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University of Dayton faculty member honored by American Jewish Press Association for Dayton Jewish Observer column

By Allison Brace '22

The American Jewish Press Association awarded University of Dayton lecturer Masha Kisel an honorable mention for excellence in commentary for her Dayton Jewish Observer column. Her work is inspired by her experience as a political refugee from the Soviet Union and her interactions with students.

Kisel joined the University of Dayton Department of English faculty in 2013 and started her column, A Bisel Kisel, in 2019. Her writing focuses on culture, literature and film — particularly works related to her own Russian roots.

Kisel came to the United States in 1990 as a political refugee at age 10. She was sponsored by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

“After growing up around the idea of anti-semitism in the Soviet Union, it was both freeing but intimidating coming to America,” Kisel said.

Kisel’s childhood experiences encouraged her to write her column in an autobiographical style from the viewpoint of being an outsider in her Chicago Jewish- American community.

Her teaching experience has also played a part in her writing for the Observer.

“I began teaching a course talking about the Jewish-American experience relating to film,” Kisel said. “My students don’t necessarily know this but many of my articles are inspired by the things that happen in class and their reactions to the films we watch.”

Kisel came to the University when her husband, Associate Professor Samuel N. Dorf, joined the Department of Music faculty. She holds a doctorate in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Northwestern University and soon was offered the opportunity to teach English at UD.

Kisel and her family became involved in the local Jewish community, which is how she met Dayton Jewish Observer editor and publisher Marshall Weiss. He convinced Kisel to continue writing for the Observer after she contributed a story about practicing sustainability during Passover celebrations.

“A few years ago, Masha submitted a guest opinion piece to my publication,” Weiss said. “I could see she had a strong, honest voice. I knew her writing would resonate with a younger generation of readers, those who are raising children of their own. After some coaxing, Masha agreed to share pieces of her life, past and present, bitter and sweet, with our readers in a monthly column, A Bisel Kisel — Yiddish for ‘A little Kisel.’

“In it, she has given us a generous taste of her childhood as a Jew in the former Soviet Union, and what it was like to then grow up as an émigré in Chicago. As she navigates Judaism with her own young family in Oakwood today, her observations as one who has been on the outside give the reader a nuanced perspective of our own lives that wakes us up from complacency.”

Kisel received an honorable mention in 2020 from the American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Awards in the Excellence in Commentary category for columns written during 2019. She was surprised by the honor because she is not an expert in Judaism. The award gives her the feeling of inclusion and recognition after years of feeling like an outsider.

“There is no doubt that Masha Kisel’s writing resonates with many people in Dayton and beyond — and this award is well-won recognition for her talent and the importance of what she has to say to all of us,” said Andy Slade, associate professor and Department of English chair. “I look forward to reading her work and to learning more about the world through it. Our department and our students are enriched by her presence among us.”

Typically, there would have been an in-person awards ceremony, but this year the American Jewish Press Association hosted a virtual ceremony for recipients via YouTube because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am very thankful to the Department of English for being supportive of my creative endeavors both inside and outside the classroom,” Kisel said. “I truly feel as though the University of Dayton wants to support people to grow creatively by honoring the promise to educate the whole person and I really appreciate that.”

For more information, visit the University of Dayton Department of English website.

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