I was a natural-born reporter. I was a real bird dog right from the beginning.
—I. F. Stone
Before he was anything else he was a newspaperman. He was the eldest son, a first-generation American, a schoolboy, a Jew. He was all of those things without choosing. The newspaper was his.
It was called the Progress and cost 2 (marked down from a nickel). The first edition appeared in February 1922. On the front page, under a half-column attack on the Hearst newspaper chain for "malignant propaganda against Japan," were the editor’s initials: I. B. F. Isadore B. Fein-stein. The "B" was a fiction—his first assumed name. He was fourteen years old.
As befitted its high-minded title, most of the six unnumbered pages that made up the Progress, volume one, numberone, were devoted to editorial exhortation or to poetry. A speech from Antigone (credited to "Saphocles") warning that "money . . . lays cities low" was followed by a demand to "Cancel the War Debts." Arguing on behalf of "every individualin the United States, more or less," the young writer tried his hand at economics: "The war debt is the chief cause of the business depression. Why? Because the war debts lower the rate of foreign exchange and increase the value of the American dollar."
The Progress showed a playful side as well, publishing "A. Nut. E. Poem. (by an Animus)" along with jokes, humorous headlines, and a feature on "Unusual Occupations" credited to the New York American—a Hearst paper, but then, good features were hard to find.
Pragmatic, precocious, enterprising (the first issue included eleven display ads), sophomoric—were it not for the career that followed, there would be little reason to take note of Feinstein’s Progress. Here was scant trace of the mature, wised-up style, the Talmudic relish for documentary evidence, the acidulous provocations and devastating deadpan that enlivened every issue of I. F. Stone’s Weekly. In a young man, high ideals are hardly more remarkable than high spirits. Still, in light of what would come after, it is perhaps worth recording that from the very first he was immune to the charms of the parochial. Hearst, the Versailles Treaty, the economy—these were the causes that excited this fourteen-year-old’s passion. The only local element in the Progress was the advertising— which, so far as addresses are given, seemed to all come from shops on the same street as the editor’s house.
Tucked away discreetly on an inside page was an ad for the United Department Store, "B. Feinstein, Prop." B. Feinstein was the editor’s father, and though the presence of the paternal name might have given readers (who were mostly neighbors) the impression of an indulgent, even proud parent supporting his son’s venture, the truth was more complicated.
There is a Yiddish expression that perfectly captures the career of Bernard Feinstein, at least in the eyes of his eldest son: Asakh melokhes un veynik brokhes (Many trades but few blessings). More poignant than the English jack-of-all-trades (but master of none), the Yiddish phrase has a sense of hard circumstance, of fatality, mixed in with the dismissal. Born in Gronov, the Ukraine, in 1876, Baruch Feinstein had already served a number of years in the tsar’s army before fleeing the country to escape being sent to the Far East. One family story has him making his way across Poland on foot, but there is general agreement that after stops in Hamburg, Liverpool, and Cardiff, he boarded a ship in London and landed in Philadelphia on April 12, 1903. He was a peddler.1
"At that time," Louis, his youngest son, recalled, "they were building the Main Line [of the Pennsylvania] Railroad from Philadelphia out to Paoli . . . and the Polish workers didn’t have a chance to go to shops. My father went up and down the line, selling watches out of a suitcase."2
Somewhere along his travels, Baruch Feinstein became Bernard. He was becoming Americanized in other ways as well. In the old country there was Shabbat—the Sabbath—a day devoted to prayer and study. In the New World, Bernard Feinstein had his Saturdays to do with as he pleased, and he seldom spent them in synagogue. Like hundreds of thousands of his fellow immigrants who flocked to Coney Island, Atlantic City, or Asbury Park, Bernard Feinstein used his leisure time for leisure. On one trip to the Jersey Shore in the summer of 1906, he was walking along the beach when he met a friend, Dave Novack, a recent immigrant from Odessa. Novack introduced the young peddler to his father, Zalman, and his little sister, Katy, a sewing-machine operator in a shirt factory.
An extremely dapper man who sent his wife and children out to work while he stayed home studying Torah, Zalman (or Solomon, as he soon became) Novack was a traditional Jewish patriarch. His house on South 10th Street in South Philadelphia was strictly kosher. He’d taken his wife’s family name—Novack—as a mark of respect for the father-in-law who supported his studies, not a feminist gesture.
