Sachar, Abram Leon

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Sachar, Abram Leon

(b. 15 February 1899 in New York City; d. 24 July 1993 in Newton, Massachusetts), educator, scholar, and founding president of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Sachar was an early authority in Jewish studies.

Sachar was the eldest of six children born to Samuel Sachar, who was born in Lithuania and immigrated to the United States in the 1880s, and Sarah Abramowitz, who was born in Jerusalem and came to the United States at the age of seventeen. In 1906 the family left New York City for St. Louis, where Samuel Sachar became a successful realtor and Abram attended Yeatman High School, from which he graduated in 1916. Sachar attended Washington University in St. Louis and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history together in 1920. Following graduation, he studied history in England at Emmanuel College, Cambridge University. In 1923 Sachar became the first person to be granted a Ph.D. from that university. His thesis was “The Victorian House of Lords.” In 1926 he married Thelma Horowitz, whom he had met at Washington University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1925 with a major in Romance languages. The couple had three children.

After returning to the United States in 1923, the smallstatured (five feet, six inches) Sachar joined the faculty at the University of Illinois, where he taught for the next twenty-four years and served on that institution’s Hillel Foundation. He was the national director of the National Hillel Foundation from 1933 to 1948 and the chair of the Hillel National Commission from 1948 to 1955. Sachar was a leading authority on Jewish history long before Jewish studies were fashionable in the United States. His books include Factors in Jewish History (1927); A History of the Jews (1930), which was reprinted six times; jews in the Contemporary World: Sufferance Is the Badge (1939); The Course of Our Times (1972); A Host at Last (1976, rev. ed. 1995); and The Redemption of the Unwanted (1983). In addition Sachar contributed articles and reviews to such publications as the New Republic, the Menorah Journal, the Saturday Review of Literature, and the New York Herald Tribune. In 1945 Hebrew Union College awarded him an honorary doctorate of Hebrew letters.

In 1948 Sachar became the first president of the newly opened Brandeis University, the first Jewish-sponsored nonsectarian university in the United States. As the founding president, Sachar envisioned Brandeis becoming the Jewish Princeton University, a nonsectarian place of learning initiated by the Jewish community for the benefit of all faiths. Indeed, in his installation ceremony on 7 October 1948 he pledged that the university would offer “opportunity … to all regardless of race, creed, or color.” Sachar served as the president of Brandeis until 1968, when he was appointed chancellor. In 1981 he became chancellor emeritus, a position he held for the remainder of his life.

Under Sachar’s leadership Brandeis University attained a reputation for academic excellence. Brandeis opened in 1948 with 107 students and 13 faculty members. At the time of Sachar’s death in 1993 the institution enrolled 3,700 undergraduate and graduate students and had a full-time faculty of 360. A tireless faculty recruiter, he attracted to Brandéis some of academia’s best researchers and scholars.

During his tenure Sachar raised $250 million for the school and saw the university grow into a complex of ninety buildings on 235 acres. He established the School of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, the largest and most comprehensive program in the discipline outside of Israel. In addition he promoted the Jewish heritage of Brandeis through the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry, the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, and the Benjamin S. Hornstein Program for Jewish Communal Services. Sachar became close friends with Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston, who supported the building of a Catholic chapel alongside the Protestant chapel on the Brandeis campus. Sachar was also a strong advocate for civil rights. In 1966 he signed K. C. Jones, a star of the Boston Celtics basketball team, as the Brandeis basketball coach, thus making Brandeis the first nonblack-sponsored university in the country to name an African American as the coach of a sports team.

Sachar died of respiratory failure on 24 July 1993 at his home in suburban Newton, Massachusetts. He was buried in Temple Israel Cemetery in Wakefield, Massachusetts, but the following spring he was reinterred on the Brandeis campus in front of the international center that bears his

Sachar is discussed in Israel Goldstein, Brandeis University: Chapter of Its Founding (1951). The testimonials published following Sachar’s death are the best source of information. See particularly “Abram Sachar: 1899-1993, Valedictory,” Brandeis Review (1993), and Howard Jeruchimowitz, “First President Abram Sachar Dies at 94,” Justice: The Independent Student Newspaper of Brandeis University (27 July 1993). An obituary is in the New York Times (25 July 1993).

jack R. Fischel