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Morris Gordon Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-910

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the life of Rabbi Morris Gordon, particularly the time he spent serving as a chaplain in Burma and China during World War II. Included in the collection are letters, photographs, maps, newspapers and newspaper clippings, and sermons and other short religious writings. Of particular interest are letters written to Gordon's wife while he was stationed in the Pacific detailing his daily activities, as well as essays written by German refugee children in Shanghai entitled "Home is Where My Heart Is." Also included is Gordon's autobiography.

Kept separately are artifacts from Gordon's time as a chaplain in Burma and China during World War II, including binoculars in a leather case, a knife, a leather pouch, a watch, a sign reading "Chaplain," a magnifying glass, a Bronze Star, chaplain insignia, 10 Commandment pins, captain insignia, dog tags, a metal bracelet, and a small wooden box containing a Japanese signature stamp and red wax. The box list includes oak leaf cluster battle decorations, but these items were not found.

Dates

  • undated, 1937-2006

Creator

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Biographical Note

Morris Gordon (1914-2005)

Morris Gordon was born on August 25, 1914, in Russian-occupied Baronovich. At the time of his birth, Morris's father Isaac had already immigrated to America, along with his uncle Haskell. Until the rest of the family was able to immigrate to the United States, Morris's mother Esther, aunt Sylvia, old sister Sonia, and cousin Sam worked at their grocery store, supplying the village and the Czarist soldiers stationed nearby. They left Baronovich under the cover of darkness and sailed to America, where they settled in Albany, New York.

Along with other immigrant children, Gordon attended Community Hebrew School, where his father was the principal. In the summer of 1927, shortly before Gordon's Bar Mitzvah, the family moved to the Bronx so that Gordon could continue his Hebrew studies. He began by attending a local Hebrew school in the mornings and DeWitt Clinton High School in the afternoon. However, the local Hebrew school was not challenging enough, and he was soon accepted to the Hebrew Institute of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva. After graduating from high school, Gordon enrolled at City College of New York, where he received a bachelor's degree in social science, studying anthropology and sociology. In the middle of his senior year, Gordon married Frances Feigelson. Upon graduation in 1936, he applied to both Columbia Law School and Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Though he received a tuition scholarship to Columbia, it was not nearly enough, so Gordon attended the Jewish Theological Seminary. Acceptance to the seminary was a great honor, and came with a $5,000 a year stipend. With his room and board taken care of by the seminary, Gordon was then able to get a master's degree in economics and history from Columbia as well. He graduated from seminary as a Rabbi with Distinction, winning awards in Jewish literature, cantorial music, and public speaking. In 1972, the seminary awarded him an honorary doctorate.

When WWII began, Gordon enlisted in the army, but was not called up. A year into the war, he joined a boyhood friend as a chaplain in the U.S. army. He was sent to a station in Burma, where the "Fighting Tenth" Air Force was responsible for bombing missions that would protect the Burma Road. Gordon was the first Jewish chaplain to serve in the region of Burma, China, and India, and he was responsible for providing services for soldiers of all faith. Gordon volunteered to be the first chaplain to make the trip up the Burma Road, leading services for troops along the way. Gordon was awarded a Bronze Star after he was injured by a bomb while trying to cross a river. After the war, Gordon worked with German-Jewish refugee children in the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai. He was eventually able to get over a thousand orphaned children on a boat to Palestine.

After the war, Gordon served as a rabbi at Temple Adath Jeshurun in Minneapolis from 1946 to 1952. In 1952, Gordon, his wife, and two children moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a "freelance" rabbi. He would receive a call from a small group of families who were trying to build a congregation, but did not yet have enough money for a full-time rabbi. He would make himself available for no charge until the new congregation was large enough to afford a full-time rabbi, and then move on to the next congregation. He helped found eight congregations in the Washington area, including Mishkan Torah (Bethesda, MD), Olam Tikvah (Greenbelt, MD), Har Shalom (Potomac, MD), Beth Shalom (Columbia, MD), Beth Tikvah (Rockville, MD), and the Gaithersburg Hebrew Congregation (Gaithersburg, MD).

After the death of his first wife, Gordon married Lori Heyman Eisenberg, with whom he founded Practical Applications of Intimate Relationship Skills (PAIRS), a program for couples struggling with their marriages. Gordon decided to make PAIRS and saving marriages his new purpose in life. Gordon worked with PAIRS until his death on March 8, 2005, in Falls Church, Virginia. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C., only the third rabbi to receive this honor.

References

Morris, Gordon and Lori Gordon. Dare to Be…The Autobiography of Rabbi Morris Gordon. Lulu Press, 2006.

Extent

2.2 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box, 1 oversized box (Museum Collection), and 1 oversized folder in a shared box)

Language of Materials

English

Hebrew

Chinese

Abstract

This collection documents the life of Rabbi Morris Gordon, particularly the time he spent serving as a chaplain in Burma and China during World War II. Included in the collection are letters, photographs, maps, newspapers and newspaper clippings, and sermons and other short religious writings. Of particular interest are letters written to Gordon’s wife while he was stationed in the Pacific detailing his daily activities, as well as essays written by German refugee children in Shanghai entitled “Home is Where My Heart Is.” Also included is Gordon’s autobiography.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged into a single series as follows:

Acquisition Information

Donated by Lori Heyman Gordon in August 2008.

Related Material

Artifacts from Rabbi Morris Gordon's collection are located in the American Jewish Historical Society's Museum Collection. Items may be viewed by clicking here.
Title
Guide to the Morris Gordon (1914-2005) Papers, undated, 1937-2006   *P-910
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Sarah Glover
Date
© 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States