Passing of Prof. Leo Hershkowitz

Katherine Aron-Beller's picture
H-Judaic is profoundly saddened to learn of the passing of Prof. Leo Hershkowitz, professor emeritus of history at Queens College, where he taught for many decades, and one of the leading experts on colonial New York Jewish history.  In 1968, Hershkowitz coedited Letters of the Franks Family 1733-1748 (later re-edited by Edith B. Gelles as The Letters of Abigaill Levy Franks,  followed in 1967 by Wills of Early New York Jews (1704-1799).
His most famous book, Tweeed's New York: Another Look appeared in 1977. Subsequently, he published numerous articles on early New York, including classic pieces published in American Jewish History and  American Jewish Archives Journal.    
Joep de Koning of The Tolerance Park Foundation wrote the following about Prof. Hershkowitz:  
" On August 10, 2017, Prof. Dr. Leo Hershkowitz died. He was a driving force of early NY history based on primary archival research. He rejected biased myths and legends derived from flawed secondary sources that constituted false history.  What comes to mind immediately is his success in identifying New York City’s first known Jews, Ashkenazim, who had arrived by choice on the Dutch ship Peereboom in August of 1654. One of them, Asser Levy, born in Vilna, Poland, died in New York City in 1682. Hershkowitz’s always-proactive-follow-up enabled him to get the NY City Council to name a section of East 23rd Street as ‘Asser Levy Place.’ But more importantly, in 1977, he managed the City Council to establish New York City’s birth year as being 1625 from its earlier fallacious birth year of 1664 as, then, inscribed in New York City’s official seal and on its flag."   

Former Judge Albert Rosenblatt of the New York Court of Appeals and former Justice of the New York State Supreme Court wrote about Leo Hershkowitz in the prologue of the book “Opening Statements: Law and Jurisprudence in Dutch New York” (published by the State University of New York Press for the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York):

If we are lucky records will go to a willing archive, but too often end up in trash… Historian Leo Hershkowitz has rescued many valuable documents, in some cases moments before they were on the way to the shredder. He has climbed into dumpsters to retrieve unappreciated items. He tells of hearing, “You want these things? Take ‘em.” That is why Queens College, where he is a history professor, held several archives for a time. Hershkowitz since distributed the queens archives to the care of various institutions. The City of Kingston wanted the Dutch documents related to Ulster County, and he furnished them. Hershkowitz has sent records of New York’s Court of Chancery and Supreme Court of Judicature – a huge collection of pre-1847 court records – to the State Archives, where they are tended carefully under the direction of Christine W. Ward…

In 1999, Prof. Hershkowitz became the first member of the ‘Education and History Committee’ of the ‘Foundation for Historic New Amsterdam’ (renamed, in 2007, ‘The Tolerance Park Foundation’.) He remained its active supporter until his last breath.
We thank Dr. Gary P. Zola for passing along this sad news, and extend deepest condolences to Prof. Hershkowitz's family and students.​
​Chair, H-Judaic