Marian Blanton’s fierce determination to teach others to write, think, and further their learning punctuates every part of her story.
Born in a small mill town near Pittsburgh, PA in 1924 to a mother from Istanbul and a father from Hungary, she recalls fondly that her father and his brother had married two sisters; they all lived in a duplex until Marian’s family relocated in 1937 to a Jewish enclave -- Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. Their synagogue, also named Rodef Shalom, gave Marian perspectives that eventually resulted in her attraction to another Rodef Sholom in San Rafael. Pittsburgh’s Reform congregation was at the forefront of American Reform Judaism. Marian did not have her own Bat Mitzvah until she and her husband Jerry joined Rodef Sholom in Marin; they were our first adult B’nai Mitzvot. Her commitment to progressive Reform practice had come from the leadership of her first rabbi, Solomon B. Freehof, a 20th Century national leader.
When it was time for college, Marian negotiated with a father who did not believe in women’s advanced education. In 1944, she earned a Liberal Arts degree in the first graduating class of the new Cathedral of Learning at University of Pittsburgh. Just a few months later, after her father’s unexpected death, Marian’s mother asked for help to reset their lives in Los Angeles. Marian bought her mother a house there with the help of a family lawyer.
Marian’s first husband was serving Uncle Sam overseas. She describes her marriage as “loveless”. After the war and the birth of her daughter at 23, Marian began a relationship with Jerry Blanton, a married neighbor friend and practicing psychiatrist. After 12 years, Marian and Jerry found the courage to leave their first families. Her memories on this warm first day of summer bring tears to her eyes.
The newlyweds moved to Maui after the Provost of a Hawaiian community college recruited Marian following her high school teaching career and a Master’s degree in English. Devotion to teaching and literacy prompted Marian to help organize a Learning Center at Maui Community College, promoting language skills for underprepared students.
Teaching and writing sustained Marian for 18 years on Maui where Jerry had become the house husband and she, the breadwinner. Nearing retirement, she began working with a UC Berkeley English instructor by mail, completing an autobiographical novel at a summer writers’ workshop in the East Bay. A teaching and house exchange in 1983-4 brought the couple to Marin. Jerry and Marian’s fondness for the Osher JCC pool led to the discovery of another Rodef Sholom and to Rabbi Michael Barenbaum, who implored them to return to San Rafael after completing their move back to California.
Marian’s drash following Jerry’s death, “The Elephant in The Room” gives a glimpse into her thinking with an insightful combination of William Yeats’ description of man “Fastened to a dying animal” and the prophet Elijah, “Choose life that you may live”. Passion for Torah study prompted Marian to form a home Bible study group, including one member by Skype. The group is now six years old.
It has been 15 years since the love of her life is gone. Marian’s autobiographical novel, ONLY CONNECT THE PROSE AND THE POETRY, was put together with help from fellow congregants Debbi Handler and Richard Bloch after having lain, discarded, in a box for 37 years. Because Marian has faced the reality of an unconventional life’s journey with unflinching honesty, the reality of her stories is clearly palpable.