Even though it has been more than two decades since Suzanne Singer left her daily role as Managing Editor of BAR, her influence on the magazine still reverberates in every issue. Her death on January 2 at the age of 86 marked a significant loss for the magazine but also an opportunity to remember her critical role in its founding and success.
Although Sue had attended the Bronx High School of Science, Swarthmore College, and Columbia University, earning degrees in chemistry and teaching, she found her real voice at the fledgling Biblical Archaeology Review and at Moment, a magazine focused on modern Jewish life. Her experiences during her four-year stay in Jerusalem in the 1970s, where she, her husband Max, and their young children explored Israel’s ancient history and culture, prepared her to write enthusiastically about biblical archaeology.
She was involved with BAR from the start. BAR’s founder and late editor, Hershel Shanks, initially asked her to be his Jerusalem Correspondent and then Managing Editor, after she and Max returned to Washington, D.C., in 1977. Hershel recognized how vital Sue was in growing his quixotic journal into the professional operation it became. He often described her as his “indispensable right arm.”
Her teaching degree and, maybe more significantly, her parenting skills raising her four rambunctious boys was an ideal proving ground for her role at BAR—and the entire publishing arm of the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS). She was a quiet yet powerful force, guided by her own strong, inquisitive intellect. A balance was established in which Hershel’s often mischievous editorial style and Sue’s sensible nature and diplomatic skills formed the basis for a successful working environment. Even as the staff grew, Sue’s specialty was keeping everyone engaged and moving each issue forward.
While BAR has matured, the vibe has always been that of a family, maybe influenced by the fact that at first the editorial staff worked in Sue’s house. We squabbled, complained, laughed, worked lots of overtime, and gradually coalesced into a dedicated workgroup, largely due to Sue’s influence.
That’s why, in 1987, when the Singers’ son Alex was killed on duty with the Israeli army, the event reverberated so traumatically among the BAS family. Sue and Max could have been unmoored by this tragedy, but they turned it into an opportunity to celebrate Alex’s life and dedication to his adopted country. They created a book from his journals and drawings, finding some grace from sharing his life with others.
Sue and Max left the U.S. in 1998 and followed their sons to Israel where they lived the rest of their lives among their sons and grandchildren. Sue continued to contribute to BAR for many more years, helping grow BAR while retaining the intimacy that, even today, makes it a publication with a special mission.
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