Bernard’s father, born Judah Tsvilikhovsky, had also changed his family name. Most Russian Jews took second names (aside from the Hebrew patronymic) only when they were ordered to do so by the tsarist government. Alexander III instigated a wave of officially sponsored pogroms, and since the measure was designed to make it easier for the Jews to be taxed and their sons drafted, resistance was widespread. If a family had four sons, three would be drafted. But if a family had only one son—or appeared to have a single son—he was exempt. Judah Tsvilikhovsky’s father had four sons; their last names were Tsvilikhovsky, Burrison, Steel-man, and Feinstein.3
In March 1907, Katy and Bernard were married in Philadelphia. She was twenty; he was ten years older. At first they lived with her parents, and, at least in the beginning, Bernard and his father-in-law got along well enough. Bernard continued in his secular ways, but after they moved into a home of their own, on nearby South Wharton Street, the young couple kept a kosher kitchen so that the Novacks would feel comfortable when they came to visit.
Isadore Feinstein was born in his parents’ house on December 24, 1907, nine months after their wedding. His birth certificate lists his father’s occupation as "salesman." His father’s name is given as "Barnet Feinstein."
Like many American cities after the turn of the century, Philadelphia was really two largely separate aggregations. There was the somewhat parochial, patrician backwater where, on a 1905 visit, Henry James was struck by "the absence of the note of the perpetual perpendicular, the New York, the Chicago note." For James, Philadelphia’s endless array of row houses "seemed to symbolize exactly the principle of indefinite horizontal extension and to offer, refreshingly, a challenge to horizontal, to lateral, to more or less tangential, to rotary, or better still to absolute centrifugal motion."4 A photograph of center city Philadelphia from that same year perfectly captures this bucolic prospect: Though the City Hall clock shows it to be a quarter before two in the afternoon, the streets are practically deserted. In the foreground, where a contemporary picture of New York would have been crammed with traffic of all sorts, a herd of sheep is being driven down the middle of South Broad Street.5
Just a few blocks farther south was the area known as Little Russia, where in 1910 the greater part of Philadelphia’s 90,697 Jewish immigrants lived and worked.6 It was in this community that the Hebrew hymn "Adon Olom" (Lord of the World) was composed; here also lived the author of "Hatikvah" (The Hope), the Zionist anthem. Most of the Jews in Philadelphia arrived at about the same time as Bernard Feinstein and by 1910 were already the city’s largest single ethnic group, making up nearly a fourth of the immigrant population. By the time the United States entered World War I, more than 200,000 Jews lived in Philadelphia, surrounded by enclaves of Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants.
Though they were spared the indignities of tenement life, the immigrant families jammed into row houses along the blind, bandbox alleys of South Philadelphia were a world away from the contented burghers of Rittenhouse Square. Even those with good jobs were often hard-pressed. But there were also stirrings of resistance. In May 1909, the city was paralyzed by striking street railwaymen. When a settlement with the streetcar monopoly broke down the following February, Philadelphia’s central labor union called the first general strike in modern American history. Thousands of nonunion workers walked off their jobs in solidarity.7
For those without regular work, times were especially tough. As an occupation of last resort, peddling became increasingly popular. "From Monday to Friday," says one account, "the roads along the Delaware River . . . were clogged by Jewish peddlers."8
It may have been this sharpening competition that drove the young Feinstein family to light out for the West. But there were other factors as well. "The story, I don’t know whether it’s apocryphal or not, is they had to move so that my father could get my mother away from her mother," recalls Louis Stone. One version of this family tale has Katy Feinstein clinging to her mother’s apron strings. Others blame the continuing tension between the militantly secular Bernard and his devout father-in-law. Yet another element was Katy Feinstein’s postpartum depression, which was evidently serious enough for Isadore to spend months at a time with his Novack grandparents.
In 1911, Bernard, Katy, and young Isadore moved to Richmond, Indiana. Here the Yiddish-speaking boy entered kindergarten. Toward the end of his life, he made light of the day he "went out into the street and started talking mame-loshen [literally ‘mother tongue,’ i.e., Yiddish] to the schoolchildren."9 To his own children, though, Stone spoke of Richmond as his first encounter with anti-Semitism.10
It was also his first encounter with small-town America. Located at the junction of the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Pennsylvania railroads, Richmond’s manufactures extended from the American Seeding Machine Company’s agricultural implements to William Waking Company’s "bicycles, water closets and bathtubs." Three daily newspapers served the town’s 22,300 inhabitants. More to the point, Richmond had twelve dry goods stores. Above one of them, at 1101 Sheridan Street, lived the Fein-steins—but not for long.11
Perhaps it was the lure of the railroad line that brought Bernard Feinstein so far into the American interior. Or perhaps, as his grandson Jeremy suggested, "it was just an immigrant’s mistake." Certainly—and this may have been Bernard’s intention—they were a very long way from their families and from the familiar shtetl culture of Little Russia. Barely a dozen other Jews lived in Richmond, and though a city directory listed his business as "dry goods"—a traditional Jewish trade throughout the South and Midwest—in reality Bernard still spent much of the year as an itinerant peddler.12
The Feinsteins bought their combined house and store in 1911. By June of the following year, they’d sold out to Abraham Harsh, a coal dealer and one of the few other Jews in town. But the Feinsteins stayed on in Richmond through two family milestones. On September 6, 1912, Marcus Feinstein (known through childhood as Max) was born. His birth record lists the father’s name as "Bernhardt." And in January 1913, "Bernard" Feinstein and his wife became American citizens. Once these proceedings were complete, the family returned to the East.
