Select Shapiro Miscellany

Here are some Shapiro stories and accounts over the years:

Speyer and Shapiro

In Jewish sources Speyer is best known as one of the three Jewish communities on the Rhine, the other two being Worms and Mainz, which were destroyed during the first Crusade. These three communities are also remembered for their set of civil regulations known as Takanot "Shum," Shum is an acronym for Shapiro (Speyer), Vermaiza (Worms), and Magentza (Mainz). 

In spite of the destruction of the Jewish community in 1096, it seems that it was later restored since there were references to rabbinical scholars from Speyer in later periods.  The most famous of these was Rav Shmuel of Shapiro, whose son Rav Shlomo Shapiro, rabbi of Heilbronn and Landau, was traditionally the first to use Shapiro as a family name.  While there are no precise dates for Rav Shmuel or Rav Shlomo, contemporary evidence suggests that they were active during the middle of the 15th century. 

All traditional Shapiro lineages in eastern Europe start a little later - with Rav Noson Notte Shapiro of Grodno who died in 1577.  From his line came the famous mekubal, Rav Noson Notte Shapiro of Krakow, author of Megale Amukat.

Two Shapiro Brothers

Two Shapiro brothers were successful meat wholesalers, supplying meat to Napoleon’s army.  During Napoleon’s 1812 war against Russia, one brother, Abraham, accompanied Bonaparte’s army as it rampaged across Europe.  The other remained in Amsterdam.  After Napoleon’s drive faltered on the steppes of Russia, Abraham Shapiro remained in Russia.  He married a Russian woman and settled there.  Meanwhile, the family of his brother in Amsterdam died out.  

In 1880 an attorney wrote to Abraham’s descendants from Amsterdam saying he would come to Slutsk near the family home to deliver the yerusha, the inheritance, of the Amsterdam’s family to its Russian relatives.  The family gathered to receive what it thought would be vast riches.  They were very disappointed to receive not money, but a yichus brif instead, a listing of their patrilineal descent from Ezra. 

The yichus brif explained that the family possessed the name Shapiro because Ezra was a scribe and that the Hebrew word for scribe was sofer.  Over millennia sofer became Shapiro.

Shapiros in America by Country of Origin

Most of the Shapiros that came to America originated from Russia rather than from Germany:

Country of Origin

Mobster Jacob Shapiro

Shapiro grew up on the streets in Brooklyn.  It was said that he met his crime partner, Lepke Buchalter, there when both boys were trying to rob the same pushcart.  Instead of fighting over the spoils, they agreed on a partnership.  Buchalter served as the brains and Shapiro provided the muscle in an alliance that lasted for decades.  They were active in labor racketeering in the garment district and later in bootlegging. 

Jacob was a big hulk of a man who had a way of roaring when he was angry.  He would yell: “get out of here;” and it would sound like “gurrah da here.”  He did it so often that his nickname became Gurrah. 

In the late 1920’s Shapiro and Buchalter formed Murder Inc, an organization that performed contract murders for organized crime.  One of its most dedicated members, Shapiro personally oversaw many contract murders and recruited promising gunmen for future membership. 

By the late 1930’s, however, Shapiro and Buchalter had become the focus of US Attorney Thomas Dewey's crime investigations.  Shapiro was eventually convicted of conspiracy and extortion and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.  Buchalter went to the electric chair for murder in 1944.

Shapiro's Delicatessan

The Shapiros had once been the primary food supplier for the Czar’s naval fleet in Odessa.  But the anti-Jewish pogroms that erupted in Russia at the turn of the century meant that Louis Shapiro was spending many nights fending off vandals while Rebecca and the children were hiding in the basement.  The Shapiros therefore emigrated to America in 1903. 

They settled in Indianapolis.  After raising capital through pushcart street sales of flour and sugar, they set up shop at Meridian and McCarty streets, with living quarters above the store for themselves and their eight children.  The Shapiros saw to it that the grocery was a family affair, waking the children at three each morning with the rallying cry: "The day is half over already!" 

The grocery featured canned goods stacked in dazzling pyramid displays, pickles and mayonnaise, and kosher deli meats supplied by the Vienna Meat Company out of Chicago.  The transition to restaurant began after the end of Prohibition in the mid-1930’s, when aging Louis, suffering from back problems, delegated the running of the store to sons Abe, Izzy, and Max. 

Max served as major domo of Shapiro's for 44 years.  He guided Shapiro's through several expansions, including a kitchen and bakery that could fully accommodate the preparation of its minimum daily requirement of 300 pounds of steam-cooked corned beef briskets; 100 pounds each of pastrami, turkey, and roast beef; 150 to 200 loaves of rye bread, and the quartering of 1,000

Helen Shapiro, English Pop Singer

Helen Shapiro was the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants to the East End of London.  Her parents were piece-workers in the garment industry and Helen, born in Bethnal Green in 1946, grew up in that neighborhood. 

Although too poor to own a record player, her parents encouraged music in their home.  Helen played banjolele and sang with her brother occasionally at his youth club.  She had a deep timbre to her voice and friends gave her the nickname of “Foghorn.”  At the age of thirteen she started singing lessons at the Maurice Burman School.   Burman's connections led to Columbia recording a demo of her singing. 

The rest was history.  In 1961, at the age of fourteen, she had a UK #3 hit with her first single, Don't Treat Me Like A Child, and two number one hits, You Don’t Know and her best-known song Walkin’ Back to Happiness.  When she first went on tour, the Beatles were the back-up act.  

A quarter of a century later, Helen Shapiro decided to walk back to happiness through her new-found belief in Jesus.  And she is still walking, preaching and singing the gospel.  Her website is Manna Music.

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