Obituary of Willa Zahava Silverman
Willa Zahava Silverman passed away from ovarian cancer on October 22, 2023 on a beautiful fall day, her favorite time of year. She spent her final days in her beloved sun room, visited by family and friends.
Willa was born in New York City to Kenneth and Sharon (Medjuck) Silverman. She attended the Nightingale-Bamford School in New York and then Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude in 1981, having spent the spring semester of her junior year in Paris. After graduation, under the auspices of the Fulbright Foundation, she taught high school in Avignon, France, for a year, returning to New York to begin graduate work in French Studies at New York University. She obtained her doctorate from NYU in 1988, having spent 1985-1987 studying and conducting research in Paris.
In the over 30 years she taught at Penn State, Willa, The Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Professor of French and Jewish Studies, had a distinguished career. She developed many new courses in French and Jewish Studies, published three books (in English and French), one of which won the Modern Language Association's highest award for "outstanding work in French Studies," edited volumes, journal issues, and articles focusing on French culture, society and art, 1880-1914. A specialist in France's experience of the Holocaust as well, she developed and led four embedded trips to Paris, introducing students to French Holocaust sites and survivors; many found these trips transformative. Her international reputation led to invited lectures at the Sorbonne, Museum of Decorative Arts (Paris), Van Gogh Museum, where she was a Visiting Fellow, Smithsonian Institution, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Bard Graduate Center. She served Penn State's Department of French and Francophone Studies as both Director of Graduate Studies and Department Head.
The embodiment of joie de vivre, imbued with tremendous curiosity and creativity, Willa loved cooking, baking, entertaining, farmers markets, discovering new restaurants and all other 'foodie' pursuits; antiquing; living in Paris; cities; travel; spirituality; writing; long drives in the country; and especially spending time with beloved friends and family.
She is survived by her son, Benjamin J. Berkman, and his partner, Samantha J. Pitz, of Brooklyn, New York; mother, Sharon M. Silverman of New York, New York; brother, Ethan L. Silverman, and wife, Ronit Silverman; niece, Eve K. Silverman; nephew, Isaac G. Silverman, all of New York, New York; former spouse and Ben's father Michael B. Berkman of State College; and many other relatives and friends.
Funeral service will be held at 11 AM on Wednesday, October 25, 2023 at Congregation Brit Shalom, 620 E. Hamilton Ave., State College, PA, with Rabbi David O. Ostrich officiating. Burial will follow at Centre County Memorial Park, 1032 Benner Pike, State College, PA.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to The Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Service of Johns Hopkins Medicine; Congregation Brit Shalom, 620 E. Hamilton Ave., State College, PA; or the Gene and Roz Chaiken Endowment for the Study of the Holocaust with checks made payable to The Pennsylvania State University and mailed to Annual Giving, 2583 Gateway Drive, Bristol Place One, Suite 200, State College, PA 16801. Gifts can also be made online at raise.psu.edu/ChaikenEndowment.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome.com.
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