Page 217 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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KESSNER / ON BEHALF OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
2 0 9
o f pogroms and political unrest now resided in a democracy
inspired by the optimistic metaphor o f the “melting pot.” Con­
sequently, although the family finances had not improved to
any great extent, the young daughter o f Nachman and Bassya
Syrkin remained completely unaffected by their poverty. Fur­
thermore, she was certain that i f her father had so chosen, he
could have made money — but his work was far more impor­
tant. “My father’s constant intellectual excitement,” she explains,
“his marvellous exuberance, set the tone o f the house. And al­
ways there was the proud sense that any material lack was a
voluntary surrender on our part rather than a deprivation.”5
I f Marie appeared to admire the “dedicated poverty,” she
did not seem, however, the slightest bit interested in the politics
that inspired the precarious financial conditions — that intel­
lectual passion which engrossed her parents’ lives. She would
not go to hear her father’s lectures, for like any ordinary child
she felt he might embarrass her. In any case, she was developing
the kind o f passion for romantic poetry that her parents had
for radical politics; and she had adjusted so quickly to the Amer­
ican school system that when she graduated from elementary
school she was named valedictorian.
H IG H SCH O O L
In Morris High School, Marie did not particularly distinguish
herself. Though she was literary editor o f her yearbook, and
though she did exceptional work in English, she could not work
up any enthusiasm for either mathematics or science. Yet her
“undistinguished” high school career may have had much to
do with her mother’s deteriorating health. The tuberculosis had
returned, and Bassya went away to Denver to recuperate. Bassya
Syrkin did not recover, and she returned to Montefiore Hos­
pital in New York where for the last months o f her life, her
daughter would visit her several times a week. The last time
Marie Syrkin saw her mother, Bassya “ looked at her fifteen
year old daughter in a transport o f maternal love and said,
‘You are just the kind o f daughter I dreamed o f having.” ’6 Two
days later she died at the age o f thirty-six.
5.
Nachman Syrkin: Socialist Zionist,
p. 143.
6
. Ibid., p. 153.