What could five-year-old Isadore make of such a trek? An adventure? An odyssey? A retreat? For Bernard, though it ended in disappointment, the move to Indiana was a decisive break with his past. The Feinsteins might be Jews without money, but there would be no return to the ghetto. His children would grow up to be Americans. Yet for Katy, the end of their rural exile was an enormous relief. "My father went out peddling with a horse and buggy," said Louis Stone. "Mother used to tell this story about how terrified she was when he was away and she had to feed the horse. We had a barn behind the house, with one of those old-fashioned split doors. Well, she would run up to the door with some hay, open the top, throw in a handful, slam the door shut, and run back to the house." The long train journey, if it left him with nothing else, must have impressed Isadore with the size of his country, its varied landscape, and its vast unsettled expanses. The lesson that his father was a failure he would have many opportunities to learn.
Only a year after their return from Indiana, the Feinsteins moved one more time. Bernard, who’d been struggling to support his growing family as a butcher in Camden, New Jersey, heard of an opportunity to take over a small dry goods store in nearby Haddonfield. "A Mr. Fowler sold the store to my father," Louis Stone remembered. "Then Fowler opened up a new store across the street. They were our competition—catty-corner across the street." Luckily for the Feinsteins, the American economy was about to receive a huge boost from events half a world away.
Haddonfield’s history has been peaceful, if not uneventful since British redcoats and tattered Continentals marched through her streets.
—"Haddonfield: A Sketch of Its Early History" by Isadore Feinstein, 1931
The Feinsteins lived above the shop. Known variously as the Philadelphia Bargain Store, Ladies and Gents’ Furnishings and Shoes, and the United Department Store, the family’s new home was on the busiest corner in Haddonfield. Four plate-glass windows stretched for sixty feet along East Main Street, beckoning customers inside with an ever-changing display of cut-rate women’s fashion, men’s clothing, shoes, sewing patterns, bolts of fabric, and notions—small, useful items, usually for sewing. A heavy wooden barrel filled with pickles was hidden away on the back porch, but from the front, where a pair of hitching posts flanked a large water trough for the benefit of nearby farmers who rode their horse-drawn wagons into town on weekends to shop, little set the Feinsteins apart from their neighbors.
Though Camden, with its clamorous shipyards and huge Campbell’s Soup factory, was only five miles away—a 5 ride on the trolley that ran down Haddon Avenue, alongside the store, before turning onto Main Street—Haddonfield on the eve of the world war was a very quiet little town. Named for Elizabeth Haddon, a wealthy Quaker who began farming there in 1701, Haddonfield remained primarily agricultural. A two-minute journey outside town in any direction brought open vistas of wheat, corn, horses, and cows.13
For a small boy, the town was in many ways a paradise. "In the woods around . . . where I grew up," remembered Isadore’s brother Max, "there were favorite swimming holes. It was great fun to swing out over the water on a rope tied to a high tree branch . . . There was choose-up baseball in the large field between the school and the Presbyterian Church that fronted on Main Street . . . and pick-up football . . . on a lot beside the Friends School on Haddon Avenue down past the cemetery ...The cemetery was just across the street from the rear of our store . . . [and] when it snowed we sledded there or . . . skied on barrel staves."14
Even his bookish older brother enjoyed fishing in Evans Pond or wandering through the surrounding woods with a dog-eared copy of Keats, Shelley, or Emily Dickinson shoved into his back pocket. Home from his rambles, Isadore would curl up in the big green wicker rocking chair that stood at the rear of the shop. Often he also could be found in the dining room located behind the store, hunched over the piles of books that covered the whole of the round wooden table or staring through his thick round eyeglasses out the window and across Haddon Avenue to the firehouse, or perhaps at the two buttonwood trees in front of Milask’s ice cream parlor. George Washington was said to have stood under those very trees, reviewing his troops. Behind the dining room was the kitchen, Katy Feinstein’s fief. From here the smell of Jewish delicacies like knishes, knaidlach, and kreplach, her special chicken with kasha varnishkes, or fruity fragrant strudel and hamantaschen would go wafting up the dining room stairs to the rest of the house.15
For all its idyllic quality, though, the Feinsteins’ life in Haddonfield was oddly insular. Bernard read a Yiddish newspaper; Katy still kept a kosher kitchen, which meant taking the trolley into Camden to a kosher butcher whenever she wanted to buy meat or poultry. Both parents spoke Yiddish at home. Indeed, Katy, who was a lively, relatively cultivated woman in Yiddish, was barely literate in English. There were only a handful of other Jews in Haddonfield—too few for a minyan, the quorum of ten men needed to hold a service, let alone to organize a synagogue. Not that Bernard would have gone. Instead, he and Katy spent practically every weekend in the family Maxwell driving the children to visit one or another of their numerous relatives scattered throughout the Philadelphia area. Many, like Izzy’s favorite uncle, Ithamar "Shumer" Feinstein, still lived in the city.16 But the rich, contentious communal life of immigrant Jewry—the world of Irving Howe’s The World of Our Fathers—was one that young Isadore Feinstein barely knew.
