The Communist in the kippah


A photo accompanying today’s New York Times story about teacher purges in the city during the 1950s shows Sidney Harbatkin, a white yarmulke visible on his head, instructing a group of boys also wearing yarmulkes.

From the context of the article, which describes efforts to uncover information about the Cold War-era purge of teachers suspected of being Communists, it seemed like the photo was taken in a New York City public school. Not so. The photo was taken at the Orthodox Rabbi Jacob Joseph school, then on the Lower East Side and today on campuses in Staten Island and New Jersey.

“They were wonderful to him,” said Harbatkin’s daughter Lisa, who says the school was a refuge for a number of public school teachers ousted because of their politics. Harbatkin was named by informants as a Communist, but surrendered his license rather than submit to interrogation.

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