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Leveling the Field

New scholarship continues family legacy of helping, healing, and educating

As a young man, Stanley H. Kaplan lived by the words "tikkun olam"—Hebrew for "heal the world."

"My father believed human life and health are keys to happiness," says his daughter, Nancy Kaplan Belsky, president of the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation, which in that spirit established a scholarship fund at the Tufts University School of Medicine in recognition of Nancy's husband, Mark Belsky, M74.

The son of Jewish immigrants who ran a plumbing business in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Kaplan aspired to become a doctor. He graduated second in his class at City College of New York, applied to every public medical school in New York State—and was rejected by them all.

The reason: his faith. The Immigration Act of 1924, which limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, had given rise to quotas capping the Jewish population of student bodies, according to Sol Gittleman, Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor of Judaic Studies at Tufts. Kaplan faced a choice: Leave home and train in Europe, as his cousins had done, or give up on his dream of becoming a physician. He did neither. Instead Kaplan, who had a gift for tutoring his peers in grade school, found a new way to help and heal: He opened a tutoring business in his parents' basement to assist others in gaining admittance to college based solely on their abilities.

That mom-and-pop business, the Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Center, blossomed into a company whose name has become synonymous with success on college entrance exams, Kaplan Test Prep. "Instead of becoming a doctor, my father trained hundreds of thousands of scholars to become doctors with his MCAT [Medical College Admissions Test] and medical boards [United States Medical Licensing Examination] courses," says Nancy.

In 1984, the Washington Post Company bought the family business, and Stanley and his wife, Rita, used a portion of the proceeds to create the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation with missions of creating greater access to education and improving medical care.

Last summer, the foundation's board established the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation Scholarship Fund in honor of Mark Belsky, M74, at the School of Medicine; the gift will be doubled through the university's Financial Aid Initiative.

Scholarships can level the playing field, Nancy and Mark say, noting that someone who has the passion and necessary skill should never fear that money is a barrier to his or her success. Mark, who also serves on the board of the family foundation, became a highly sought-after Boston-area hand surgeon, treating everyone from athletes and musicians to infants and the elderly. He was consistently named to Boston Magazine's "Top Doctors" list.

As chairman of orthopedics at Newton-Wellesley Hospital for 26 years, Mark perpetuated the teaching legacy in the Kaplan family by mentoring students. These days, he is semi-retired, but remains involved with the School of Medicine as a member of its board of advisors and as a clinical professor of orthopedics.

"The opportunity to become a physician and train at Tufts transformed my life," says Mark. "I thought this scholarship would be a good use of our philanthropic resources, to make it more affordable for good, young doctors to train at Tufts."

Tufts University School of Medicine, unlike other American medical schools in the 1930s, did not apply a Jewish quota, says Gittleman. Though the school received a letter of reprimand from the American Association of Medical Colleges because of that, Tufts stood by its decision.

The Belskys say that made their gift more meaningful. "We're really committed to helping young people reach their aspirations, which my father was unable to do because of his religious faith," says Nancy. "Supporting an institution for which religion was not a barrier is very important to us."