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The Remembrance Project: Moshe Anisfeld

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Moshe Anisfeld (Courtesy Anisfeld family)

Since early childhood, Professor Moshe Anisfeld had lived with a single working lung and scoliosis. Doctors predicted disease would prevail before he turned 65. He died October 6, in Newton, Massachusetts. He was 79 years old. He carried himself knowingly through life with gravity and lightness. It was one of his gifts.

He was born in Poland into a Hasidic family. He spent World War II in Siberia, separated from his father, housed with his mother and sisters in a gold mining camp. Their barracks had slits for windows, which they stuffed with rags to contain any heat.

Perhaps in counterbalance to a weakened body, his mind was muscular. He studied Torah in Israel, psychology in Canada, and wrote about early language development, using his own children as one resource. He himself was a polyglot, speaking Yiddish, Hebrew and English–though he forgot Polish.

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Professor Anisfeld was a diminutive scholar. His signature jokes were based on the fun of words: “I will be short,” he would begin talks. “I’m always short.” He was a genuine, if not reliably eloquent, speaker, who sometimes fractured punch lines. It didn’t matter. Any ineloquence was covered by warmth.

His early circumstances could have caused lasting bitterness. Instead, he grew flexible. He moved out of the world of religious piety and into the world of intellectualism; teaching about memory, child psychology and language for 30 years. Though not God-driven, he studied the biblical commentator Rashi. And though he detested onions, when prompted by failing health, he learned to eat them.

He was undogmatic about what to believe and how to live, yet highly dogmatic about small decisions, such as the right yoga pants, or the best knife-sharpener. There was no dampening his enthusiasm about them.

Most of us discover late in life how we meet tragedy and sorrow. Professor Anisfeld learned that from the beginning. In one taped interview, wearing his microphone and waiting for the technical preparations to end, he can be seen playing peek-a-boo with an infant off camera. His face is full of delight.

Did you know Moshe Anisfeld? Share your memories in the comments section.

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