Until the 1930s, Haddonfield didn’t even have a Catholic church. Racially, Stone recalled later, it was practically "a Southern town." And while most of the Quakers who still dominated Haddonfield probably viewed the Feinsteins as harmless exotics, all of the town’s Jews lived behind a wall of complete social segregation. Izzy’s brother Max desperately wanted to be accepted. "There were only three classmates who like me were Jewish, but they were not part of the ‘in’ crowd so I shunned them," he admitted in a draft memoir. "Nonetheless, the cruel, childish taunts of ‘Kike’ and ‘Christ Killer’ continued into the teens, and though I might hang out with the drug-store crowd I was not invited to their parties."
"They used to tease me, ‘Is he a door or is he a window?’ " recalls Isador Rosenthal, who went through the Haddonfield school system at the same time as the Feinstein boys. "They didn’t know a Jew from Adam. Some thought Jews had horns. Every time there was a Jewish holiday that we observed, I had a note to the teacher," he remembered.17
Describing Isadore Feinstein as "a loner," one of his high school classmates explained, "He never went to any of our parties." Was he invited? "Oh, no." A Jewish classmate remembers being barred from the YMCA, though he might indeed have felt out of place at the hilarious doings at YMCA Camp Ockanickon as described in the local paper: "Popular Confectioner in Familiar Impersonation Convulses Campers With Laughter . . . It was the campers’ first acquaintance with Mr. Hires, who entertained ...with his Jewish impersonation . . . He looked exactly like a Jewish peddler would look if he wandered into camp with his neck-tie on."18
The Feinstein boys, sons of a Jewish peddler, were also barred from the fortnightly dances at the Artisans Hall. Indeed, most of the anti-Semitism they encountered in Haddonfield was on the level of social discrimination or ethnic stereotyping. But there were more virulent strains that the town’s mask of placid contentment didn’t completely conceal. In the 1920s, stickers appeared on trolleys, buses, and buildings all over Camden proclaiming: EVERY LOYAL AMERICAN KNOWS WHAT KKK STANDS FOR. Certainly Bernard Feinstein knew; when the Ku Klux Klan marched down Main Street, he stood silently on the store’s front steps staring at the hooded procession. (Bernard’s gesture of defiance was not without risk. The next day his son Louis, not yet ten, greeted Haddon-field’s conspicuously tall chief of police with a cheerful, "Hi! I saw you in the parade yesterday.") Edward Cutler, who attended Hebrew school with the Feinstein boys, remembered an even more oblique response to local anti-Semitism. His mother sometimes sent gentile customers out of their dry goods store (also on Main Street) with a cheery "Good-bye—brecha fis!" (break a foot)19
From a very early age, Isadore Feinstein knew he was somehow different. "I was lonesome. I was a kind of freak," he recalled. Even as a grown man, he never entirely lost "the little boy’s awe for those who could sing in school the line ‘Land where my fathers died’ without feeling awkward about it." By all accounts, school gave young Isadore a great many reasons to feel awkward. "I think we were cruel to Izzy because he was a loner," a classmate recalled. "He was very intellectual, but he never got down to our level, where we had fun."20
He also came from the wrong side of the tracks. The railroad running along Atlantic Avenue cut Haddonfield in half, with the most desirable homes on the west side. The Feinsteins lived in "the commercial section" on the east side. Shy, Jewish, bespectacled, physically clumsy, and relatively poor, Isadore devised two strategies to help him survive at school. One was humor, particularly humor directed at authority figures. Several classmates remembered his barbed exchanges with teachers. A particular triumph was the day he convinced his classmates to devour Limburger cheese—or, in one telling of the story, cloves of raw garlic—and then closed all the classroom windows in order to torment their hapless teacher.21
Far more often, though, Isadore would simply withdraw behind the covers of a book. A fascination with print was one of his earliest memories. "Before I learned how to read I would sit on the trolley car with a book in front of me and make believe I was reading and move my lips. And then one of the biggest thrills of my life was in those first-grade readers, with the lovely pastel illustrations showing a bird on the windowsill, and the words underneath it saying, plain as day, ‘The bird sat on the windowsill,’ and being able to figure it out was just tremendous."22
Other boys collected toy soldiers or marbles or stamps. The pride of young Isadore’s collection was "a facsimile edition in color of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell." Blake, Wordsworth, and the other English Romantic poets were a source of immense pleasure his entire life, as were Emily Dickinson and Camden’s own bard. "While I was in high school Walt Whitman was a great influence in my life. I really feel that from him I got a feeling of naturalness and purity about sex," he recalled. Thanks to his fluent Yiddish, which helped with the German, Heine’s Buch der Lieder was another early favorite.
