A lifetime of achievement

‘Having a loving family,’ says Esther Marine, ‘was my greatest challenge and joy.

Esther Marine in 2006 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Esther Marine in 2006
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The cover of Esther Marine’s autobiography shows a graphic of her life journey, beginning with the Union Jack, continuing by ship to the Stars and Stripes, and ending with a jet plane toward the blue-and-white Magen David.
The final leg of that trip was accomplished when she was 83 years old.
Esther Young was born in London in November 1923, into a distinguished family. Her grandfather, Meir Zvi Jung, was chief rabbi of the Federation of Synagogues of Great Britain. One of her uncles, Rabbi Leo Jung, became a major architect of American Orthodoxy.
Her grandmother’s brother, Rabbi Abraham Silbermann, translated the Torah commentaries of Rashi into English.
Silbermann, whom she called “Uncle Ali,” tutored her in Jewish history when she was studying for London Board of Jewish Education exams in high school.
Education was greatly prized by her parents.
“I went to the London School of Economics, and that was during World War II,” she relates in an interview at her bright apartment in Jerusalem. “It was very dull and gray and miserable in London, and my uncles invited me to the United States.” She was only too happy to accept this generous invitation.
Esther arrived off the boat with a bachelor’s degree and a social sciences c e r t i fi - cate. Alt hough she was d i s a p - pointed to discover that the certificate did not equal a m a s - ter’s in social work, her uncle Leo helped secure her a six-month internship at Jewish Family Services. She then worked at the Children’s Aid Society in Orange, New Jersey.
In 1947, she married Rabbi Isadore Marine, whom she had met through cousins in Brooklyn. She refers to him fondly as “kind, caring, honest and reliable” throughout 53 years of marriage.
The newlyweds moved to Washington, DC, where he became executive director of the Hebrew Academy.
His position earned the couple an invitation to a black-tie reception at the capital’s posh Mayflower Hotel, in celebration of the founding of the State of Israel.
Her eyes still light up at the memory.
“In our family, we all had Zionist inclinations,” Marine says. While serving as vice president of the women’s branch of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), she frequently spent time raising funds for the new state.
Starting a family After five years of marriage, the Marines began having children. Sharon arrived first, followed by Ruth Ann and Deborah. The two younger girls were born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the family had moved when Rabbi Marine became executive director of the Hillel Academy. Every two years, Esther took the children to visit her parents in England.
After seven years devoted to tending her young daughters and doing volunteer work, Esther earned her master’s degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1961, she began working at the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Center – at first, part-time in a job-sharing situation, and finally as chief social worker.
When the center was acquired by the university, she accepted the option of earning a doctorate in social work, paid for by the federal War on Poverty program. This was not easy to accomplish as a young mother, even with a housekeeper and a supportive husband.
“I cut out all organization meetings and phone calls to friends. I bought an upright freezer, cooked in large quantities and froze meals ahead of time. I set priorities: school till 4 p.m., family till 8 p.m., then studying on the third floor till I could no longer keep my eyes open,” she recounts in A Journey of Joy and Tears, published in 2010 as an outgrowth of a writing group she joined after making aliya.
As treasurer of the American Association of Psychiatric Clinics for Children, she published papers and spoke at conferences nationwide. Her area of expertise was “school refusal,” the phenomenon of children who would not go to school.
She was interviewed by Tom Brokaw on this topic on The Today Show, and later taught clinical social work at the university.
She also ran a private practice out of her home from 1966 to 1998.
At the same time, she maintained her commitment to communal volunteering with Women’s Branch, ORT, AMIT Women and Stern College of Yeshiva University, as well as the PTA at Hillel Academy. Her daughters were active members of the local chapter of Bnei Akiva.
Surprisingly, this professionally and personally accomplished woman began driving only at the age of 60. This had nothing to do with her gender, but rather her discomfort behind the wheel. As she relates with humor in her book, “I found that it was easier for me to get the PhD than the driver’s license.” But she got over this hurdle and gradually became a confident driver. It is typical of how she has approached all the challenges in her life.
Trip of a lifetime The Marines took their first trip to Israel in 1970 through the Rabbinical Council of America. Esther describes it as “the trip of a lifetime,” despite some misadventures such as getting stuck in the elevator at the Red Rock Hotel in Eilat. While in Israel, she was offered a job as deputy director of staff development in the Jerusalem Department Of Public Welfare.
“Your problem is not that of getting a top job, but of making the decision whether you want to come to Israel,” the director told her. Indeed, this was a choice she was not ready to make for another 37 years.
In 1978, Sharon and Ruth (both social workers like their mother) married and soon afterward, moved to Israel. Deborah settled in New York, after earning degrees in special education at Pittsburgh and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Marine died in 2001, after years of ill health.
In due time, his widow sold the family home, moving to a nearby apartment complex where she helped organize lectures and entertainment programs for the residents. But after three years, she wanted to join her daughters and six grandchildren in Israel.
“I told Sharon and Ruth to look for an apartment for me, and this one became available right in Sharon’s building,” she explains. Her daughter Deborah now lives with her, having made aliya a few months ago.
Their apartment walls are decorated with several needlepoint works that Esther made in her younger years.
Retirement in Jerusalem is never idle. Marine attends an exercise class twice a week, in addition to her writing group. She reads voraciously on her Kindle – everything from S.Y. Agnon and Jane Austen to Agatha Christie and Kitty Kelley – and has worked on her Hebrew using an online course. Fully comfortable with her computer, she also takes classes on WebYeshiva.
Her life is punctuated by visits with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Participating in family events is the best part of living here,” she says.
Looking back on a lifetime of achievement, she does not hesitate when asked to name her greatest accomplishment.
“Having a loving family,” she states, “was my greatest challenge and joy.”
Her autobiography ends with 10 reflections on life.
One of them echoes the value that her parents successfully instilled: “Education is the best investment – no one can take it away.”