their family helped in giving good care.
Carole, you currently serve as a vice president on Temple Sinai’s board. Can you tell us a little about your involvement in their social action and adult education programs?
The entire congregation is involved in one way or another with both social action and adult education programs. These programs often overlap in purpose and content at Temple Sinai, and are in addition to classes led by Rabbi Michael Schwartz centered around teaching and enhancing our understanding and knowledge of our weekly observances and holidays.
Our Temple Sisterhood and Brotherhood continue to hold book groups and movie nights to enjoy and learn in one another’s company. Some of Temple Sinai’s ongoing activities include housing the JF&CS Food Pantry, where food is gathered and distributed monthly to Jewish families in our community. We’ve partnered with SPUR and the JCC preschool and grow a garden that helps support the food pantry. Several years ago, we began our partnership with The Clifton Lutheran Church in the Manna Project. Together we regularly run food drives, supporting My Brother’s Table and other local agencies.
Jack, you chaired the Lappin Youth to Israel committee run by the Jewish Federation of the North Shore in the ’80s – what did that involve?
When Carole and I moved to the North Shore, the Jewish Federation of the North Shore was an important communal organization, which transcended the individual interests of other various Jewish organizations and was a unifying force. The North Shore had Israeli shlichim [emissaries] through the JFNS that helped in strengthening the Israel connection in programming. One of the most important activities was and still is the Y2I trips, sponsored by the Lappin Foundation.
Carole and I, with others, were initially involved with the Young Leadership Group of the JFNS, which organized activities for younger families. I was a board member of the JFNS. We were friends with many of the Israeli shlichim and for many years I was the chair of the Y2I committee, which helped in the planning of these trips.
Carole, can you speak a little about returning to Germany fairly recently and having your family’s porcelain dishes that they had given to neighbors for safeguarding during WWII returned to you?
In November, 2021, my brother, his family, and I traveled to Lehmen, Germany, to receive a set of dishes that a woman named Ulrike Moritz and her family had been storing since 1942. Ulrike’s family is not Jewish. The dishes had belonged to our great-grandfather’s brother, Sigmund Feiner, and his family. In 1942, when the Feiners were about to be deported, Ulrike’s grandparents, the Feiners’ neighbors and good friends, asked if they could help and hold anything for the family until their return. No one knew what was about to happen. The Feiners just thought they would be relocated for a while, and then allowed to return home. They gave their neighbors the dishes they used for Shabbat and holidays. When none of the family returned to Lehmen in 1945, the Moritz family continued to hold the dishes, looking for a member of the family to whom they could bring them. They didn’t find anyone, as my mother was the only family member who survived, and she lived somewhere else.
In 2021, through a series of Internet connections, genealogist Ulrich Offerhaus was able to reach my niece in California, verifying that they had found the correct family. Lina Feiner Wolff, my grandmother, was the link. We were invited to Germany to receive the dishes in person, and to meet Ulrike Moritz and her family, who had never used the dishes, but had preserved them all these years. We were hosted by the town of Lehmen, by several educators and people involved in social action causes, chief among them Christoff Stoffel. On the night of Nov. 18, 2021, we received the dishes at a ceremony at a local castle. It would have been our mother’s 100th birthday.
The dishes were sent to the U.S. and they were used for the first time in 80 years on March 19, 2022, at the Shabbat dinner before our niece’s post-COVID Jewish wedding. In attendance were Ulrike and Christoff. We sang Shehecheyanu as we looked around, amazed and grateful for the good dishes and the good people.
Finally, tell us about your family.
We are the parents of three grown children, all of whom attended Hillel and Marblehead High School before going off to colleges and finding their individual people, places and spaces in life. We’re really happy that our daughter Tamar and her husband Eric live with their family in Marblehead. Tamar is now the marketing director at Epstein Hillel. Her daughters are in fifth grade at EHS and in ninth grade at Marblehead High. Our older son, Uri, was a high school biology teacher for 20 years. He recently changed careers, and is in his second year at Hastings Law School in San Francisco. His children are in third and fourth grades in Piedmont, Calif. And our younger son, Rafi, and his wife Daphna, live in Needham, and are both physicians at Beth Israel-Lahey. Their two older children attend kindergarten and first grade at Solomon Schechter. Not yet at school is their 1-year-old, our seventh grandchild.
We are ever cognizant of what befell our parents’ generation and where we are today. And we are so very grateful for all we have in our lives, especially the time we get to spend with our family, watching our children and all seven grandchildren grow and thrive! L’dor V’dor.