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The “Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals

The “Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals edited by Carole S. Kessner, [NYU Press, $20] 

This fascinating anthology fills in lacunae in the history of our North American Jewish sense of ourselves, with 15 biographies of leading unalienated Jewish intellectual leaders of this century. Unlike luminaries like Saul Bellow and Alfred Kazin, courted as returning celebrities by the Jewish community, these “other” New York Jewish intellectuals didn’t need the clarion call of the 1967 Six Day War to wake up their Jewish identities. They had for decades been writing and lecturing on the challenges of a committed Jewish spiritual and communal life, but often without the recognition accorded more disaffected Jews.

Two women “opinion makers” finally get some of the spotlight: Marie Syrkin and Trude Weiss-Rosmarin. Marie Syrkin (1899-1988) was an independent journalist, poet, Zionist activist and professor of English at Brandeis University. Carole Kessner traces her experiences as a witness to great events, often under the influence of great men. (Syrkin’s early marriage to Maurice Samuel was annulled by her father; Samuel and Charles Reznikoff, a later husband, are profiled in the book too.)

Trude Weiss-Rosmarin (1908-1989) was the doyenne of Jewish intellectual journalism. She founded and was for 56 years editor of The Jewish Spectator, the gadfly magazine ahead of its time as the only major Jewish publication with a woman at the top of its masthead. Deborah Dash Moore describes her passionate preoccupation with Jewish survival as the cataclysmic events of the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel loomed.