Page 214 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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CAROLE KESSNER
On Behalf of the Jewish People:
Marie Syrkin at Ninety
M
a r i e
S
y r k i n
s
l i f e
spans nine decades. Hers is a life that reads
like a gripping novel, a life that is full o f history and action,
poetry and politics, romance and tragedy — all quickened by
intellect, conviction, and wit. It is, moreover, a story that touches
nearly every aspect o f Jewish life in the twentieth century.
Marie Syrkin was born in Switzerland in 1899, two years after
the first Zionist Congress and six years before the Russian Rev­
olution o f 1905. She was the only daughter o f Nachman and
Bassya Syrkin whose personalities, as well as their roles in the
events o f history, were to have a powerful influence upon their
daughter’s life. It was in Bern, Switzerland, that Nachman and
Bassya met. Bassya Osnos, a headstrong woman with “ feminist”
passions — though physically fragile because o f a bout with
tuberculosis — was then twenty years old. She was attending
medical school in Switzerland because she had been denied the
opportunity to enter a Russian university. Nachman Syrkin,
then thirty years old, also was enrolled at the medical school
— an interim and ultimately abandoned course o f study be­
tween his matriculation in 1889 in the doctoral program in phi­
losophy at the University o f Berlin and his return to Germany
in 1901 where, in 1903, he finally would receive his Ph.D. But
in 1898, only two years after Herzl’s
The Jewish State,
Nachman
Syrkin had already written his own seminal work,
The Jewish
Socialist State,
in which he expounded his vision o f the synthesis
o f socialism and Zionism.
T o be born the only daughter o f two such professional ide­
alists was not without consequences — positive and negative.
First, ethically idealistic as Nachman Syrkin certainly was, he
was also possessed o f a blazing, uncompromising temperament
that vented itself publicly in scathing argument and privately
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