Schappes, Morris U(rman) 1907-2004

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SCHAPPES, Morris U(rman) 1907-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born May 3, 1907, in Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukraine; died June 3, 2004, in New York, NY. Editor, educator, and author. Schappes was best known as the former editor of Jewish Currents and an authority on Jewish history. Having spent his early childhood in the Ukraine and Brazil, Schappes ended up in New York City after his family, then en route back to the Ukraine, abandoned their trip in New York when World War I began. The family settled in New York City, Americanizing their surname from Shapshilevich to Schappes. Earning his B.A. at City College in 1928, he completed a master's degree at Columbia University in 1930 and did further graduate study there until 1934. By this time, Schappes had become sympathetic to leftist causes, joining the Communist Party in 1934. He was working as a tutor for the English department at Columbia when the university tried to fire him for his political activities. His students defended him, however, and he was able to remain until 1940, when he came under investigation again. When the New York State Legislature formed a formal committee, Schappes was brought in to name people at Columbia who he knew to be Communists. Schappes refused to cooperate and in 1941 was sent to prison for over a year for perjury. Much later, in 1981, Columbia University issued an official apology to Schappes for its actions. While in prison, Schappes studied Jewish history and taught himself Hebrew, an education that would mark the beginning of a lifelong passion. When he was released from jail, he worked in a Queens factory before finding a place on the editorial board of the magazine Jewish Life, which was closely associated with the Communist Party. By 1958, the editors at Jewish Life had become disenchanted with the course Communist Russia had taken. Feeling that the Jewish community in the Soviet Union was endangered by political policies there, the staff withdrew from the party and, renaming the magazine Jewish Currents, focused more generally on Jewish affairs around the world. Schappes, who later abandoned the Communist Party himself, was named editor in 1958 and led Jewish Currents for the next four decades. Meanwhile, he taught Jewish studies, first at the Jefferson School of Social Sciences from 1948 to 1957, then at the School of Jewish Knowledge from 1958 to 1969. Beginning in 1972, Schappes was an adjunct professor of American Jewish history at Queens College of the City University of New York. Highly regarded as an authority on the subject, he was the author of The Jews in the United States, 1654-1954: A Pictorial History (1958) and editor of A Documentary History of the Jews in the U.S.A.: 1654-1875 (1950; third edition, 1971), among other works. He was the recipient of several awards for his scholarship, including the 1993 Torchbearer Award from the American Jewish Historical Society.



New York Times, June 9, 2004, p. C15.

Washington Post, June 11, 2004, p. B6.


Jewish Currents Online, (August 30, 2004).