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Marlene Adler Marks, 54; Jewish Journal Columnist

September 08, 2002|MARY ROURKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marlene Adler Marks, whose column, "A Woman's Voice," for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal revealed her many passions, from politics and education to hot dogs with sauerkraut, died Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She was 54.

She had struggled with lung cancer for the last two years, but had continued writing and making public appearances. Despite her frail condition the day before she died, she insisted on walking into the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai on her own.

Friends and colleagues of Marks said she lived with gusto and enjoyed theater and music, as well as studying the Torah and cooking with friends.

In her final weeks, she held a "hospice party" for a group of her closest companions, who had helped take care of her at Cedars and at her home during her illness.

"She had moments of anger and fear, but she lived in the moment and always focused on the positive," said her friend Susan Zachary, a talent manager in Los Angeles who shared Marks' interest in Jewish women in media.

Born in New York City, Marks earned a master's degree in journalism from USC after graduating from Queens College. It set her off on a prolific career as a writer, starting in 1969 when she joined the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

She went to the Herald Examiner several years later, and in 1982, she launched her own monthly magazine, Los Angeles Jewish Life. She was named managing editor of the Jewish Journal in 1987 and began writing her column, which would win the Rockower and Smolar awards for commentary in the field of Jewish journalism.

In recent years, she also contributed to the Los Angeles Times Magazine and Hadassah Magazine and published several books, including "A Woman's Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family," a 1998 collection of her most personal columns.

Marks traveled the world on the strength of her columns, touring India as a guest of the government in 1996, when a trade agreement with Israel was in the works; attending an international conference on Jewish women in Kiev, Russia, in 1994; and witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Many of her admirers said that her most powerful writing came toward the end of her life.

"Her cancer columns are her legacy," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was often interviewed by Marks for the Jewish Journal. "They are her versions of 'Tuesdays with Morrie' [the best-selling book by Mitch Albom based on his weekly visits with a favorite professor who was dying].

" 'Fridays With Marlene'--she faced illness and mortality with her characteristic honesty," Yaroslavsky said. "It was very courageous of her."

As often as she published, Marks kept public speaking engagements. In recent years, she was host to her own interview series, "Conversations with Marlene Marks," at the Skirball Cultural Center, where her guests included political commentators Arianna Huffington and Richard Rodriguez, author Carolyn See and Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

Friends said a near supernatural energy propelled her, stoked by a health food diet and daily yoga. "I never saw her eat anything but fruit salad," said Rob Eshman, editor in chief of the Jewish Journal.

In one of her last columns, on food, Marks wondered whether she shouldn't have indulged in her favorite dishes more often.

"I should have eaten more hot dogs, with mustard and sauerkraut." If she had it to do over again, Marks wrote, she would have given in to her cravings for movie popcorn. She added, with delight, "Ice cream is now my dinner of choice."

Susan Rose, now a Santa Barbara County supervisor, phoned Marks after reading several of her columns about family life. The intelligence and honesty, particularly on topics such as women's rights, Jewish activism and single parenthood, touched Rose. (Marks' first column had been about the death of her husband, Burton Marks, a prominent trial attorney, in 1987.)

"We had a lot in common," Rose said. "From the start, I felt emotionally connected to Marlene."

More than once they spent Jewish holidays together, cooking and sharing recipes in Rose's Santa Barbara kitchen.

"She loved to eat," Rose said. Those times seemed particularly precious this Jewish New Year, which started the day after Marks' death.

In recent weeks, Marks faced one of the more confounding traumas of her illness when she all but lost her voice.

Curious, always, to learn the meaning of things, she asked her rabbi what to make of it.

They discussed it, after the weekly Torah study group that she attended at Temple Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, not far from her home in Malibu.

"She talked about the irony," said Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, who led the study group. "She wondered how she could be the author of 'A Woman's Voice' who doesn't have a voice.

"I said, 'Marlene, your vocal cords are not your voice. Your presence, what you stand for, your commitments--those are your voice.' "

Marks is survived by a daughter, Samantha; two stepchildren, Spencer and Peggye Marks; her parents, Jack and Anne Adler; and a brother, Alan.

Funeral services will be held at noon Monday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Donations in Marks' memory can be made to Temple Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades and to the Malibu Jewish Community Center. Donations can also be made to Dr. Ronald Natale's Cancer Research Foundation, 446 23rd St, Santa Monica, CA 90402; and Beit T'Shuva, 8831 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034.

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