His family worried that Isadore "buried himself in books," with reading "almost his sole activity in childhood or early teens." His own recollections make it clear, however, that while escape from the demands of his family or the taunts of his schoolmates might have been a motive, what he found in the library was nothing less than liberation. Starting with a sentimental education, he read his way from omnivorous curiosity to deeply held conviction. At first he looked primarily for vivid imagery and compelling rhythm. "I remember the thrill of reading Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, with that wonderful line, ‘Is it not passing brave to be a king and march in triumph through Persepolis?’ " he said. Empathy soon steered him in new directions: "I can remember coming home from high school and lying on the couch at home over my father’s store, eating pretzels and reading Don Quixote and bursting into tears at the moment of tragic lucidity when Don Quixote wavers and sees that he has been living in a world of illusion."23
When Isadore was twelve, his reading took another turn. Jack Lon-don’s Martin Eden gave Isadore "my first glimpse of the modern world." Again and again in later life Stone would point to London’s novel as "my introduction to radicalism" and "the book that first got me started" on the road to socialism. If so, it was an odd beginning. "You make believe that you believe in the survival of the strong and the rule of the strong. I believe. That is the difference," proclaims the book’s eponymous hero. "I look to the state for nothing. I look only to the strong man, the man on horseback, to save the state from its own rotten futility." London himself was a lifelong socialist, but Martin Eden is a portrait of the artist as a young fascist.24
"The world belongs to the true noblemen, to the great blond beasts," says Martin Eden. Izzy Feinstein was no blond beast. Yet it is not hard to see how London’s anguished young man spoke to—and for—his adolescent reader:
Who are you, Martin Eden? . . . Who are you? What are you? Where do you belong? ...You belong with the legions of toil, with all that is low, and vulgar, and unbeautiful. You belong with the oxen and the drudges, in dirty surroundings among smells and stenches ...And yet you dare to open the books, to listen to beautiful music, to learn to love beautiful paintings, to speak good English, to think thoughts that none of your own kind thinks ...Who are you? and what are you? damn you! And are you going to make good? 25
To speak good English! For a boy whose earliest memories were of being teased for speaking in a foreign tongue, this must have been more intoxicating than any vision of the cooperative commonwealth. To think thoughts none of his own kind thinks. And headiest of all, the challenge, compounded of doubt and defiance: Are you going to make good?
