Across two generations the Lipsky family participated in a wide variety of cultural, professional and political spheres: journalism, law, history, literature, insurance, theater, interior decorating and, most pivotally, the American Zionist movement. Louis Lipsky (1876-1963) stands as the most recognized figure in the family, given his status as a founder of the American Zionist movement and key figure in and witness to the conflict between Chaim Weizmann and Louis Brandeis. For more on Louis Lipsky see Guide to the Papers of Louis Lipsky (P-672) .
Louis Lipsky and Charlotte Schacht (1879-1959) married in 1906. Charlotte had immigrated to New York City in 1895 from Riga in modern-day Latvia and they met through the Yiddish literary and theater scene they were both a part of in their early years. Charlotte was active in the Jewish socialist movement and an admirer of Emma Goldman as well as a founding member of the Manhattan chapter of the Women’s American ORT and a member of Hadassah. She also sculpted and sang. Because Lipsky did not financially support his family until he started a life insurance company in 1930, Charlotte began her own business as an interior decorator and on her income alone bought a home for the family and put their three sons through college. 1
Their eldest son, David (1907-1996) became a publicist. The youngest son, Joseph (Joel) (1915- ), changed his last name to Carmichael “as a way of detaching himself,” and entered the academic world, becoming a historian, editor of Midstream, and Russian-to-English translator. 2 He wrote and published extensively on 20th century Russian history, anti-Semitism and the history of Christianity and Islam. His first wife, Mary Carr (Hood) (1923-1998), was a journalist and an editorial officer at the United Nations Secretariat.
Charlotte and Louis’s middle son, Eleazar (1911-1993), carved out a wide spectrum of careers for himself as a lawyer, novelist, journalist, playwright and active Zionist, much of his activities overlapping with and carrying on his father’s interests. Eleazar met Hannah Kohn (1912-2001) in the late 1920s, possibly while at Jewish summer camp in Maine, and they married in 1935. 3 Hannah had a career as a social worker. Her father, Rabbi Jacob Kohn (1881-1968), was an author, a founder of the United Synagogue of America and dean of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.
After receiving his B.A. from Columbia and attending Columbia Law School in the early 1930s, Eleazar practiced law privately from 1934 to 1939. Beginning in 1942 and until 1946, he was the Assistant District Attorney of New York County with the Homicide Bureau. In 1946 he reestablished a private law practice, retiring from it a few weeks prior to his death in 1993. He served as legal counsel to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the Jewish Week, the American Examiner, the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, and the Mystery Writers of America. In the last decade of his life much of his legal practice centered on artists’ contract issues and disputes, and he was legal adviser to the New York Artists Equity Association. 4
There is evidence early on of Eleazar’s interest in Zionism. By 1936 he had written book reviews for the newsletter of Masada, the youth branch of the Zionist Organization of America, and from 1938 to 1940 he was President of Masada. 5 He was also National President of Avukah, a student Zionist organization. Later he was a member of the World Zionist Congress Court and on the National Executive Committee of the Zionist Organization of America.
During what may have been a three-year hiatus from practicing law (1939-1942), he worked two years as a traveling lecturer and fundraiser for the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), following which he was Executive Director of the National Committee of the American Red Mogen Dovid for Palestine, Inc. (now known as Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross) for a year. Throughout his life he would be an advocate, both in his writing and speeches, for many Jewish causes. He spoke on a variety of topics, such as the American Zionist movement, relations between Jewish and African-American communities, the Eichmann trial and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He was on the Executive Committee of American Jewish Congress (AJC) and active in the American Friends of the Hebrew University. He served on the board of directors of multiple organizations and institutions, such as the American Jewish League for Israel and his father’s company, Eastern Life Insurance.
Also involved in the journalism world, Eleazar at one point had his own syndicated news column and was editor of the New Palestine, 1939 to 1940. After serving as legal advisor to the JTA for twelve years he was elected President in 1960, holding that post until 1967.
