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Marie Syrkin
Values Beyond the Self
Carole S. Kessner

HBI Series on Jewish Women
Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture and Life

2008 • 501 pp. 15 illus. 6 x 9"
Jewish Studies / Biography

Sorry—this item is Out of Print

"Finally, Zionist thinker Marie Syrkin gets the recognition she deserves . . . It is not sentimental over praise to say that Marie Syrkin deserves a place at the roundtable of great intellects who helped shape contemporary Jewish-American liberalism."—Haaretz

The life and times of Marie Syrkin, polemicist of pragmatic idealism

Marie Syrkin’s life spanned ninety years of the twentieth century, 1899–1989. As a polemical journalist, socialist Zionist, poet, educator, literary critic, translator, and idiosyncratic feminist, she was eyewitness to and reporter on most of the major events in America, Israel, and Europe. Beautiful as well as brilliant, she had a rich personal life as lover, wife, mother, and friend. During her lifetime Syrkin’s name was widely recognized in the world of Jewish life and letters. Yet, inevitably, since her death, recognition of her name is no longer quite so immediate. Carole S. Kessner’s intention is to restore for a new generation the singular legacy of Syrkin’s life.

Syrkin was born in Switzerland, the only child of the theoretician of socialist Zionism Nachman Syrkin and Bassya Osnos Syrkin, a feminist socialist Zionist. Following short stints in several European countries, the family immigrated to the United States in 1909. By the age of ten Marie was fluent in five languages. Educated in American public schools and at Cornell University, by the time she was twenty-three she had published translations as well as her own poetry.

After her first trip to Palestine in 1933, Syrkin joined the staff of the Jewish Frontier. This began her lifelong contribution to Zionism, Jewish life, and responsible journalism. In 1947 she published her most celebrated work, Blessed Is the Match. In 1950 she became a professor of English literature at Brandeis University and later published a biography of her father and the authorized biography of her longtime close friend Golda Meir.

Syrkin married three times: the first, to Maurice Samuel, annulled by her father’s intervention; the second, to the biochemist Aaron Bodansky, the father of her son David; the third, to the poet Charles Reznikoff, lasted on and off for more than forty years. In the course of her life, Marie had many influential friends, such as Hayim Greenberg, Ben Gurion, and Irving Howe, and she served as inspiration to many younger intellectuals, including Martin Peretz, Michael Walzer, and Leon Wieseltier.

As poet and journalist, Zionist activist and public intellectual, Syrkin’s work and actions illuminate a wide range of twentieth-century literary, cultural, and political concerns. Her passions demonstrate, as Irving Howe said, “a life of commitment to values beyond the self.”

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Reviews / Endorsements

"[Marie Syrkin: Values Beyond the Self] is best approached as a personal tribute rather than a work of scholarship-a successful attempt to restore Marie Syrkin to her modest but fascinating place in Jewish history." Nextbook

"While Syrkin's work is familiar to an older generation of American Zionists, Kessner's extraordinary biography should spark interest in Syrkin's life and ideas in many new quarters. . . .With Syrkin so deeply involved with so many key world events, from the Stalinist purges to the rise of Hitler, from debates over the Mandate to battles over Arab refugees, her biography reads like a history of the 20th century. But unlike most histories, delivered in the passive voice, Syrkin's is active and passionate and utterly mesmerizing. Kessner, a long time protege of Syrkin's, is a talented biographer; not only is her prose graceful and occasionally quite witty, but she understands how to insert the telling quotation, the background detail that clarifies, the right lines from the right poem." Jewish Book World

" [Kessner] makes an enormous contribution to women's history and Jewish letters by reintroducing us to this extraordinary personality, prominent in her lifetime but mostly forgotten today. Drawing on extensive interviews with Syrkin and intimate letters from family and friends, and setting her narrative against the background of the times, Kessner lets the reader understand the real drama of her subject's life."—Lilith

“Carole Kessner restores to us a brilliant and valiant figure: poet and polemicist, lover and wife, heroine of a people's striving for historic justice. In Kessner's informative, clarifying, and devoted rendering, Marie Syrkin is revealed as a robust and pragmatic idealist creatively responsive to the exigencies of her time, and a courageous model for ours.”—Cynthia Ozick, author of Art and Ardor and Dictation

“Carole Kessner's work is a labor of love for an admirable woman and, at the same time, a portrait of a generation and an age. Kessner adroitly sets the story of Marie Syrkin's personal life and loves against the background of her vigorous defense of the Jewish people in traumatic times, including her involvement with a host of memorable figures from Maurice Samuel and Charles Resnikoff to Hayim Greenberg, David Ben Gurion, and Golda Meir. Kessner gives us a sensitive, multi-layered biography—an engrossing read for everyone interested in the public and private travails of Jewishness in the twentieth century.”—Robert Seltzer, Professor of History, Hunter College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York, author of Jewish People, Jewish Thought


National Jewish Book Award

CAROLE S. KESSNER is professor emerita, Department of Comparative Studies, SUNY Stony Brook. She is the recipient of the Marie Syrkin Fellowship for 1994. The author of many essays and articles ranging from “Milton’s Hebraic Herculean Hero” to “The Emma Lazarus-Henry James Connection: Eight Letters,” she is the editor and contributor to The “Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals (1994).

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:08:22 -0500