Becoming The Teacher

Accomplished Journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt ’12S Teaches Alongside Mentor at Stern

As an English major at Stern College for Women, Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt learned how to hone her passion for storytelling and language to reach a broader audience, publishing her first major essay in Tablet Magazine while still an undergraduate. Since then, her career as a journalist and creative writer has taken off, with bylines in The New York Times, Salon and The Forward, frequent contributions to Haaretz and recognition for her fiction from outlets like The Atlantic Monthly and Moment Magazine.

This semester represents a new and exciting milestone for Chizhik-Goldschmidt, however: she is teaching Feature Writing at Stern, the same class that proved transformational to her as a student and which has been led by her instructor Alan Tigay for the last 20 years.

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt
Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

“Avital was the obvious choice—and my only choice—to succeed her mentor Alan Tigay as a teacher of our journalism classes,” said Dr. Linda Shires, David and Ruth Gottesman Professor and chair of the English department at Stern. “We are all thrilled that her passion, ethics, and talent will directly shape the next generation of Jewish women here.”

“I have big shoes to fill, but it’s very exciting to be coming back and joining the YU family,” said Chizhik-Goldschmidt.

Tigay, who served as executive editor of Hadassah Magazine for 35 years, initially offered to teach journalism courses at Stern in the 1990s, after hiring several impressive interns at the magazine who were also Stern undergraduates. At the time, Stern had no formal journalism program, but Tigay thought students like his interns would blossom if such courses were available. Soon he was teaching not only Feature Writing, but News Writing and Columns and Editorials, instructing students in everything from the basics of research and interviewing to the nuances of finding the right angle and packaging their work for different audiences at a time when the field of journalism itself was undergoing a sea change.

“When I first began teaching at Stern, being able to conduct research for articles over the Web was just becoming a possibility,” said Tigay. “Now, the Internet is both a critical resource and audience unto itself.” However, he felt the fundamental writing skills of journalism were as timeless and widely applicable as ever: “Whether students are headed for law school or a career in public relations or even Jewish education, being able to communicate clearly and bringing an objective approach to the table is key.”

Alan Tigay
Alan Tigay

For Tigay, who will retire in May to pursue his own work, it has been especially rewarding to watch as his students grew and developed as writers. “It was very fulfilling to see students who seemed like they were born writers blossom over the course of the semester,” he said.

Chizhik-Goldschmidt was exactly that kind of student. “Her work was top-tier,” said Tigay. “She went through all my classes and I served as her thesis adviser as well. She had broad interests and was very enterprising, publishing in the wider world while still a student.”

“My journalism classes were helpful because they taught me the tools of the trade: how to build an argument, how to construct an article,” said Chizhik-Goldschmidt. “Professor Tigay was amazing because he was a critical teacher—he doesn’t judge you on whether your article is decent, but rather whether you’re living up to your potential. He wrote an assessment of every article I ever wrote, and I saved them because he pushed us to be our best, which I really appreciated.”

As she leads the Feature Writing course for the first time this semester, Chizhik-Goldschmidt seeks to broaden the foundational skills it has offered in the past by incorporating social media and multimedia components into assignments to reflect the central role of technology in today’s reporting world. Like any news reporter, every student in Chizhik-Goldschmidt’s course has a unique beat to cover and must challenge themselves to discover and relay its best untold stories in the most engaging way.

For Chizhik-Goldschmidt, the goal is not only to help students become better writers, but closer observers of their own rich cultural backgrounds, as well. “What I want to do at Stern specifically is encourage students to think about the fact that they’re really coming from fascinating places, which are pretty closed up from the rest of the world, and to explore their communities—for example, the Syrian Jewish community has so many stories that a student from that background might have unique access to,” she said.

“I want to encourage students to express themselves and to consider journalism as a career, even though it’s a really hard one, because whether it’s investigative journalism or opinion writing, these are extremely influential opportunities—being a journalist means you’re constantly steering the conversation, and I’d love to encourage students to do that.”

For students who are up for the challenge, Chizhik-Goldschmidt has one piece of advice: don’t be afraid. “You need to write all the time, pitch your work all the time and don’t second-guess yourself,” she said. “Envision where the story should live and send it there without thinking twice. It’s a very difficult process, but I think that ultimately the most satisfying, adrenaline-fueling experience for a young journalist just starting out is to realize ‘I can get the word out, my opinion matters—my story matters.’ ”