We are heartbroken over the news that Michele Pinczuk, a writer, filmmaker and contributor to Alma, passed away on May 1 at just 27 years old. According to the Washington Post, she died of complications from eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease, “a rare malady that attacks the digestive system.”
Under the pseudonym Michele Amira, she wrote movingly for Alma in September 2019 about how Jewish traditions helped her find comfort when dealing with the daily emotional pains of autism. “I first realized I was different in middle school,” she wrote, explaining how after being misdiagnosed with other mental illnesses, she “didn’t have the proper tools to cope with these differences, leading to years of bullying and torment from my peers.”
Eventually receiving an autism diagnosis, Michele wrote that she still faced “a world that is void of understanding the many obstacles young women on the autism spectrum face. But where I’ve actually found comfort is in Jewish traditions that keep me grounded while dealing with the emotional pain of everyday life.”
Her glimmer of hope was the mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, which Michele found “very cleansing, especially when I feel particularly scarred by my struggles, to have the privacy and serenity of walking into a kosher body of water that can help to heal me, both externally and internally.”
She lived a truly incredible life. She was born in 1993 in Silver Spring, Maryland. Due to health struggles, she left school after fourth grade and was functionally illiterate. She was then homeschooled, and thanks to the help of a special-education teacher, learned to read and write at age 11. And she never stopped writing from there.
At 14, her mini-documentary “L’Chaim Israel,” which featured interviews with Holocaust survivors, was shown at the 2009 Cannes Festival. She also wrote a young adult novel at 14, “Sparkle,” which included a forward by rapper Big Sean. In college at the University of Maryland, she took her passion for hip hop and hosted a show, “The Mecca,” on the college’s student-run station. Her love of music also led her to interview the band BETTY, who wrote the original “L Word” theme song, for Alma back in 2019.
Though her short life was beset by multiple health issues — she was hospitalized more than 50 times — Michele’s passion for life came through in all her many artistic endeavors, from performing spoken word poetry to dance to writing in all forms.
She is survived by her parents, Murray and Jane Pinczuk, a brother, Sam Pinczuk, and a grandmother, Ginger Polansky.
All of us at Alma are sending our love to Michele’s family and friends during this unspeakably hard time. We are immensely grateful we got to play a small part in helping Michele share herself — and her story — with the world. May her memory be for a blessing.