The New York Times obituary for Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz was published today. Read the complete text at

By Maya Salam. Aug. 13, 2018

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz’s devotion to social activism began when she was 17. It was 1963, and with the civil rights movement gathering strength she became involved with the Harlem Education Project, an effort to educate young people on black history and give them access to cultural institutions and workplaces where they could get advice from professionals.

“It was my first experience with mobilizing a proud community and with the possibilities of collective action,” she wrote in “The Tribe of Dina” (1989), an anthology of Jewish women’s writings that she edited with Irena Klepfisz. “I was hooked.”

It was a passion that would endure.

Ms. Kaye-Kantrowitz, who died of Parkinson’s disease at her home in Elmhurst, Queens, on July 10 at 72, “was living and breathing the dynamic movements of her time,” said her longtime partner, the activist and organizer Leslie Cagan, who confirmed the death.

Ms. Cagan said that Ms. Kaye/Kantrowitz — she formed her surname by combining her Anglicized name at birth with her family’s earlier name, which she reclaimed as an adult — helped shape new ways of thinking about Jewish identity as well as the intersections of race, class and gender, “before folks used the term intersectionality.”

One of her contributions to discussions of Jewish identity was her theory of what she called radical diasporism — what Ms. Cagan characterized as “a counter to Zionism and the belief that Israel is the one and true homeland of all Jews.”

The idea behind radical diasporism, Ms. Cagan said, is that Jews can honor their Jewish identity, history and culture without believing that Israel is their homeland. “Instead,” she said, “they take the fullness of their Jewish traditions and values and put them into practice wherever they are, wherever they call home.”

As Ms. Kaye/Kantrowitz explained in “The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism” (2007): “What do I mean by home? Not the nation state; not religious worship; not the deepest grief of a people marked by hatred. I mean a commitment to what is and is not mine; to the strangeness of others, to my strangeness to others; to common threads twisted with surprise.”

Among Ms. Kaye/Kantrowitz’s several other books were “My Jewish Face and Other Stories” (1990), a collection of short stories, and “The Issue Is Power: Essays on Women, Jews, Violence, and Resistance” (1995).

In the early 1990s, Ms. Kaye/Kantrowitz became the first director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, an organization that defines its mission as “to fight for systemic change and a just world.” She later served on its board.

Continued at