Living Jewish Literature With Faye Moskowitz

By | Feb 25, 2022
Arts & Culture, Latest

Faye Moskowitz, Moments poetry editor until 2019, died on February 21, 2022. Below is a tribute from one of her students. 

As the cherry blossoms came to life near Foggy Bottom, I found myself walking around the campus of the George Washington University with my advisor and mentor, the late Max Ticktin (z”l). Topics that day included his views on Kafka, my struggles with Yiddish past participles, and what classes I was to take in the fall of my senior year. As I was the lone student on campus concentrating on Jewish literature, Max had a keen interest in my studies, and I always enjoyed our jaunts, him smoking his pipe and me chastising him for doing so. As our weekly walk-and-talk neared its conclusion, he looked at me and said, “Ethan, it’s far past time you took a class with Faye. I’ve already told her you’ll be there.”

When classes resumed in the fall of 2008, I found myself in my typical back corner seat, flipping through the pages of the Norton Anthology of American Jewish literature, mentally checking off all the short stories I had already read. Before my new professor even took attendance on day one, she made eye contact with me, as if to say, “Ah! You’re the one that Max sent!” And so began my journey with Faye. 

Over the course of the next year, I spent what felt like nearly as many hours with her outside of the classroom as inside it. Typically, we’d walk from class to her office (or, as was her preference, to the balcony for her post-class cigarette) and she’d ask me how I really felt about Cynthia Ozick’s The Puttermesser Papers or if I had finished the Grace Paley stories she had assigned me (but not the rest of the class). Faye shared how she was creating a new course that would bring Jewish authors to campus: Jewish Literature Live! “Who is on your list, my dear? Of course you’ll take the class. No, that wasn’t a question.” And it was because of Faye that I adventured with Kavalier and Clay and spent days with the likes of Michael Chabon, Anya Ulinich and Art Spiegelman. In her classroom, living legends engaged delightfully with students while she beamed ear to ear from the side of the room. Faye had worked magic. She had brought literature to life. 

During graduation weekend, she kvelled that I’d be off to continue my studies in graduate school, and my mother kvelled that I had a Jewish grandmother on campus. After I graduated, we kept in touch. I would share the discoveries I had made in the archives of Philip Roth. She would list the authors coming to visit campus that semester. Faye would remind me that what I was studying was noble. That the stories of the Jews living in the goldene medina needed to be passed on to a younger generation.

I am blessed to have been one of the countless students lucky enough to live Jewish literature with Faye Moskowitz, and I am forever grateful and a better person because of it. May her memory always be for a blessing and her words always be a source of inspiration and love. 

Ethan Helfand is director of Jewish experiences at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City & the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.

Top photo: Faye Moskowitz (Credit: The George Washington University / William Atkins)

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