Obituary'Her Zionism was the fact that we were all here'

Suzanne Singer, writer who used fallen son’s legacy to inspire others, dies at 86

Longtime Moment Magazine managing editor, a New York native, followed her children to Israel, where she turned bereavement into facts, and family, on the ground

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Suzanne Singer, right, and her husband, Max Singer, on the balcony of their Jerusalem apartment (Courtesy Saul Singer)
Suzanne Singer, right, and her husband, Max Singer, on the balcony of their Jerusalem apartment (Courtesy Saul Singer)

Suzanne Singer, writer, editor and the unassuming matriarch of a family that unexpectedly made its way from New York and Washington, DC, to Israel more than 40 years ago, died Sunday. She was 86 years old.

Singer was perhaps best known for her role as managing editor at Moment Magazine, where, from 1987 until 2004, she wrote sharp, insightful columns and nurtured writers covering every kind of Jewish topic.

In 1987, she and her husband, the late public policy consultant Max Singer, who died two years ago, suffered the loss of the second-oldest of their four sons, Alex Singer, an Israeli soldier who was killed in action on his 25th birthday during a skirmish with Lebanese terrorists.

Their status as bereaved parents was never the focus for the Singers, said Saul Singer, the couple’s eldest son.

“We had to live our lives,” said Singer.

The Singer family remembered their son and brother in many ways, most publicly with The Alex Singer Project, a compilation of educational materials surrounding a book of his writings and art, “Alex: Building A Life: The Story of an American Who Fell Defending Israel,” which is still used to inspire and educate young Jews.

“My parents were very focused on putting Alex’s legacy to work,” said Singer. “But this whole idea of doing things in Alex’s memory rubbed them the wrong way. They wanted to take his words and art and make it into something active.”

Neither Suzanne nor Max, who were married for 61 years, had planned to live in Israel.

They first came in August 1973 with their four young sons, during a sabbatical year for Max Singer from the Hudson Institute, the think tank he founded.

But that trip wasn’t Suzanne Singer’s first to Israel. She had visited in 1955 at the age of 20, and while she never thought of that trip as influential, said Saul Singer, she realized later that a seed must have been planted at the time.

They weren’t a religiously observant family, but it was the year prior to Saul’s bar mitzvah and they were looking for a new connection to Judaism.

They lived in a seven-story apartment building, in the San Simon neighborhood of Jerusalem, full of immigrant families who offered the kind of warmth and friendship that had a tremendous Jewish impact on his family, said Saul Singer.

The Singers didn’t observe Shabbat when they lived in Israel in the 1970s, but became keen travelers, road-tripping every weekend in their beat-up station wagon. “We could go anywhere,” said Saul Singer.

That first year in Israel turned into four.

His mother’s Zionism, said Singer, was deeply related to those experiences of the land.

Suzanne Singer’s career in journalism began in Israel in the mid-1970s, when she started working with Hershel Shanks at the Biblical Archaeological Review as the Jerusalem correspondent.

It was the perfect fit for her, said Singer, as she was a writer at heart, and she became deeply involved in the world of archaeology. Later, Shanks founded Moment Magazine, of which Singer became the managing editor.

Meanwhile, the Singer sons were returning to Israel.

Daniel Singer, son number three, was the first, enlisting in the army after he graduated from high school. Next was Alex Singer, a graduate of Cornell University and a thinker, writer and artist. He was killed in action two and a half years into his service.

At the time, when their mourning was fresh, the elder Singers were deeply entrenched in their professional lives in the US, but they began visiting Israel for long stretches, staying in the apartment they owned and in which Suzanne Singer lived until the end of her life, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka.

“I call it slow motion aliyah,” said Singer.

He is planning on completing his mother’s memoir, “From Dvinsk to Jerusalem,” written during the last year of her life, by the end of the thirty-day mourning period for her.

It tells of her upbringing in New York, including stories of her maternal grandparents and her life with Max, their four sons and how — and why — they ended up in Israel.

Suzanne Fried Singer was born in New York City, where she attended public school and the prestigious Bronx Science High School. She graduated from Swarthmore College and was destined for the sciences, a subject she never fully embraced, despite a master’s degree and plans to teach science.

Saul Singer sees the memoir as a kind of roots story, the summing up of a generation that began in New York and has ended up in Israel, where his parents settled, and where he and his surviving two brothers have raised families with 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Despite their tragic loss, his parents were always deeply focused on putting their son Alex’s legacy to work, always considering how to get more people to read the book, finding ways to have more impact.

“A huge chunk of their identity was this, using Alex’s life to make a difference,” he said of his parents.

In fact, said Singer, who co-authored with Dan Senor “Start-Up Nation” which turned into a movement and nonprofit organization of its own, he never anticipated the impact his book would have, but believes it is his brother’s book that makes a real difference.

His mother’s life, like her husband’s, was based on “the facts on the ground,” said Singer. “Her Zionism was the fact that we were all here, that we built this family here. But there was also a tremendous attachment to the country, to the land.”

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