Memory of Moe Moskowitz Honored in "Moe-Morial"

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Hundreds of people crowded the block of Telegraph Avenue in front of Moe's Books yesterday to remember the man whom residents considered a city fixture.
Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean proclaimed the day Moe's Day and closed off the block between Haste Street and Dwight Way to allow people to come and pay tribute to the store owner.

Store manager Gene Barone said that after Moe Moskowitz's death on April 1, customers wanted to know when and how they could pay tribute to him, so the staff organized a "Moe-morial."

"From then on people asked and offered to play (music)," Barone said. "He was extremely well-regarded as an honest businessman who paid extremely well. He was in many ways the best boss you could have."

Owen Hill, who has worked at Moe's for 10 years, said the event captured the spirit of Moskowitz.

"This is perfect because this is where he spent his whole life," Hill said. "It's a beautiful, fitting memorial with his favorite music, his favorite people. He would have had a good time himself here. He loved to party."

The event featured performances and speeches by poets, musicians, scholars and others who fondly remembered Moskowitz, including the Ellis Island Folk Band, the Cal Jazz Band, UC Professor Leon Litwack and Julia Vinograd. Master of Ceremonies Malcolm Margolin invited others to take the stage and relay some of their memories of Moskowitz.

Moskowitz died three weeks ago in his sleep of an apparent heart attack. He was 76.

Customers of Moe's Books took the microphone and shared their experiences of meeting Mosowitz, who could almost always be found standing behind the front deak of hist store. They described him as a jovial man who always quoted a fair price when buying books from the public.

Robert Eliason, an employee at Moe's, said the store had customers all over the world. The store received mail from many of them expressing sympathy for Moskowitz's death, some espressing regret about being unable to attend the "Moe-morial."

Eliason said that those who knew Moskowitz could never forget him. The first time he met Moskowitz, Eliason said, the man broke into a 10-minute monologue when he was unable to find a tape dispenser.

"He was larger than life," Eliason said. "He was as uninhibited and free and spontaneous as anyone you could imagine. He has a grand sense of personal theatre. To understand you'd need to know the sound of his voice, the off-key singing, the hysterics he would go into."

As another of his eccentricities, Moskowitz would sometimes place lit cigars into one of his pants pockets when employees reminded him there was no smoking in his store. Moskowitz would apparently forget about the stogie, allowing the cigar to set his pant ablaze before employees rushed to smother the flames.

Workers said Moskowitz had worked a full shift at the store the day he died.

Lili Raoufian works at Bongo Burger, where Moskowitz went every morning for a drink. She said she was shocked to hear of his death, since he had been "bubbly" the day before as he talked and ate his lunch at the restaurant.

"He would come in and talk to me every day," Raoufian said. " I told him my kids went to Harding school in El Cerrito and every time they had a fundraiser, he said to come into the store and he would give a $100 gift certificate so the library could buy books. He was a wonderful person, down to earth, very wise. I learned so much from him."

Others at the event said the large turnout for his tribute reflected on his unique ability to touch others with his kindness.

"Just being himself he had a great presence," said Berkeley resident Layeh Bock Pallant

-- By Melinda Marks, The Daily Californian, April 21, 1997