Living in the Moment
Class of ’78 | “I want to come away from each story having transcended my own worldview,” Nadine Epstein C’78 G’78 is saying. “I want to think, ‘Hmmm, I never thought about it that way.’”
Epstein has plenty of opportunities to think and transcend in her capacity as editor and executive publisher of Moment, a bi-monthly magazine with a circulation of 40,000 that reads like a Jewish New Yorker. Named after Der Moment, a Warsaw pre-World War II Yiddish daily, Moment was launched in 1975 by Elie Weisel and Leonard Fein; their goal was to provide a forum for diverse views on Jewish culture, politics, and religion. In keeping with the original mission, Epstein selects stories with an eye toward the widest possible spectrum of topics and viewpoints, including some whose perspectives run contrary to her own beliefs.
Epstein, a casually striking figure in worn blue jeans, fresh sans-makeup complexion, and dark blonde mane that flows well below her shoulders, welcomes a visitor to her workspace in an old brick apartment building in Washington, D.C. Her office is in the kitchen, while three members of her staff occupy the former living room, which still has a lived-in feel, with books lining the walls and plants flourishing beside a large double window.
On her desk, amid piles of letters from readers, sit three old Rolodexes. Their yellowed cards offer a glimpse into Moment’s 30-year history with names that constitute a Who’s Who of distinguished Jews from the past half-century: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Amos Oz, Alan Dershowitz, Arthur Goldberg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Milton Berle … Yet before Epstein took control of this nonprofit magazine in April 2004, its vision had become tired. Her determination to reawaken Moment with stories that challenge readers to contemplate ideas in a new light has paid off: ads have nearly doubled and letters to the editor have tripled. The letters are “one of the best parts of the magazine,” says Epstein. “We get letters with passion on one side [of an issue] and letters with passion on the other side.”
Moment is especially valuable to every Jew who was “bored in Hebrew school,” she suggests, since readers “need to feel that they have learned something that helps them to be a Jew in the 21st century.” The contents page makes it clear that the reader is about to engage in provocative conversation: “Jews for JesusWho are They and Why Do They Want Us?”; “Anti-choice Laws Collide with Jewish Law”; “Who Hijacked Islam?”
Juxtaposed with these often-edgy explorations are splashes of whimsy (“Can a Dog Be Jewish?”) and human interesta profile of a gay, Orthodox rabbi; a first-
A common thread is fine writing. Epstein derives pleasure from working with young writers to make “beautiful stories that flow,” and she herself has had some very good teachers along the way. “It’s like if you had a wonderful parent, you can be a good parent,” she points out. In fact, her first role model was her mother, who served as executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Deal, New Jersey; what impressed Nadine was the way her mom brought divergent Jewish groups together, making them all feel part of a single community.
Another mentor was a young editor at The New York Times Magazine. In 1985, despite having never written a magazine article, Epstein pitched a story idea to the Times Magazine about Minitel, an early French incarnation of the Internet. Remarkably, she got the assignment, and tackled the project with enthusiasm. The article she turned in wasn’t perfect, but while “most editors won’t put in the effort to make a story work,” says Epstein, this one did. When working with freelance writers, Epstein applies lessons learned from that experience with the Times, infusing the mix with her own energy and imagination. Similarly, Epstein works closely with her staff of seven. “I feel like I have another family, and out of trust comes creativity,” she says. “There is no bureaucracy. We can be as creative as we want.” One idea that emerged from their collective creative foment was the Moment Book Club. The author of the selected book is highlighted in the magazine, and readers send in questions for a Q & A in the subsequent issue.
Drop by the Moment office some afternoon at three o’clock and you see Epstein’s families merge. (She has forewarned you not to trip over the kids’ backpacks or sneakers that are liable to be in the middle of the floor.) Her 13-year-old son Noah and his El Salvadoran friend Rosita, who lives with them, arrive after school to do homework and help out by stamping envelopes or reading submissions to the Moment Publish-A-Kid Program.
Epstein and Noah’s dad divorced years ago. Epstein’s boyfriend, John, however, is a member of both “families,” having set up Moment’s communications systems; as deadlines near, he joins in as copy editor. Although her parents live too far away to help onsite, her father delivers magazines to introduce Moment to a broader public, while her mother is always on the lookout for a story. As evidence, Epstein opens a brown envelope from her mom and pulls out a handful of newspaper clippings with inscriptions such as, “story idea?” and “good idea if you can use it.”
Stay tuned for more of the unexpected from Epstein, who points out that “there are 5.2 million Jews in the United States, and many of them don’t even know about Moment.”
Susan Fishman Orlins CW’67
©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Editor Nadine Epstein: