Paul Weinberg grew up in Beverly, went to Dartmouth, and to Michigan Law School. He went to Vietnam in 1968 and eventually retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel. He has been an active member of Temple B’nai Abraham for most of his life. Paul lives in Beverly.
You were born in Chelsea and moved to Beverly when you were four. How did that come about?
I was born in Chelsea in 1940 and began life in a triple-decker at 145 Orange Street, a floor below my maternal grandfather and step-grandmother. My parents, Sam and Eve (Shumsker) Weinberg, had immigrated from what is now the embattled Ukraine – dad from Shepetovka at age 11, and my mother from Zhitomir as an infant. My paternal grandparents and other relatives lived a fairly short walk away on Heard Street and we all visited regularly.
Mom later told me that on their eighth wedding anniversary – Nov. 28, 1942 – when I was two, I started to run a high fever. Mom said she could just not leave me with a babysitter so at the last minute they canceled their nightclub reservations. That was the night the place they had reservations, Boston’s Coconut Grove, burned down with the loss of 429 lives, close to half of those jammed into the nightclub. My story could have been a lot different.
Commuting daily from Chelsea, Dad started a business in Beverly in 1933 named Quality Cleansers & Dyers, eventually locating on Rantoul Street. Mom and Dad bought a two-family house in Beverly near the ocean in 1944, where they raised me and my older brother Larry, who died in 2020.
Can you tell us about your Jewish background growing up and how that influenced you?
My Jewish background was fairly typical of so many other suburban children of moderately observant immigrant parents. I started Sunday school and remember being told at one point that we needed to learn a few different words to “Hatikvah” because we no longer needed to hope, we now had a state of our own named Israel. I attended Hebrew school three days a week at the new Hebrew Community Center on Bow Street [co-located with Congregation Sons of Abraham] until my bar mitzvah. I continued on to confirmation at age 15.
The center also was where a number of us went on Sunday afternoons for Gladys Yaffa’s ballroom dancing classes as well as for other social activities. I participated in junior congregation on Saturdays. My father taught me religious practices and customs, mostly by example, but he never demanded I observe them. I find that I retained or have returned to many of those practices and customs over the years. They are meaningful to me both inherently and as continuing the link to my parents and to previous generations over the ages.
How was it to grow up in Beverly?
For a kid, Beverly in the ‘40s and ‘50s was a place of relative innocence and a great place to grow up. We had two movie theaters – the Ware and the Larcom, with kid-friendly double feature matinees on Saturday afternoons; a bowling alley in the basement under the building that housed the Alcon’s store; the YMCA downtown with pick-up and league sports activity and a swimming pool; and numerous beaches to choose from. Beverly also had a yacht club, although they allowed no Jews. [The full impact of that didn’t really hit me until years later.]
I knew about antisemitism, but it was something that existed beyond my world. I don’t recall ever detecting it growing up in my Beverly. We Jewish kids did struggle dealing with teacher-led Christmas carols, Bible readings sometimes from Christian scripture, and singing of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as our teachers led us in singing “patriotic” songs. But that was cultural insensitivity to a minority and not antisemitism.
What made you want to become an attorney and what kind of law have you practiced?
From an early age, I used “lawyer” as a default answer when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up because I didn’t know. I admired the lawyers that I knew growing up such as the Glovskys, George Chansky, and Ralph Edelstein and saw the honor and respect shown to them. I figured I could do a lot worse than practicing law.
Education was in strong contention as a goal. I graduated college one course credit short of qualifying for my Massachusetts teacher’s credentials and I did practice teaching at Hanover (N.H.) High School for about five months. I loved it. I got an unsolicited offer of an entry level administration position at Dartmouth a couple months after graduation. But for the fact I had just that week shipped a large trunk of clothes, books, and other items to Michigan Law School, I might well have turned away from law and gone in a totally different direction.
Virtually all my practice of law was in the Army. I worked with labor law, medical malpractice determinations and settlements, law of land warfare and international law, maritime law and some other areas. A major part of my practice, however, dealt with criminal law that led to two assignments as a military trial judge. As a judge, I dealt mostly with young soldiers charged with committing offenses ranging from petty crimes to major felonies. It was the hardest job I’ve ever loved.
You went to Dartmouth College from 1958-1962. How was that experience?
I was told late in life that I have and probably always had attention deficit disorder, but when I got started in college I thought I was just plain dumb. Academically, my first year was not pleasant and my second year was worse and I was ready to quit. Somehow, I hung on. By the third year, I realized I really liked the school and the people and I was determined to get my degree, which I did – albeit without much glory. (But I still managed to get into a pretty good law school.)
I knew and was known by lots of my classmates. I was involved early in leadership of the Jewish activity that was the predecessor of Dartmouth Hillel. I helped organize a private luncheon and afternoon discussion for about 20 of us with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a real coup. I was elected to student government. I testified before the New Hampshire Legislature on behalf of the state’s first law outlawing discrimination in places of public accommodation.
I experienced my first individual and personal act of antisemitism and was defended by non-Jewish friends. I am proud to have been at Dartmouth during the early years of dismantling institutionalized discrimination. I grew up at Dartmouth. And I started a lifelong love affair with Dartmouth and my class.
You were drafted after graduating from Michigan Law School. You went to Vietnam in 1968 and eventually retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel. Can you describe your Vietnam experience and how you look back on it now?
I landed in the Republic of Vietnam in 1968 during the cleanup phase of the Tet offensive and was assigned to the Port of Saigon, where I headed up the 10-man legal office of the 4th Transportation Command. I slept in a barebones, sandbagged and guarded “hotel,” as it was called, in downtown Saigon within sight of the Presidential Palace.
Like the majority of troops in Vietnam, I was part of the support forces and not directly involved in active combat. We nonetheless were keenly aware of the dangers in the combat zone and constant vigilance was required. I was always armed either with an M14 rifle or a sidearm. Routine daily travel was by jeep and there was always at least one person other than the driver to ride “shotgun” for protection. But the only times I was ever fired on were the few times I was in the area of incoming mortar rounds.
My work was mostly tedious paperwork for 12 hours per day for 6½ days a week. On one occasion, senior command needed a lawyer with particular experience to serve as counsel to a defendant charged with killing a Vietnamese pedicab driver. I was happy to be selected and get back into criminal trial work for a few weeks. I did not volunteer for Vietnam, but I’m glad I served and did my part supporting the real heroes.
How did the Army change your life?
I came back from Vietnam to an even stronger anti-war sentiment in the U.S. than before I went there, and which was extended to an anti-service-member sentiment. Ours was a war from which we were never told “welcome home.” Never in my entire military career did I ever wear my uniform in Massachusetts when I was home on leave or in between assignments.
I was and am proud that I had the privilege of serving the country that gave refuge and a new start to my parents. I have tried to stay mindful of the needs of the veterans who have come after me through my service on the Beverly Veterans Council, the Jewish War Veterans, and by providing a knowing ear to the younger veterans who don’t always have someone to talk to who understands.
My Army experience and my continuing development of my faith and theology have changed me. Maybe my aging, also. I now prefer to avoid confrontation. I’m far less judgmental than I ever was. I appreciate that worth as a person, menschlichkeit, is not linked to formal education, economic status, the nature of one’s employment, or the chosen body ornamentation one chooses. Many of the people I feel closest with are clearly not cut from the same cloth as I am and that makes my life that much better.
You’ve been involved with Temple B’nai Abraham most of your life. Can you discuss your connection with the temple, the community, and why it means so much to you?
Coming home after the Army, I became actively reinvolved with TBA. After my father’s death, I took his place helping administer our cemetery for about 25 years. I served on the ritual committee for almost as long. I still assist to the extent I can. I lead services and help make a minyan. I have been gabbai for almost all the b’nai mitzvah the past 30 or more years, getting me interacting with “my” kids in a meaningful way.
My TBA community is and for many years has been my local family, my support group, my confidants and my strength through troubled times. I try to show my appreciation through giving of my love, spirit, and effort to others to help them feel the warmth of community as I do.
I have continued my parents’ efforts to support our temple young people and make them know they are a part of our community. I try to talk individually with as many of our kids as possible and, more importantly, to listen to them. I know that as emerging adults they already have adult things to say, and I want to listen. They are not just invisible appendages of their parents we wait to grow up. If they feel the warmth of Jewish community now, they will seek it as adults. They are my temple kids, a couple generations of them now. They are whatever legacy I will leave behind. They are the future of our Jewish communities.
You’ve lived in Beverly nearly all of your life. What do you love about the city?
I liken coming back to live in Beverly to finding an old pair of slippers, forgotten for some years at the back of the closet. You slip them on and you realize they are molded to your feet in a degree of comfort and familiarity you had forgotten about and now realize you had missed.
Years ago, the Beverly Chamber of Commerce described Beverly as “The City in the Country by the Sea.” It still is. Yes, the pretty much self-sustaining city is no more. It is now truly a suburb. But it still has commerce, parks, woodlands, and ocean. Above all it still feels like a community of people watching out for each other and trying to live the good life. I’m glad I found my old slippers. Θ