To make good . . . to speak good English. Malraux’s dictum that "the life of culture depends less on those who inherit it than those who desire it" never found a more willing exponent. Already primed by his reading of Emerson and Thoreau, the boy picked up the gauntlet in a voracious program of self-cultivation. He ranged widely: from Heraclitus to Hart Crane, Milton to Moby-Dick. He was also developing a taste for books that exposed the conflicts and conventions of everyday life. A cousin who visited the Feinsteins the summer before Isadore turned thirteen remembered: "Iz took me fishing and gave me a copy of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to read." Martin Eden led Isadore to Herbert Spencer’s First Principles and from there to the works of Charles Darwin. Spencer made a particularly strong impression on his young reader, though Spencer’s vision of inexorable social evolution was seemingly less persuasive than his atheism, his faith in progress, and the sheer confidence of his taxonomy. Progress and its enemies were themes that would occupy Stone for the rest of his life, but his own emerging sense of politics owed much more to another item on his teenage reading list, the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread. "When you go into a public library," Kropotkin says, in an argument that surely resonated with his young reader, "the librarian does not ask you what services you have rendered to society before giving you the book, or the fifty books, which you require; he even comes to your assistance if you do not know how to manage the catalogue." 26
"I fell in love with Kropotkin," Isadore recalled.27 According to Kropotkin, "ours is . . . anarchist communism, communism without government— the communism of the free."28 In time, Kropotkin would lead the young radical on to Marx, Bukharin, and Lenin. His developing analytical mind— the same faculty that found inspiration in Spencer’s leaden prose—eagerly took up the tools of Marxist analysis and even, for a brief period, the far blunter implements of proletarian revolution and a Soviet-style planned economy.29 That was much later. His initial enthusiasm for Kropotkin—for, as he put it a half century afterward, the Russian prince’s "wonderful vision of anarchistic communism, of a society without police, without coercion, based on persuasion and mutual aid"—came from the same source as his passion for Shelley and Keats. He was a Romantic long before he was a radical, and he took up poetry years before he turned to pamphleteering. Only one of his poems was ever published: a sonnet in his high school yearbook. The banner he raises is of sympathy, not social revolution:
And then when all is past and darkness come
Men hearing the words that I have said
Shall say: "Here is another heart like ours
That spoke for those who spoke not and were dumb."30
"I was a politically conscious schoolboy of nine when America entered the First World War," Stone once wrote. "A young Irish Catholic friend and I ...had been the only opponents of intervention." Whether or not this picture of a pint-sized Eugene Debs is factually correct, there is no doubt the war contributed to Isadore’s growing sense of isolation. Not over the conflict with the Central Powers, since he was, he recalled, "caught up in the general enthusiasm which greeted the declaration of war, when frankfurters were patriotically renamed ‘liberty sausages’ and no decent American would play Bach or Beethoven." And his isolation at school was already well established. What was new was an awareness of tension in his own family—often with himself at the center.31
The war years were good years for the United Department Store. Rationing imposed its own challenges—Mrs. Feinstein sent the boys from shop to shop in search of a little extra sugar for her baking. But the wartime measures and the boom in the Camden shipyards also sent a steady stream of customers to the Feinsteins. Family fortunes didn’t change overnight, and Bernard was no spendthrift. Discarded sewing patterns, Max recalled, were still "consigned to our bathroom. We never saw rolls of toilet paper until we moved away from the store." The family still rented out one of the upstairs bedrooms to a dentist, a Pennsylvania Dutchman named Orville Meland whose German helped broaden Isadore’s Yiddish. As his business continued to grow, however, Bernard found himself relying more and more on his wife and sons. Soon Katy was spending so much time in the store that the family hired a full-time maid.32
Unlike his brother Max, who delighted in helping behind the counter, sweeping and washing the wooden floor, and carefully "dressing" the display windows—"you crawled in, set up your front display, and slowly backed out, filling the space as you went"—Izzy was a sullen and unwilling salesman. Told to gib actung—to watch the customers and make sure nothing was stolen—he often would be found reading instead. The boy’s unmistakable disdain for the shopkeeper’s life frequently brought down his father’s wrath upon his head. His mother nearly always came to Isadore’s defense.
Katy Feinstein adored her eldest boy. On Friday nights, when Katy, who didn’t share her husband’s atheism, lit Shabbat candles and the family said the traditional Sabbath prayers, she always made sure her firstborn got the choicest parts of the chicken. "Izzy was Mom’s favorite," Max remembered. It was Katy who sent the boys into Camden for Hebrew lessons at Beth El Synagogue.* At first Bernard also indulged his eldest. He even arranged for him to receive additional Hebrew tuition from his brother, Shumer.
