“Blood lust” describes my passion for Daniel Horowitz’s engrossing saga, “On The Cusp: The Yale Class Of 1960 And A World On The Verge Of Change.”
Dan Horowitz grew up around the corner from me in New Haven. We haven’t been in touch for over 50 years, but his visit to the Ivy Style Exhibit at FIT two years ago, together with research for this book, prompted renewal of the acquaintance we shared growing up. The interconnectedness of Jewish geography, distant family ties, and the purloined gossip of forgotten times enlivened our breakfast splurge over sturgeon and bagels at Barney Greengrass on Amsterdam Avenue.
The book’s opening chapter, “Think Yiddish,” follows the author’s maternal Botwinik (also part of my family) and paternal Horowitz family from a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement of Tsarist Russia to New Haven. Dan’s father Bill (Yale ’29), worked his way through college. His son chronicles the father’s turbulent but ultimately successful attempt in 1964 to become first Jewish member of the Yale Corporation, a campaign marred by “gentleman’s agreement” prejudice of “Aryan from Darien” alumni.
Chapter two, “Dress British,” quotes yours truly and explores the connection of J.Press to the Yale community, together with with a portrait of other renowned local Jewish merchant tailors and haberdashers, most of whom once worked for one another, lived in the same neighborhood, belonged to the same country club, and ended up buried in the same cemetery on Whalley Avenue. Horowitz, who is professor emeritus of American Studies at Smith College and the author of several previous books, including “The Anxieties of Affluence,” affirms the significance of Eli wardrobe along with other elements of style, including the stance and speech that enabled an outsider to become an insider.
He records the twilight years of WASP Ascendency, a time of religious, ethnic, racial, and sexual exclusion that embolden a 1949 conversation between popular Yale Dean Bill De Vane and then-president Charles Seymour. De Vane boasted of the superb English stock that settled and consolidated on the Eastern Seaboard to promote “our way of life in America.”
Not the way of life for public high school graduate and Jewish townie Dan Horowitz. His recollections of entitled others, the St. Grottlesex crowd, secret societies, restricted private clubs, Yale Athletic Association celebrities, and legions of acappella songsters off on a spree is pure Balzac — with a dose of Philip Roth.
Subtitles in the text offer a Hollywood preview trailer of this personal, academic and sociological look at cultural history. My favorites: “Yale Men and American Jews,” “Conscience of a Christian: William Sloane Coffin Jr.,” “How the Yale Faculty Viewed African American Life,” “A. Bartlett Giamatti and Class Consciousness,” “No Longer Dink Stover’s Yale,” and the final curtain, “Whatever Happened to the Class of 1960?”
Parochial advice from a maven from New Haven: “Where’er upon life’s seas you sail, read this book for God, for country and for Yale.” — RICHARD PRESS