Culling from his experience in criminal law, Eleazar wrote best-selling mystery novels, short stories and plays, and a number of his works were adapted into motion pictures. His novels include The Kiss of Death (1947), Murder One (1948), The People Against O’Hara (1950, made into a film starring Spencer Tracy), Lincoln McKeever (1953), The Scientists (1959), The Devil’s Daughter (1969) and Malpractice (1972). Additionally, he wrote more than 150 episodes for the radio series, Indictment, between 1956 and 1969. He was a member of the Authors Guild, the Writers Guild of America, and PEN.
In 1970 Eleazar signed a contract with Doubleday for a three-volume fictionalized history of three generations of his family. Throughout the 1970s he researched and gathered many materials directly or indirectly relating to his mother and father (such as the correspondence of Bernard Richards, a friend and colleague of his father’s, from the 1919 Paris Peace Conference). At the same time, intent on encouraging scholarly analysis of his father’s role in the Zionist movement, Eleazar announced to a few graduate programs that he would fund a doctoral student who chose to write a dissertation on Louis Lipsky. Some of his research efforts seemed to have been aimed at providing material for that student to work with as well. On his own project, he only got so far as a 225-page manuscript, focused primarily on his mother and entitled Hedda after the fictional name he used for his mother’s character. In 1981 Doubleday cancelled the contract, and a legal battle ensued. It appears that after this dispute Eleazar turned his legal interests to artists’ contracts.
Following the contract collapse, Eleazar began making plans to write a biography of his father’s life between 1900 and 1945, examining in particular Louis Lipsky’s personal life and struggles within the Zionist organizations and using the material Eleazar had already collected for the family novel. He wrote to historian Ben Halpern in 1988: “I am often told that I am uniquely qualified to tell this story and that if I fail to do so, it will never be told.” 6 Before he was able to start writing the biography, Eleazar died of leukemia in 1993, survived by his wife, Hannah, and three sons, Jonathan, Michael and David.
- 1 Kanter, Elana. “Lipsky, Charlotte.” Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Eds. Hyman, Paula and Moore, Deborah. New York: Routledge, 1997, Vol. 1., p. 860.; Eleazar Lipsky to Phyllis Jackson, Dec 15, 1969, Lipsky Family Papers, P-858, Box 11, Folder 6; “Lipsky, Charlotte.” Concise Dictionary of American Jewish Biography, Eds. Marcus, Jacob Rader, and Daniels, Judith M. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1994, Vol. 2. p. 394; “Mrs. Louis Lipsky Dies.” New York Times. March 17, 1959, p. 33.
- 2 Duncan, Erika. “Separating History from Conditions of Religion, Separating History from Religious Faith.” New York Times. March 19, 1995. Section 13, p. 1, 21.
- 3 “Miss Hannah Kohn to be Wed Sunday” Jul 5, 1935, New York Times, p. 10.
- 4 American Jewish Year Book, 1995; Pace, Eric. “Eleazar Lipsky, 81, a Prosecutor, Lawyer, Novelist and Playwright.” New York Times. February 15, 1993, A16.
- 5 American Jewish Year Book, 1938-1939, 1939-1940.
- 6 Eleazar Lipsky to Ben Halpern, August 24, 1988; Lipsky Family Papers; P-858; Box 6; Folder 10.
From the guide to the Lipsky Family Papers, 1904-1992 (bulk 1925-1992), (American Jewish Historical Society)
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|associatedWith||Eastern Life Insurance (Judea Life Insurance)||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Jewish Telegraphic Agency (New York, N.Y.)||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Judea Industrial Corporation||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Kohn, Jacob, 1881-1968||person|
|associatedWith||Lipsky, Charlotte (Schacht)||person|
|associatedWith||Lipsky, Hannah (Kohn)||person|
|associatedWith||Lipsky, Louis, 1876-1963||person|
|associatedWith||Mack, Julian W. (Julian William), 1866-1943||person|
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|New York (N.Y.)|