As a grown man, Stone fondly recalled "the memory of a warm home, the smell of cooking and books—there were always books aplenty at Uncle Shumer’s. There was loveable Tanta Elka coaxing you to eat more, and Uncle Shumer, framed always in a certain majesty, calm, dignified, pa-tient—a veritable Jove of an uncle." To an admiring small boy, this uncle was an ideal surrogate father: "full of the grandest stories, answering the hardest questions ...When God walked with the sons of men, He must have walked with such as my Uncle Shumer." Stone would never describe his own father in such heroic terms.33
Bernard was certainly capable of exuberance. When the armistice was announced ending the Great War, he ran across Haddon Avenue to the volunteer firehouse to toll out the news on the fire bell, cheerfully paying the $5 fine for a false alarm. He was also interested in less momentous events, taking both the Camden Courier and the Yiddish paper Der Tag (The Day). "You could always tell the politics of a Jewish household in those days by which Jewish paper they subscribed to," Stone once explained. "If they were Communists they got the Freiheit; if they were socialists they got the Forvitz, the Forward; if they were religious they got the Morning Journal; if they were liberal they got the Tag ...We took the Tag." In his father’s case, the choice of paper may have had less to do with politics than family loyalty; Max Sobolofsky, who edited the Tag until his death in 1920, was Bernard’s first cousin—a fact that, significantly, he seems never to have mentioned to his fractious firstborn.34
Bernard could be generous as well. "I remember my father taking us to Philadelphia to see the Yiddish Art Theatre," Stone told an interviewer, relishing the memory of Romain Rolland’s Wolves and Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance. Outward displays of affection were rare, but Max remembered being favored with "skates that were always the best to be had and a bicycle and an expensive leather jacket." Such gifts, he knew, were "the benefit of Pop’s experience and problems with Izzy." Their younger brother Louis put the matter succinctly: "Izzy and his father did not get along."35
The boy’s reluctance to help out in the store, his pointed lack of interest in "the business," was one source of tension. Bernard and Katy’s frequent quarrels may have been another. As he became more successful, Bernard began looking for new business opportunities, leaving the day-to-day running of the store in Katy’s hands, a turn of events she bitterly resented. Most ordering was done from salesmen who visited the store on their rounds, but two or three times a month Katy would have to "fill in." Bundling baby Louis under her arm, she would set off by trolley to Camden, take the ferry to the foot of Market Street in Philadelphia, then proceed by subway or another trolley to the wholesalers in Little Russia to replenish the store’s stock of shoes, overalls, trousers, dresses, hats, or yard goods. Each time she’d return exhausted from the effort. "She would cry that her feet were sore and her bunions throbbing," Louis remembered. "Yet there were customers to be waited on and, behind the store, cooking to be tended."
There is no evidence that Katy and her beloved Izzy explicitly encouraged each other’s resentments. It was years before the full extent of Katy’s distress became known. But that the boy chafed under his father’s authority was obvious. Fortunately, that authority was frequently in abeyance. Every summer Katy took the boys away for a few weeks, either to a small lakeside inn nearby or to Atlantic City, where they usually stayed at the Majestic Hotel. It was there, under a table in the hotel parlor, that the fourteen-year-old Isadore came upon a stack of back issues of the Nation and the New Republic. Whether the credit for inspiration goes to Herbert Croly’s "just far enough left of the liberal consensus to be stimulating" New Republic or Oswald Garrison Villard’s marginally racier Nation, or neither, somehow the boy had found his vocation.36 Here were Mark Van Doren and Edmund Wilson, Lincoln Steffens, Ludwig Lewisohn, Walter Lippmann—all of them "making good," all of them writing "good English." And some of them were Jews.
Bernard’s asthma also gave his son periodic breaks from paternal authority. The search for a healthier climate once sent Bernard on a cruise to Central America; another time he spent a few weeks recovering his breath amid the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Shortly after Isadore’s fourteenth birthday, when his father left on yet another of his convalescent journeys, the boy wasted no time. With the help of a few school friends and the indulgence of a bemused local printer who "opined between meditative squirts of tobacco juice that I would come to a bad end," the Progress was born.37
Two names were listed in the first issue as "Owners and Editors": Isadore B. Feinstein and Gerhard Van Arkel. Tall, confident, popular, and descended from a famous general in the French and Indian Wars, Garry Van Arkel, in many ways young Feinstein’s antithesis, was his closest, perhaps his only, childhood friend, and the two remained friends for more than sixty years. Every morning the two of them walked to school to-gether—"the long and the short of it," their classmates said. In volume one, number one, the division of labor was roughly even, with Van Arkel contributing a note on recent German inventions and a serialized story about a bicycle racer. But any doubts about who was running the show were dispelled in the next month’s issue.38
The masthead of the March 1922 issue of the Progress proclaims Isadore B. Feinstein to be "Editor-in-Chief, Business Manager, Advertising Manager," and superintendent of "The Scrap Head," the paper’s humor section. Van Arkel has been demoted to "Assistant Editor, Literary Editor" while another crony, Francis Fitzpatrick (probably the other World War I dissenter), is listed as "Special Articles." Volume one, number two also includes three poems by Gwynneth Walker, a shy, bookish Welsh girl who, like the editor in chief, "never had a date in high school," and who, like both Feinstein and Fitzpatrick, lived on the unfashionable east side of town. Despite the increase in personnel (and in pages, from six to twelve), the Progress was less a journal des refusés than a one-man band. The layout, with its conservative type and format—the main front-page headline reads EDITORIALS—comes straight from the liberal weeklies. The content, as in the first issue, is perhaps most sympathetically described as idiosyncratic. One thing it wasn’t, the editor in chief ’s later claims notwithstanding, was radical.
