Howard Sachar Dead at 90; Jewish Historian Par Excellence

Younger photographs of Professor Sachar, courtesy of his wife Eliana Steimatzky Sachar to “The Forward.”

The death of Jewish historian Howard Morley Sachar brings to an end a brilliant and compelling career of the historian who came to be synonymous with the wide sweep of history when it comes to explaining the experience of Jews living on this earth.

Dr. Sachar, a George Washington University scholar and professor, died on April 18, though news of his death was only released to the public on May 20.

He was 90.

Dr. Sachar, a second-generation historian whose most prominent works included the two-volume A History of Israel and A History of the Jews in the Modern World, was considered one of the leading scholars in his field.

Harvard historian Derek ­Penslar called Dr. Sachar a “trailblazer” for his early books, including The Course of Modern Jewish History, published in 1958.

A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, Dr. Sachar’s first volume, appeared in 1976 and chronicled advances toward Jewish statehood, beginning with the Zionist movement early in the 20th century.

Dr. Sachar’s second volume of A History of Israel, published in 1987, covered the years following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and examined the rising ethnic, religious, and ideological tensions of modern Israel.

He described hostility with the Arab world as a “brooding presence in Israel’s life, so integral a feature of the nation’s waking and sleeping hours that it was incorporated into its very collective unconscious.”

Dr. Sachar graduated in 1947 from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and obtained a master’s degree and a doctorate in history at Harvard University in 1950 and 1953, respectively. Among his early positions, Dr. Sachar was director of the Hillel Foundation at the University of California at Los Angeles and Stanford University. From 1961 to 1964, he led a student program in Jerusalem for Brandeis.

In many ways, the culmination of Dr. Sachar’s lifetime of study can be found in his 831-page A History of the Jews in the Modern World (2005), tracing Jewish life since the 18th century.

He “relates an immensely complex story with precision and learning,” Steven Zipperstein wrote in the New York Times. “It convincingly demonstrates how this small people has exerted an uncannily large influence, but an influence that is frequently a byproduct of the wider world’s often grossly exaggerated preoccupation with Jews and Judaism.”

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