Like so many of his colleagues and students I am still stunned by the sudden passing of Alan Mintz. He was a wonderful scholar, a kind mentor, and a decent man. I cannot imagine my career in Hebrew literary studies without his support and guidance, which expressed themselves in countless ways over the years. When I was a graduate student in English literature, Naomi Sokoloff kindly invited me to contribute to Prooftexts, the journal Alan helped found and which was an indispensable intellectual venue for anyone interested in Jewish Studies and Hebrew literature. Though it was some years before we met in person, Alan graciously encouraged my early work in the field. We got a chance to meet when he came to the University of Washington in Seattle to deliver the Stroum Lectures (the basis for one of his books, Popular Culture and the Shaping of Holocaust Memory in America). During one of the lectures a significant earthquake sent a palpable and quite unnerving wavelet rippling through the floor. While the audience simmered in panic and some headed for the doors, Alan, quickly ascertaining that the building was still standing, continued his lecture as if nothing had happened. It was a moment right out of the Talmud, Alan as one of the sages in the Oven of Akhnai dispute, cooly rebuking the walls: “When disciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?”
In 2002, Alan invited me to participate in the junior scholars colloquium on Hebrew literature co-hosted by Brandeis and Ben Gurion University. For me this was a nerve-wracking experience—having only started to study Hebrew in my 20s I was still on the road to any real fluency in spoken Hebrew and my language skills lagged far behind any of the American, let alone the Israeli participants—but also a pivotal and inspiring one that afforded introductions to and the beginning of cherished friendships with some of the most talented literary scholars of my generation. I wasn’t sure I belonged in that group, but because Alan judged that I should be there I found the confidence to participate and continue on my path.
My subsequent work on the American Hebraists meant that I followed in Alan’s footsteps, gratefully devoting attention to the writers whose example Alan himself emulated in both his passion for Hebrew and his life-long insistence that American Jews shake free of their complacency and strive to create a grander, more literate and more noble Jewish culture in the United States. Indeed, when Alan delivered the Solomon Lecture in 2008 at Portland State University where I teach, he offered a stirring vision for the seriousness and national ardor he hoped American Jews might exhibit in the twenty-first century. I suspect some of the audience was intimidated by his call to arms, but I savored every minute. And driving and hiking with him along the Columbia River Gorge during that visit will remain a highlight for me in our relationship.
His loss will be felt deeply in the fields of Hebrew and Jewish literature. It may fairly be asked to what extent my generation of literary scholars has kept faith with Alan’s example of humane literary study, of aspiring to speak and write without jargon, of making serious reading rather than theoretical or political fashion the benchmark of scholarly success. But for his students and colleagues who have known his kindness, the loss is personal. Alan was a mensch.
His memory for a blessing.