"I am," he declared in an article hailing the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, "neither a Democrat nor a Republican. This paper is a freelance in politics, but I must say to the disconcernment [sic] of some of my readers that while Wilson was the thinker, and . . . Harding is the small-town provincial . . . even he too is imbued with the same idealist enthusiasm that urged Wilson onward." Leaving aside the naïve assessment of Warren Harding, the young editorialist’s portrait of Wilson contains not a hint of the contempt that radicals felt for the president who, having campaigned for reelection in 1916 on a peace platform, promptly committed the United States to war. Nor is there a suggestion of rage at the idealist who condoned the arrest, conviction, and imprisonment on a trumped-up "espionage" charge of the Socialist Party leader Eugene Victor Debs, and who also slipped the leash on Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s notorious Red Scare, when in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia thousands of American radicals and pacifists were arrested and hundreds deported. Instead, we have a martyr, "crucified on the cross of politics."39
More than half a century later, Stone’s admiration was undimmed. Wilson, he told a young interviewer, is "still one of my heroes. I know all of the bad things about him, but he still adds up as a great man, great president." Besides the League of Nations and "the enormous amount of progressive legislation" in Wilson’s first term, Stone cited Wilson’s manner: "He spoke with dignity, and didn’t talk down. Greatness is a quality, it’s an imponderable. And when you see it, you know it’s there, it’s hard to describe, but it’s real ...Woodrow Wilson had it. And Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt had it. But no other president I’ve seen had it."
One figure Stone did change his views about was Mohandas Gandhi. "The American Negro needs a Gandhi to lead him, and we need the American Negro to lead us," he was to write prophetically in 1955, and in his later life he often described himself as an early supporter of Gandhi. But he was less admiring in 1922, when, in the midst of the first satyagraha campaign against British rule, the cocky teenager assured his readers, "If there is any knifing to be done in India, Gandhi will do it."40
Despite its shortcomings, the paper sold well. Possibly it was the Literary Department that attracted readers. Here, in addition to syndicated stories the young editor ordered through the mail, which came in lead strips he cut apart with a hacksaw before taking them to the printer, appeared such fictional works as "Love vs. Pugilism" by Isadore Feinstein. Once again the tone is self-assured, though now in the guise of a hardboiled newshound: "At that time I happened to be a reporter on the New York Morning Journal. I was green, eager for a story. It was not a case of enthusiasm, it was a case of necessity. If I did not get a story I would surely be canned."
Or perhaps the people of Haddonfield were moved to pity (or amusement) by the sight of the bespectacled publisher furiously pedaling his bike through town, trailed by his nine-year-old brother, the two of them struggling to carry heavy stacks of papers to the train station to be foisted on commuters en route to Camden or Philadelphia. Every weekday morning that winter, Izzy and Max were there at the station, selling papers. By the second issue the price had risen to 3 a copy; the editor also offered to pay contributors 25¢ for a column of material. By the third issue, there was even a notice optimistically offering a full year’s subscription for 25. Alas, it was not to be.
In volume one, number three, the editor saw progress everywhere triumphant: "William Jennings Bryan’s new role as a modern Torquemada failed," the paper crowed, "when the Kentucky Legislature turned down the bill to prohibit the teaching of Darwinism, agnosticism, atheism and evolution in the public schools." Traditions were questioned: "Why should a party stay in power when its only purpose is to stay in power? Parties are no longer the organ of a part of a people, they have become simply hereditary things like blue eyes and cancer." Shibboleths were sent packing: "It is about time for a few changes in our over-revered constitution," thundered the future First Amendment fanatic. "Why not give the President the powers of a premier?" the future scourge of presidents proposed modestly. "Give him the power to dissolve Congress and ask for another election."
Though Van Arkel was still on the masthead, the Progress was now "owned and published by Isadore B. Feinstein." The responsibilities of sole proprietorship left him no time for fiction, and a serial from the McClure syndicate filled the gap. The paper also left its editor with little time for his schoolwork. He received failing grades for the semester in English composition and geometry. His father, returning from his convalescence to find that his eldest son had become a newspaperman who thought of the store as his newsroom (the third issue listed the store’s phone number in the masthead), was livid. A huge ad urging "Buy at The United Department Stores and Get Your Money’s Worth" made little impression on Bernard, who declared the paper closed. "The Big-Town Round Up"—the serial adventures of "the most likeable puncher who ever rode through sagebrush," promised in the May issue—had to be postponed indefinitely.41
Excerpted from American Radical by D.D. Guttenplan.
Copyright © 2009 by D.D. Guttenplan.
Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.