Throughout Cal Vainstein’s long life, he touched many hearts and changed countless lives. From his humble beginnings, Cal never let any obstacle get in the way of his dreams. He was a friend, a supportive father, a loving husband, and later a philanthropic supporter of peace education, children’s rights, and interfaith bridge building. In the final years of his life, he was an earnest and humble seeker of spiritual development. In his 92 years, Cal never lost the fascinating and enigmatic creative spirit that enthralled his friends and family.
Cal Vainstein was born to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants in the Bronx. Cal liked to tell the story of how his parents met in the 1920s in a movie theater on Delancey Street on the lower east side of New York when his father offered to walk his mother home under his umbrella during a rainstorm. Cal’s father, Morris Vainstein, had landed in New York after jumping ship from the merchant marines years after leaving his village in Bessarabia. Cal’s mother, Fanny Vainstein, who remembers both the pogroms and also seeing a parade with Tzar Nicholas, immigrated with her niece from Kyiv, leaving the rest of her family behind. After World War II, Cal remembered both of his parents contacting the Red Cross to search for relatives left in Eastern Europe, only to find that all had perished during the war.
A poor family who couldn’t afford medical care, Cal’s brother and beloved companion died from complications from the measles when he was seven, leaving him as an only child. Nevertheless, the theme of strength and resilience emerged when Cal spoke about growing up in the Bronx. As a boy, he struggled with learning disabilities which led him to pour his soul into sports. He could always be found hanging around the neighborhood with his friends playing games like stickball, curveball, punchball, or the notoriously dangerous Johnny on the Pony. These tough street games taught him never to give up. And Cal never did. He later went on to be named the best tackle in the city of New York after he held his ground against “The Refrigerator,” who broke his nose during a critical play that won his team the city-wide championship. From a young age, Cal understood the importance of strength and resilience and took these lessons to heart for the rest of his long life.
After finishing high school, Cal was drafted into the Marines and sent to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. There, he was nicknamed “Captain Rosebud” after convincing a colonel to put him in charge of a rose garden instead of putting him in KP (Kitchen Police) for getting caught sleeping on the grounds after returning from a weekend leave that provided lots of fun but little sleep.
On his weekends off, Cal would head to Los Angeles to participate in B’nai B’rith events, where he eventually met his first wife, Marcia Rice, and later had two daughters, Andrea Lynn and Dayna Sue.
After completing his military service, he stayed in California, sensing new opportunities. He completed his studies at Woodbury University and landed a career in the fashion industry selling junior dresses for Betty Barkley. While Cal was happily working at Betty Barkley, he had always wanted to start his own dress label. A few years later, Cal co-founded Oops of California and began designing mod clothes inspired by the Bronx fashion of his childhood. After a bit of tweaking, the hiphuggers pants were born, an icon of the 60’s cultural revolution.
He first sold his hiphuggers out of his downtown loft factory to help him get money to buy the fabric to manufacture more hiphuggers. Quickly, when lines of women began forming around the block hoping to snag a pair, Cal knew he had a hit. Soon he was selling hiphuggers to boutiques and department stores throughout Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.
Things were looking up after Cal’s first business so he started his next clothing line, New Hero, which was considered by Time magazine to be part of California’s “free-spirited sexy-sunkist body-liberating reality clothes that became part of American chic.”
Over the next decades, Cal built his thriving businesses and passionately loved his four daughters – Andrea and Dayna, who arrived during his first marriage, and Hannah and Sarah, who arrived during his next and lasting marriage to Shepha Schneirsohn Vainstein.
He also became part of a group of accomplished bodybuilders that worked out in Studio City at stuntman Vince Gironda’s Gym. Declaring that the gym was his temple, Cal always incorporated training at the gym several times during the week as part of his ongoing lifestyle. Even a week before he died at the age of 92, Cal could be seen wearing boxing gloves and practicing punches with his trainer.
In 2003, Cal was diagnosed with metastasized melanoma and given six months to live. His wife, Shepha, promised to do everything in her power to heal him. He beat the odds by finding a circle of healing practitioners who could think outside the box. He conquered that disease and went on to live another 20 years to enjoy his daughters and celebrate the birth of his four grandchildren.
In 2006, during a trip to Israel, Cal and Shepha visited several Israeli and Palestinian schools for children and met dedicated teachers and families who were committed to creating a more peaceful and healthier world for children. Their eyes were opened to the powerful potential of education to promote peace by supporting a healing education for children growing up in crisis zones.
Immediately after the trip, Cal and Shepha started reGeneration Education which has helped thousands of children retain their zest for life, empathy for others, and a sense of play. Over the past 17 years, reGeneration launched trauma-informed schools for children in Israel and the West Bank, hosted conferences and training focused on educating children experiencing toxic stress, and built interfaith networks in the U.S. that model healing for reGeneration’s friends in the Middle East.
Cal Vainstein passed away on April 8, 2023. In his final moments surrounded by family, his lips formed the holy words of sh’ma and a short prayer he had recited daily for years:
Oh, Great Spirit of the Universe
Source of all beings.
Oneness of all things.
One of his great longings was to see children receive an education that made the world more beautiful, moral, and unified.
Your donation to the Cal Vainstein Memorial Fund will help reGeneration Education continue to build a network of trauma-informed peace schools that educate children so they can imagine and create a more peaceful and productive future for themselves and the world. Give today and help build the peaceful world Cal envisioned for us all.