Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Wally Marks, Jr. (1931-2009)

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In Memoriam: Wally Marks, Jr. (1931-2009)

Article excerpt

ON MAY 31 at the Iranian Muslim Association of North America, Wally Marks, Jr. became the first Jew whose life was commemorated in a Los Angeles mosque.

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, who organized the I.M.A.N. memorial at the request of the Marks family, termed it a sh'loshim to celebrate Wally's legacy. Among the hundreds of guests were representatives of more than 35 organizations who shared their mutual interests in working for peace, the environment and more progressive government institutions.

Weeks earlier, on April 17, more than a thousand people attended a more traditional service at Hillside Memorial Park, where Wally's early life was discussed.

Although born at the height of the Great Depression, Wally lived a privileged life in Beverly Hills, where his father developed commercial properties on Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard. How many young boys learn about art by viewing masterpieces in the private gallery of a neighbor, Hollywood's legendary Edward G. Robinson?

Wally's altruism and respect for the underdog were developed in childhood by long conversations with another neighbor, Jean Sieroty. Her son, Alan, and Wally became lifelong friends, and Alan became a California state senator.

Wally received his bachelor's degree in 1951 and a law degree in 1954 from Stanford University. He worked in his father's real estate firm and became involved in campaigns for social justice. He volunteered in 1957 to be a Big Brother to 10-year-old Steve Steinberg, who today is a newsman in the San Francisco area.

"For four-and-a-half years, Wally never cancelled one of our excursions," Steinberg recalled. "He asked me a lot of questions about what it felt to be my age, he taught me to play tennis and arranged my first high school summer job. We got together the first weekend after his honeymoon and even, I, a 12-year-old, thought that was remarkable dedication."

So did Wally's bride, Suzanne, on that same May 1959 weekend when Wally asked her to join him in ringing doorbells to promote the Rumford Fair Housing Act.

"It was hot, my feet hurt, but even then as a young Republican, I understood we'd better stop excluding people from neighborhoods," she reminisced.

Leonard Beerman, the founding rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple, recalled meeting Wally in 1949 and competing with him in strenuous games of tennis. He noted that the young man stuttered but, after his marriage, lost the speech impediment. Wally was not one for ostentation, Rabbi Beerman said, driving VW bugs and compact cars, and eschewing resort vacations for family camping trips.

Suzanne-and then Wally-became involved in the nuclear freeze movement.

"I was arrested protesting at a Nevada nuclear test site," Suzanne said, "but Wally shied away from angry demonstrations, preferring to spend his time exposing the hardships and humiliation of human rights abuses and educating the public about them."

Wally and Suzanne's intense interest in Israel/Palestine didn't come to the forefront until 2004.

Explained Suzanne: "From the 1960s, we'd heard Leonard Beerman speak loudly and clearly in his sermons about Israel's treatment of Palestinians. We'd taken guided tours of Israel, but it wasn't until Wally went on a 2004 trip to the West Bank sponsored by Tikkun magazine that he saw the light."

Initially they invested time and money in "10,000 Kites," a program for Israeli and Palestinian children to simultaneously fly kites with peace messages on both sides of Israel's apartheid wall. …

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