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Marie Syrkin

(1899 - 1989)

Marie Syrkin, the daughter of Labor Zionist leader Nahman Syrkin, was born in Bern, Switzerland, and moved with her family to the United States in 1907. She was educated at Cornell University and taught in New York City high schools from 1925 to 1950. From 1950 to 1966 Syrkin taught English and humanities at Brandeis University, and from 1965 to 1968 she served on the executive of the Jewish Agency. A staunch friend of Israel and a frequent critic of Jewish life in America, Syrkin maintained her loyalty to the Labor Movement, and was a prominent supporter of Peace Now and American Professors for Peace in the Middle East.

Her first visit to pre-state Israel was in 1933 and she was enthralled immediately by the sights and people. She returned to Israel in 1945 to interview Holocaust survivors for what would become her book Blessed is the Match: The Story of the Jewish Resistance.

Syrkin's writings span many fields and interests. Her translations of Yiddish and Hebrew poems were included in many anthologies. In 1934, Syrkin helped found the Jewish Frontier, a Labor Zionist monthly periodical, and she served as its editor from 1948 to 1971. She also was on the editorial boards of Midstream and Middle East Review, and she wrote many articles on Zionism, Israel, and Jewish contemporary issues.

Syrkin's first book, Your School, Your Children (1944) is a study of the American public school system. Following World War II, she traveled as a representative of Bnai Brith to displaced persons camps in Germany, and her interviews with survivors of the Jewish underground during the Nazi regime culminated in her work, Blessed is the Match, a book about Jewish resistance movements during the war. A close friend of Golda Meir, Syrkin wrote her biography and also published a memoir of her father, Nahman Syrkin. Later publications include a volume of poetry and The State of the Jews, a book about Israel. Syrkin died in California at the age of eighty-nine.

Sources: Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education;
Green, David B. “This Day in Jewish History 1989: Marie Syrkin, Advocate for Israel Who Wouldn't Live Here, Dies,” Haaretz (February 2, 2016)