Larry, can you tell us how it was to grow up in Newton and what was your Jewish upbringing like?
I was the youngest of three children. Most of my friends growing up were Jewish. We belonged to Temple Emanuel and I went to Hebrew school and Hebrew high school, but truth be told, I was kicked out of the classroom often. I struggled to learn the Hebrew language and found both reading and writing to be a challenge. It was learning about Jewish history and celebrating the holidays that I took away from the school experience. I was an active participant in USY and spent holidays such as Sukkot, Simchas Torah, and Purim at the temple. I also attended junior congregation most Saturdays; however, I usually ran around the building as opposed to praying. When I was growing up there weren’t as many extracurricular activities as there were for my kids or grandkids to participate in. There was no JCC in Newton at that time.
When did you first connect to Judaism and realize that it was important to you?
Every Friday night we went to my grandparents’ for Shabbat dinner. I knew that weekly dinner was a Jewish tradition that our family followed, but frankly my connection came from Eli Weisel’s book, “Night.” I put myself in his shoes and could not fathom experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. I am grateful that my paternal grandfather left his 12 brothers and sisters behind in Dubno, Ukraine, to come to this country by himself at the age of 16. I assumed that the rest of the family was killed at the hands of the Cossacks. I wish I could say that the spiritual and religious aspects of Judaism were the draw, but they weren’t. It was the thousands of years of exile; extermination attempts and survival that sparked my connection and maintain it to this day. It is only in my adult life that I realized that it was the Torah and its teachings and traditions that allowed our people to endure.
Can you tell us how you met your wife, Lori?
I have a cousin (ironically also named Lori) who lived across the dormitory hall from my wife, Lori, at UMass Amherst. My parents went to their graduation and my dad suggested I meet her. That summer I took my cousin to visit Lori and I went out that night with a friend that lived in Swampscott. After passing my future mother-in-law’s ‘suitability’ interrogation [that evening], Lori and I went out on our first date the following week. We were married 12 months later and just celebrated our 42-year wedding anniversary.
When did you decide to settle on the North Shore and what’s your favorite part of the area?
I was a MetroWest guy – going to the beach was an all-day event that took lots of planning and preparation. I honestly had no idea you could live near a beach. We moved to Swampscott in 1983 and I always felt like I was on vacation whenever I reached the Nahant rotary and saw the ocean. My favorite part of living in Marblehead/Swampscott is the community aspect. You know the guy in the hardware store, you run into friends at restaurants, and you can walk along the ocean anytime you want. I never had that feeling when living in Newton or Framingham.
I understand you worked in a family business. Can you tell me about it?
First, my father never worked in my grandfather’s business. My dad was a manufacturer’s rep in the shoe business. My mother talked me into working for her father during the summer of my freshman year at UMass. He told me there was only one job for me and that was as an outside salesman. He packed some cut-up clothing samples in a paper shopping bag and dropped me off on West First Street in South Boston and said, “Go sell, I’ll pick you up in three hours.” I was 18, I was scared – I was actually petrified. I walked into every factory door and was amazed that “wiping rags” were used in most businesses. My grandfather passed away six months after Lori and I got married. The business eventually outgrew the space and was moved to Canton and ultimately to Lynn in 1998. Over the years we added more wiping materials such as paper/nonwoven industrial wipes, towels, sorbents, microfiber, and disinfecting wipes. While I sold the business in 2017, my daughter and all my employees continue to work there.
You’ve been very involved with Jewish organizations such as Epstein Hillel. the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore, and you also served on the board at Congregation Shirat Hayam. Why are you so involved with Jewish organizations?
I feel very strongly that I can make a difference in the community. While I did not grow up here, my children did and now my grandchildren do. There were people that came before me that saw the need for synagogues, the JCC, and a Jewish day school. It is our obligation and my honor to keep these facilities and the programs they offer for the next generation that move here. I hear too many people say, “My kids don’t live here,” and my answer to them is, “There are people in the community that your children and grandchildren now live in that have made it possible for your family to connect to Jewish living.” The North Shore is an enclave that we must make welcoming for Jewish and interfaith families.
You see yourself as more of a “behind the scenes guy.” There’s probably a lot of people in the community who can relate to that. What can they do behind the scenes to strengthen our Jewish community?
I believe that it is up to all of us, but especially my peers, to make sure that there are thriving Jewish institutions in our area. We are a small community and it is imperative that every Jew does one or more of these three things: participate, invest, and/or encourage others to support the mission of our local institutions. Without these facilities and of course, the Jewish Journal, there is no Jewish community. We see and hear on the news that there is a war on Jews. These institutions are our shield. They need our support.
You built a playground at Shirat Hayam and dedicated it to your mother. What did that mean to you?
My mother loves children, I really couldn’t think of a better way to honor her. She was so surprised and elated when she saw her great-grandchildren and all their friends climbing, sliding, and playing. She did not grow up with or have the means to make significant gifts herself. My brother and sister loved the idea and we made it happen. There are so many ways we can honor or celebrate our parents. L’dor v’dor [from generation to generation] must be foremost in our giving.
The late philanthropist Arthur Epstein was an inspiration to you. How did he influence your dedication to community and philanthropy?
Arthur was my friend. He taught me that once you have what you need, you must do good with what you have. A favorite saying of his was “There is no Brink’s truck following the hearse.” He gave to Jewish organizations that he knew were important for the Jewish community. He kept the doors of Epstein Hillel School (EHS) open and raised money for scholarships for families unable to afford tuition. He didn’t do it because his kids or grandkids attended the school; He did it because he knew a strong Jewish community needed a strong Jewish day school. He knew that EHS taught kids to be responsible, respectful, and kind. In turn, those children would one day become adults who would pass on those attributes to their Jewish children. Arthur knew that it would be EHS graduates that will speak up for Israel on college campuses and become leaders of Jewish institutions or in other positions to influence governmental policy aimed at protecting and preserving Israel and the Jewish people. His generosity and commitment extended beyond his contributions to EHS; Arthur commonly funded projects that fell outside the budget of both Congregation Shirat Hayam and Salem Hospital, among other institutions.
You’re deeply involved in helping to sustain and build our community. Why are you so dedicated?
If not me (us) then who? If not now, when? In my quest to raise funds I have heard many excuses, including: “I must save for my kids,” “I just lost X,” “I don’t know what I’ll need in the future,” “My kids don’t live here,” “I am not a member,” and “my kids don’t attend.” Making contributions to worthy causes creates a positive feeling inside of us that is beyond words. I’ve never met anyone that regrets mailing a check or wanted their money back. I remind people that the Nazis didn’t care if you belonged to the JCC, went to synagogue, or had kids at Hillel. I am pretty sure the Nazis did not care if only one of your parents was Jewish. You were a Jew and treated as such. Hamas didn’t care how involved those that they massacred were in Jewish life. They were killed because they were Jews. Now just turn on the TV and see that Jews are being targeted, not for their beliefs or associations, but because of who they are. For this reason alone, we must keep our institutions vibrant. We must tell the world we are here to stay, and we are proud to be Jewish. We have only ourselves to count on. There is no future for Jews without Jewish institutions and organizations.