Thank you for doing this. It looks like you are trying to find your place in this post World War II world where anti-Semitism still looms large. Yet, being a Jew collided with the WASP world of the Bellamy family after Patricia hired you to tutor her daughter Margaux. Unfortunately, the father and husband Wynn sexually harassed you and you fell in love with Patricia’s brother Tom. Both these caused conflicts within the New York societal norms; yet, there was a bond formed between you and the Bellamy women.
Elise Cooper: Now, a few years after the Holocaust, do you think American society in general still has covert anti-Semitism and attitudes?
Eleanor Moskowitz:No, I think that anti-Semitism in America is out front and on full display. Apartment buildings, neighborhoods and even whole towns were proud to call themselves restricted. Jews were not welcome in many places, and urged, as I was, to change their names. There is nothing covert about any of that.
EC: Are you the type of person that wants to fight the restrictions against the Jews or will go along to get ahead?
EM:Sometimes I feel the need to fight; other times, to keep my head down and avoid attracting any attention. I think both strategies have their merits, depending on the situation.
EC: You were overheard saying that a Jew in a Gentile world remains on the margins in a deferential role-do you still feel this way?
EM:Yes, I do. And that’s why I’m hesitant to marry Tom. He may feel there are no differences, no barriers. But other people won’t feel the same way and he’s naive if thinks they will.
EC : You were hired to tutor Margaux, did you enjoy it?
EM:I loved tutoring her more than any other student I’d ever encountered. In part, it was because I had to win her over. But I also loved her pride, her anger, and sense of herself as an exile—I realized these qualities reminded me of myself.
EC: Do you think you broke down the barriers inch by inch with Margaux?
EM:Yes, at least at the beginning. But once I won her over, the floodgates opened and it became easy between us. Her vulnerability was very touching.
EC: How did seeing someone with polio affect you and do you think that is why you bonded with Margaux?
EM:I came to see her disease as a badge of honor; it made her proud, it made her truthful. And it set her apart from most of her peers and in that way, I felt she was a kindred spirit.
EC: Do you think teachers are the most important people in a child’s life?
EM:Maybe not the most important, but certainly very important. Teachers represent a bridge between the world of home and family and the larger world that awaits just beyond. A good teacher is a guide into that wider world and as such, is very precious.
EC: How would you describe your relationship with Patricia, Margaux’s mom?
EM:Our connection is deep and real but also complicated. She had no idea of who I was when she invited me into her home and into her life; I think I upended all her ideas about what Jews were like. She was conflicted about having me in her world, but her love for Margaux was stronger than her prejudices—which were passive rather than active—and so she accepted and even valued me. It was when I stepped outside the role she had cast me in—a servant of sorts, beloved perhaps but still the hired help—that the trouble began. A romance with her brother and the possibility that I might become her sister-in-law? A friendship with her daughter that transcended our teacher-student relationship? These things were threatening to her, and she resented me for forcing her to confront them.
EC: Do you think when you were hired two worlds collided?
EM:Yes, but that was not immediately apparent to me. I didn’t realize the extent of my involvement with any of the Bellamys when I first went to work for them. I couldn’t have imagined my growing attachment to Margaux, or that Mr. Bellamy would attack me. And I couldn’t imagine Tom, and the effect he would have on me.
EC:It is disheartening what Mr. Bellamy did. Do you think he looked upon you as property?
EM:Perhaps not property. But not a woman, or a person, who was his equal. I was to him a stereotype—a Jewess—and that allowed him to behave to me as if I were inferior.
EC: Do you get solace from your religion, like when you went to the Mikvah, a bath used for ritual immersion, after the encounter with Mr. Bellamy?
EM:I was not raised in an observant home, and in fact, those kind of rituals, were sometimes the source of conflict between my parents—my father tended to be nostalgic for the “old country” and the traditions that were part of that life. My mother wanted no part of any of it and she couldn’t understand my father’s attachment to those old ways. I was surprised that I derived as much comfort as I did from my visit to the Mikvah. But I was desperate, and willing to try almost anything.
EC: Do you consider yourself a religious person as far as your dress, eating habits, living quarters…?
EM:Not at all. And yet I consider myself a Jewish woman. I couldn’t be anything else; being Jewish is an indelible part of me.
EC: So do you think this effects your relationship with Tom?
EM:Tom is smart, funny and above all charming. I love him for his many virtues, and in spite of his many faults. I want to be with him, but I’m not blind to the difficulties that a life with him would mean, and not entirely sure I would be able, in the long term, to tolerate them.
EC:Do you see a big difference between how the Bellamys led their lives with all their riches and how you led your life?
EM:Well, they had a kind of ease in the world that had been denied to me, as well as the insulation that having money provides. And they had not been forced to question the status quo in the way I had—it had served them well after all. At times I admired them, at times I envied them, at times I disdained them.
EC: If you had a crystal ball what would your life be like in five years?
EM:I see a future that includes work I love—maybe in publishing, maybe a return to teaching—and a place of my own. A husband and children are there too, but they are a little hazier, and harder to see.
EC: What are your hopes and dreams?
EM:To find my place in the world and to be happy in it.
EC: What do you do for fun or to relax?
EM:I love to read, to dance, to go to the movies.
EC: Anything else you would like to say that has not been asked?
EM:No, I think you’ve been very thorough and far-ranging in your questions.
EC: Thanks again for doing this.
Kitty Zeldis is the pseudonym for a novelist and non-fiction writer of books for adults and children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY.