Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz

American activist

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz (September 9, 1945 – July 10, 2018) was a Jewish American essayist, poet, academic, and political activist against racism and for economic and social justice who lived in the USA.

Quotes

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"Some Notes on Jewish Lesbian Identity" (Summer 1980-Winter 1981)

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In Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology edited by Evelyn Torton Beck (1982)

  • That I am lesbian is my usual awareness. My close people are almost all lesbians, mostly not Jewish. I live in Santa Fe, among gentiles; and though I am lonely for Jews, I don't go to shul, and never did; and don't pray, or even know the prayers. I think Israel a boiling contradiction; and besides, they don't give queers citizenship. But the rise of Klan activity, Reagan and his white-on-white cabinet, synagogues bombed in France, have me in a sweat. Dreams of the camps. I need to know the network I may be forced to count on. I want to know the tradition, what binds us besides danger.
  • Liberals and pacifists often challenge the notion of "one's own people." Liberals "don't like labels"; pacifists say, "face your enemy with love." Both say, "people are people." I think Jews are haunted-intelligently so-by spectres of cattle cars packed to the top with our people. Some of who I am roots in the knowledge, as early as I can remember: there are people who did not want us to exist-millions of them. For these people, there is no love. It's easy for me to think in terms of "my people" and "our enemies."
  • Jewishness is a leitmotif in and out of my brain; not the main theme.
  • think about asking every Jew you know: what was your name?
  • gentiles persecuted the Jews for thousands of years before the Nazis got efficient at it
  • As Jewish women and Jewish lesbians, we need to reclaim words like pushy/loud/politico/power trippy/cheap/dominating/garish/sexy/emotional/always screaming/bossy/scary temper/difficult style/(and, of course) Jewish mother/(and) Jewish princess...I want a button that says Pushy Jew. Loud Pushy Jew, Loud Pushy Jew Dyke.
  • Most stories of the holocaust, like most other stories, have been told by and about men. I don't reject them for this, they are Jewish and mine. But as a woman, I need to know about the women, and that many Jews fought back, as they could, Jewish women among them. To fortify myself, I collect names and as much information as I can find. About women who fought inside the camps. Say their names...I read about Krysia Frimer, whose brother was a resistance fighter but he forbade her to join because it was too dangerous yet she was killed first. I mourn all the women deprived of the night to fight back, who were not thereby saved; and all the women whose names have not survived, who took messages food weapons in and out of the ghetto, who whored to the soldiers leaders cops for somebody's life freedom food information, who kept themselves and their children alive. Those were Jewish women. I come from women who fought like that.

To Be a Radical Jew in the Late 20th Century (1986)

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In The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women's Anthology

  • Soon we would get our first TV, so my mother (and I) could watch the McCarthy hearings. I knew the whole fate of humanity hinged on these hearings, as surely as I knew the Rosenbergs had been good people, like my parents, with children the same age as my sister and me. I knew government people, like McCarthy, had killed the Rosenbergs, and I was terrified, but it literally did not occur to me that real people, people I might meet, people who had children and went to work, hated the Rosenbergs, thought they should die. Nor did it occur to me that there were people who thought unions were bad, people who did not know you never cross a picket line, did not know prejudice was wrong and stupid.
  • 1980. I recognized in Reagan's election that the liberalism I had for years seen as the real danger was being superseded, that the right was gaining power, with all its Jew-hating, racist, sexist, homophobic capitalist thrust. At the same time the anti-Semitism I was encountering in the women's movement and on the left hurt me more, not because it was more threatening but because the feminist left was where I needed to be: this added to my sense of isolation as a Jew.
  • the more outside of a Jewish ambiance I was, the more conscious I became of Jewishness.
  • Why have so many radicals been impermeable to a pro-Jewish analysis and activity? Why are we getting the message that many of our erstwhile political comrades and sisters-including Jews-think it contradictory to be a radical Jew?
  • not only does Jewish oppression elude conventional categories, Jewish stereotypes prove that anti-Semitism does not exist. Jews are rich, powerful, privileged, control the media, the schools, the business world, international banking: the Zionist conspiracy rides again. How could such powerhouses ever be in trouble? These stereotypes, I've realized, prevent recognition of how we are threatened or demeaned as Jews.
  • By speaking about anti-Semitism, Jewish women unsettle an unspoken equation in the radical women's movement: in a society like ours, deeply racist and absurdly pretending to classlessness, class comes to be seen as identical to race. People of color are considered the same as working and poor people.
  • Jewish experience in the US, isolated from the experience of Jews around the world, seems fairly rosy. But Jews are an international people, and the nature of Jewish identity, oppression, fear and danger derive from and connect to experiences outside this country...Wars between the US and other countries have always been fought in other countries; most people in the US live in an extraordinarily protected context. Not only is our country vast and populous and proud of an isolationist spirit (often masking an imperialist reality); but, in addition, the strictly limited immigration during the middle portion of this century has restricted most Americans' knowledge about war, persecution, torture, the experience of refugees. Most Americans seem to believe ourselves peculiarly unaffected by what goes on in the rest of the world.
  • We are up against a failure of Americans to take seriously the pitch Jewhating attained so quickly in Europe in the thirties, for example, because Americans think Europe and the thirties so far away. They know about evil Germans, sheeplike Jews, and heroic Americans, but are not taught to see the war against the Jews as a culmination to centuries of Jewhating. Americans are told lies about the base of Nazism, so that we imagine Jewhating goes with a lack of education: working-class people are-as with white racism in this country-blamed. We are not told of the doctors and doctorates trained in Europe's finest universities. For most Americans the Holocaust blurs safely, almost pleasantly, with other terrible events of the past, like Bubonic Plague in the Middle Ages. Nor have most Americans paid much attention to the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union, or Argentina, or Ethiopia, unless an ideological point is to be scored against these nations.
  • an assumption deeply integral to capitalism has been absorbed by all of us, since it is reflected in so much of what we see. I have called this the Scarcity Theory, not enough to go around: not enough love, not enough time, not enough appointments at the foodstamps office, not enough food stamps, not enough money, not enough seats on the subway. It's pervasive. We learn mistrust of each other, bone deep: everything is skin off somebody's nose...in the short run, certain things are scarce. To what causes do I apply my limited "free" time? Where do I donate "extra" money? What books do I read, what issues do I follow and become knowledgeable about? Where will my passion be deep and informed, able to make connections and inspire others, and where will it be superficial, giving lip service only? The women's movement has only in the last few years and under considerable pressure begun to face its own racism; class is still addressed in the most minimal ways. Meanwhile, international crises-apartheid in South Africa, intervention in Nicaragua, torture and repression in Salvador and Guatemala-compel attention.
  • Identity politics of all kinds do contain an inherent potential not only for victim-competition but for splintering movements into 1000 groups whose members at last feel sufficiently the same: comfy but not a powerful resource.
  • anti-Semitism has sometimes masqueraded as a disdain for identity politics.
  • Literally, who will stick up for me if I don't respect myself enough to stand up for myself, if I can't articulate my own concerns so that others understand and care about them? Here is our beginning. Have we been for ourselves sufficiently already? Do we even know who ourselves are?
  • For some Jews, "passing" seems a choice; for others, passing means total denial and pain; for still others, passing is something they do without even thinking, and for still others, passing -as white/American/normal- is impossible. Some Jews have never felt a moment of Jewish fear; others smell it daily.
  • the nature of the Jewish people on the face of this earth has been totally transformed in the past 45 years
  • Anyone who has heard-as I have-Jew-hating remarks said to her face because to the speaker she didn't look Jewish knows both the survival value and the knife twist of passing.
  • Those who call resistance to assimilation a luxury might do well to think about calling "sexual preference" a luxury, or reproductive rights, or access to education or creative expression. None of these is bread, but "Bread and Roses" was a demand voiced by Rose Schneiderman, a union organizer and a Jew. What are the roses? As Jews we need our peoplehood, our culture, history, languages, music, calendar, tradition, literature... We need these things because they are beautiful and ours, and because the point of struggle is not bare survival but lives full of possibility. But Rose Schneiderman's metaphor flounders. Our culture is not a rose, it is our backbone.
  • Particularly for those of us who are not religiously observant, much confusion attends our grasping - through anti-Semitism and often prodded by anti-Semitism - for something beyond common danger. We need to figure out how to undo assimilation without being nostalgic or xenophobic: how to reach in and out at the same time.
  • The way Jews have been met with "not you too," the way anti-Semitism becomes the one issue too many, suggest that many white women are angry and resistant to dealing with racism but are too frightened to express that anger openly; suggest further how little our movement has taught us to see struggles against racism as life-giving, nourishing; as our own.
  • But guilt itself, as a motivating factor, is rooted in a way of thinking which does not promote change...in order to change you have to be willing to expose yourself-at least to yourself-and observe and examine and understand. This takes time, patience, and a respect for process. Guilt prompts a longing to purge all impure impulses quickly, get it over and done with once and for all...how does any sane person react after a while to fear, guilt? Is this a way to build a movement?...Only recognition of a common goal, the possibilities and I want to say-the joys of solidarity will inspire women who don't feel guilty to join another struggle as their own.
  • 'the white man's burden' was a polite name for imperialism.
  • Solidarity requires the bonding together of a people engaged in common struggle. But solidarity also means standing alongside another struggle, not because you feel guilty but because you recognize it as your own; it means using what you have on behalf of the struggle.
  • Your privilege, insofar as it divides you from others, is in your way, unless you resolve how to use it for others, as well as for yourself.
  • let me say something which in this (christian) culture may come as a surprise: what is best in people is not self-abnegation. What is best in people is a sturdy connection between respect for the self and respect for the other: reaching in and out at the same time
  • We have to recognize that Jews are relatively well-off economically compared with most people of color in this country, as with the rural white poor; and that Jews endure about the same level of poverty as other ethnic groups who immigrated around the same time. Our job is to untangle class hostility from anti-Semitism, not to pretend the Jewish people still works in the sweatshop.
  • The attitude that claims we-of any group- are essentially victims and so can't be charged with our behavior is destructive to all of us.
  • True coalition is not a smattering of tokens. True coalition forms between groups, the premise is that each group has a strong base in a larger community. Thus Jews who want to work in coalition need not only to know who we are but to be bonded with other Jews.
  • We must want equality, and we must grasp that equality does not coexist with class structure.
  • We forget that people can change, including our own people; including ourselves.
  • We know that while nothing guarantees allies, callousness guarantees callousness.
  • Perhaps we need to engage, even in uncertainty, and work out issues as they arise...If we could start working together before we trust, understand, or like each other, we might learn to.
  • We must remember: what is beautiful is the resistance, and that people can-and must-resist from their own authentic place in the world. we must reach out to Israelis fighting for peace, civil rights, and feminism without secretly feeling the Palestinians are more beautiful, because more besieged. One of the hardest acts of self-love for American radical Jews is to identify in this with Israelis, and I have come to believe it is a crucial stretch, for the alternative is denial of the Jewish connection. It is from this solid, self-knowing place that we can work towards peace and justice in the Middle East.
  • However difficult, weary, or frightening, there is only one way to go: forward. But singing.

The Issue is Power: Essays on Women, Jews, Violence and Resistance (1992)

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"Jews, Class, Color, and the Cost of Whiteness"

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Note in book: "An earlier version of this essay was given as a talk at the new Jewish Agenda National Conference, Carrying It On: Organizing Against Anti-Semitism and Racism, in Philadelphia, 1991."

  • Used well, education, choice, even comfort, can strengthen people, individually and collectively. As for money-let me say the dirty word—nothing gets done without it. The question is, what do we do with our education, our choice, privilege, skills, experience, passion for justice: our power. Don't racism and anti-Semitism make you sick? Doesn't hatred scare you? Don't you feel at least a little desperate about the way things are going unless something intervenes? I think Jews need to gather our power, make it visible, and use it right. I'm sick of the more conservative wing of the Jewish community speaking for all of us. Everyone knows that Jews are all over progressive movements, what I've come to think of as the political diaspora. Maybe our task is to ingather the Jews, just a little, into a new civil and human rights coalition, in which we are present and visible as Jews. It means being proud of our collective strength, confident that we can use it right. Someone will always call us pushy. Isn't it time to really push?
  • When we are scapegoated we are most conscious of how we feel humiliated, alienated, and endangered. But the other function of scapegoating is at least as pernicious. Scapegoating protects the source of the problem we are being scapegoated for, the vicious system of profit and exploitation, of plenty and scarcity existing side by side.
  • just as a racist remark by Jackie Mason does not reveal the inherent racism of all Jews, let us not assume that an anti-Semitic remark by Leonard Jeffries, or by ten Leonard Jeffries, reveals the heart of the African American community. We need to recognize the destructive role played by the media in fanning the flames of the "Black-Jewish Conflict."
  • It's also a hard time to be talking about the abuses of capitalism, when it seems that so many people living under communism have rejected it, or tried to. Even allowing for lies and misperceptions, the American left is going through something as massively disruptive to our way of describing and envisioning the world as were the fifties' exposés of Stalinism on one hand, and persecutions by McCarthy on the other. I know that some of us who came to adulthood calling Lyndon Baines Johnson a fascist have a perspective problem, one which Reagan and Bush have helped us address. But we have not yet dealt, even theoretically, with the re-emergence in Europe and the former Soviet Union of toxic nationalism, nor with the dazzling speed with which internationalization of capital is matched by internationalization of labor: "guest workers" in Germany, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia; "illegals" in the U.S. What do national boundaries or national identity mean at this century's end?
  • What I think we must keep poised in response to our knowledge that communism as practiced has failed; so has capitalism.
  • This desire to identify with whiteness, as well as bigotry and fear, blocks solidarity.

"Culture-Making: Lesbian Classics in the Year 2000?"

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  • What is a classic? Is a classic a book that stays in print? Who decides what stays in print, what gets remaindered, what makes it into paperback, onto the supermarket displays, back into hardbound collected works? Alice Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was out of print for seven years. It didn't change. By what mechanism is it now available in paperback? Pat Parker's Movement In Black is out of print, as is Barbara Deming's work. How might their work come back to us? By their deaths? "Discovery" by an influential critic? In fact, much of the work of Aphra Behn, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Angelina Weld Grimké, Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, H.D., and others, was out of print or hard to come by prior to the second wave of feminism (and who knew that all of these women loved women!) Is this work classic now, but not then? Can we only talk about classics after a suitable passage of time?
  • one task in creating a culture is to reclaim what one ought to have learned but that somehow went by and was lost.
  • As long as we cherish the creativity of ordinary women and value what women themselves have valued, we center exactly on the passionately egalitarian vision named in "women's liberation."
  • we should recognize that to the extent that lesbian culture represents the experience, insights, values, and interests of most lesbians, it will have a combative relationship to the dominant culture-as long as in that culture, lesbians are oppressed. Rubyfruit Jungle doesn't alter this oppression. Lesbian culture, for it to belong to and represent most lesbians, will be pro-woman, pro-working people, and multiracial. This means that a genuine culture of lesbians will always be in danger of repression, co-optation, and absorption, until such time as lesbians have control of our lives.
  • It's simple. If I teach everyone to talk, future generations will not find a woman's Brooklyn Jewish accent unpoetic or comic. But if British aristocrats-or even William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg-prime our poetic sensibilities, my voice will never sound classic.
  • one way to expand protection for sexual freedom is to assert this freedom. If our developing culture does support sexual honesty, then perhaps explicitly sexual art and literature will replace exclusively floral interpretations of our cunts.

"We Are the Only Adults: Making Change, Keeping Balance and Progressive Jewish Politics for the Long Haul"

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Note in book: "An earlier version of this essay was originally presented as the keynote address at the New Jewish Agenda Regional West Coast Conference in Portland, Oregon, June, 1990."

  • We're all thinking about this. The intifada, and the cooperation between the peace camp Israelis and Palestinians, especially the women; Tienanmen Square. The bizarre events of Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, remind us of a basic, forgotten principle: vast unity across broad lines can challenge the very core of power. (The rise in ethnic chauvinism also reminds us-as do graveyard desecrations in Western Europe; if you can't find a live Jew, defile a dead one-of the longevity of anti-Semitism). The possibilities of breakthrough in South Africa contribute to our sense that what seemed frozen, impossible to budge, is not impervious to change.
  • things are in motion. Grace Paley has said, when people stand up, other people discover they've got legs. While there are limits to this kind of analogy (not everyone can stand, or has legs for that matter), the motion is unmistakeable.
  • What we are beginning to see glimmers of, and what we must see operating in full force if there is to be a human future-not to be melodramatic, but given the level of environmental disaster, this is our last best shot-is more and more unity across our differences.
  • Keeping balance means being very open to change, especially in a time like now when the ground is shifting. It does not mean digging in your heels.
  • I think we are entering a time when we need inspiration and vision. We need fresh voices. This means we need people to feel that what they have to say is welcomed, not that they're going to get dumped on the second they open their mouths. We need to create a sense of permission.
  • We need a new level of sustained activism-not only symbolic action. There have been too many marches where we get a permit and go home afterwards. What is significant about marches is the promise they offer, a promise of trouble, and it is time to live up to those promises.
  • Are we so attached to structures developed years ago as to believe that these are the only structures in which our organizations can function?
  • Progressive Jewishness is about that strand of Jewish tradition which heads toward justice. It must include all the other liberation struggles. Its root is compassion; its assumption, that domination is not only wrong but unnecessary. Progressive Jewishness approaches the world with an ethical imperative and a Marxist slant on constant transformation. Always something needs doing. The world is not a fixed entity but constantly changing, and as progressive Jews our work is to help shape these changes.
  • Sometimes I say this myself, like a mantra: WE ARE THE ONLY ADULTS. This enrages and frightens me. What it means to me is no one will do our work for us. No one can show us the way, or make good on our errors. If the Jewish people need spiritual and political redirection-and we do-if the planet needs saving, and the U.S. needs to spin on its axis, we'd better get busy. No one will do it for us.
  • When I talk about the long haul I'm talking partly about emulating those wonderful grownups of my childhood: the old Jewish left, some of the most energetic, caring, committed people I've ever met, who through the McCarthy period, which was my childhood, right up through the present never stopped fighting, or stopped and started again, over and over. That is one kind of long haul, how to go on being an activist. And even in a world where almost nothing seemed possible, even then I'd just as soon emulate the women and men I grew up around who refused to stop fighting; because, after all, you never know unless you try.
  • we need the vision that inspires us forward. The couple, the nuclear family as the unit of survival, will not do. The single-issue movement will not do. The single-people struggle will not win. We are up against one of the most powerful, impenetrable machines of human history, our government. I am talking, ultimately, not only about preserving women's choice, or fighting hate, or even about peace between Israel and Palestine, but about massive transformation of society. This is what I had forgotten. This is the vision we need to hang on to. The old activists of my childhood who were my models-now I become them, and so do you. We are the only adults. No one will do it for us.

"I've been to Israel and Palestine"

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  • The more the Israeli and Palestinian movements come into communication and coordination, the more possible peace seems. (p 110)
  • I've been to Palestine. It exists, right next to Israel. The problem is not that Palestine threatens or erases Israel. The problem is that there are Israeli soldiers all over Palestine. (p 172)

“Nine Suggestions For Radicals, or Lessons From the Gulf War”

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  • 1. ACKNOWLEDGE CHAOS. 2. EXPERIMENT. 3. TO POLARIZE OR NOT TO POLARIZE 4. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMOR 5. LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO BRIDGE CHASMS 6. DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE STRENGTH OF SUBGROUPS 7. WELCOME THE ENERGY AND COURAGE OF THE YOUNG 8. PAY ATTENTION TO PSYCHOLOGY 9. LOOK TO EXPAND PEOPLE'S SENSE OF POSSIBILITY
  • Anti-communism has been the U.S.'s powerful pro-war tool since 1945.
  • We need to talk among ourselves about mistakes, assumptions and new possibilities. We need to be thinking more long range, not to get caught so off guard, so responsive/reactive. We need above all to acknowledge that neither this war nor the state of the world itself is as we knew it. We are confused. Only by admitting our confusion can we begin to build something new.
  • New movements are created by and create new forms: unions/walkabouts, which became strikes; civil rights/sit-ins; women's liberation/consciousness-raising groups. The most interesting new political forms, using the term loosely, of the past couple of years have been the lively disobedience of ACT UP and QUEER NATION, the campus rebellions opposing tuition increases and in support of multicultural agendas and-from the war-the Military Families Support Network and the GI Resistance. We need to learn from the most politically bold and creative among us. (We also need to offer concrete solidarity and support to those we learn from, lest learning from mean ripping off.)
  • Malcolm X and Dr. King were probably both murdered because each in his own political development was isolating the racist, moneyed, ruling elite. This sort of polarization retains its sharp edge, but positions most people firmly on our side. In other words, radical politics is not about being hipper than our parents or neighbors. It is about enlarging the circle. It is about being inclusive of practically everyone except those few on top. How do we enlarge our circle? We begin close to home.
  • Humor empowers the disempowered
  • Learning a language stretches a long way to help create trust, to strengthen our ability to communicate and to understand another people. It also signals willingness to give up centrality.
  • A movement, even a radical movement, is also an institution with its own set of leaders, power dynamics and hierarchy.
  • Some of the bravest political work in this country and around the world has happened because people often too young to grasp their own mortality stick their necks out. The job of the rest of us is to rise to the occasion of their bravery. The young inspire the middle-aged and old with courage, and they project our vision where it belongs, into the future.
  • history is shaped by people operating as people do, making choices with their consciousness limited by material reality and by their perceptions of material reality. This means by their perceptions of possibility too. Simply put, if people don't think change is possible, they won't try.
  • Few have written about the joy of political life, the sense of comradeship and achievement. As activists we need to believe in vision and imagination; communicate a sense of possibility. Bleakness is not the whole story, and escape is not the only alternative. Change is possible.
  • We should be nosing around our neighborhoods, communities and cities, our workplaces, schools and children's schools for issues which are compelling in themselves and which provide opportunities for developing leadership, skills, militancy and growth. There is no dearth of issues. How much hunger, how many homeless and jobless, how much depleted ozone, how much fouled water, how many oil spills, how much rape, battering and other hate crimes, how many schools closed or lacking books, how much cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis and other devastating disease....and I am only talking about the richest, most privileged nation in the world. How we fight, how we enlarge our circle of fighters, will determine our ability to build collective power sufficient to turn things around. Or we are lost.

"While Patriarchy Explodes: Writing In A Time Of Crisis"

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Note in book: "This talk was presented at the Out/Write Conference in San Francisco, March, 1991. An earlier version was presented at Concordia College, Montréal, through the Simone de Beauvoir Institute."

  • second-wave feminism produced a bevy of writers determined not to abandon the public world to men, or to devalue the private world usually inhabited by women.
  • War reduces things to a very simple level. Maybe this is why patriarchy likes war: the simplicity of it. The longing for good guys and bad guys, the goal-directed win-or-lose male adventure-and of course for this country it's almost always been win.
  • What the writer must value-the small life, the daily life, the significance of the individual consciousness and experience-are exactly what war violates.
  • We cannot be dutiful and creative at the same moment. This doesn't mean the alternatives are either a slavish political correctness or total inattention to political issues and consequences.
  • consider that your ultimate goal may not be quantitative.
  • It seems to me to be fully alive is to seek justice. Otherwise, what's the point?...Why should anyone read a book by someone who doesn't care about justice?

The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism (2007)

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Preface

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  • This book departs from several assumptions with the explicit intent of changing them. That all Jews came from Eastern Europe and spoke Yiddish. That Jewishness is only religion; that secular Judaism is a contradiction in terms; that real Jews are born Jewish. That calling (all) Jews "white" explains anything. That calling (all) Jews people of color explains anything. That American Jews and African Americans used to be best friends and are now enemies. That Jews and Arabs were always enemies and could never be friends. That life in the diaspora has always been a vale of tears that all Jews aspire to escape. I write this book to overturn these assumptions, but also to strengthen the identity and practice of Jewish antiracism, including the often buried strand of economic justice. To heighten understanding among Jews of diverse backgrounds/cultures/ethnicities that we need each other in part because of our differences. To help Jews grasp that those Jews who are cultural minorities within a hegemonic Ashkenazi community are often best equipped to help the Jewish world reckon with our multiculturality, and to know that this multiculturality is an enormous asset when it comes to combating racism and anti-semitism and to building social justice coalitions. I name this identity and practice of Jewish anti-racism Diasporism.
  • The common Jewish practice is to name our experience differently from those with whom we might share it. Jews say anti-semitism, not racism against Jews; Jews say Zionism, not nationalism for Jews. We cling to the term Holocaust as ours only, anxious about whether other genocides deserve the name. All this separate naming makes it harder to identify and analyze commonality and difference.
  • Diasporism joins those who see borders as lines to cross. Who seek the memory or possibility or value of motion, fluidity, and multiple vision.
  • I name this ideology and practice Diasporism as a deliberate counter to Zionism. Zionism/Jewish nationalism is one choice Jews make, but not

the only choice. It's time someone named and explored and pressed into existence the choice most Jews are making in practice. And radical Diasporism? Because this is no casual invitation to perpetually wander. The Diasporism I have in mind recognizes the persecution and danger that have made many long for home and passport, yearn to leave the wandering behind. Inside this longing, Diasporism represents tension, resistance to both assimilation and nostalgia, to both corporate globalization that destroys peoples and cultures, and to nationalism, which promises to preserve people and cultures but so often distorts them through the prisms of masculinism, racism, and militarism. Radical Diasporism, sans army, sans military heroes and victories, meshes well with feminism in valuing a strength and heroism available to those without armies; and suits queerness, in rejecting the constraints of traditional gendered existence.

  • I posit a Jewish identity that embraces diversity and resists a closed circle. My hope is to join a debate about home, diversity, and justice.

Quotes about Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz

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  • At the NYU "Women's Liberation and Jewish Identity" conference, Kaye/Kantrowitz distinguished between "minimalist" Jews and "non-Jewish Jews," aligning herself with the latter, whom she sees as "boundary crossers" and "rebels," transcending a narrow, constricting Jewishness but belonging to Jewish tradition. She prefers the term "Diasporists" for people such as herself who recognize Jewish "identity as simultaneously rock, forged under centuries of pressure, and water, infinitely flexible."
    • Joyce Antler Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (2018)
  • "I need the stories of our resistance," wrote Melanie Kaye in Nice Jewish Girls, "laced through the horror as an amulet, inspiration and warning." She told stories of the Jewish women in the anti-Nazi resistance: in Auschwitz, in Ravensbruck (where I had stood stricken and silent when I was fifteen), in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. "Those were Jewish women," she wrote. "I come from Jewish women who fought like that."
    • Bettina Aptheker Tapestries of Life: Women's Work, Women's Consciousness, and the Meaning of Daily Experience (1989)
  • I first met Melanie many years ago when she visited the University of California, Santa Cruz campus. I had been using her co-edited book “The Tribe of Dina” in my classes and admired her greatly for all of her work. Though on separate coasts we stayed connected through mutual comradeship, friendship, and projects. Her writings were of immense importance to me, and most recently “The Color of Jews,” which is an absolutely brilliant work that shatters so many stereotypes while affirming and re-visioning the Jewish diaspora.
  • I feel I was very lucky, though, because when I came out, which was in 1973, New York was just hopping. It was exploding. It was after Stonewall. Lesbians started getting organized. I belonged to a group of lesbian writers. There were four of us who decided to start Conditions magazine, for example, and before that we had a group called Di Vilde Chayas [the wild animals], which was a group that had Adrienne Rich, Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, Gloria Greenfield, and Evelyn Torton Beck, who did Nice Jewish Girls.
  • Every minority woman did this. They went back to their communities and they said, Where are the women? Let me see where they've been hidden, where they've been buried, who's forgotten, who should be remembered. We all did that with our own communities of origin, and I did the same thing with the Yiddish. And so, when I did with Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz -- when we did "The Tribe of Dina," we highlighted Fradel Shtok, who I'd never heard of before, and Kadia Molodowsky, who I had, but I didn't even know that she wrote prose. And we published -- I translated two short stories by both of them. And aside, I think, from Rokhl Korn, it was, like, the first time that these people's prose was being shown.
  • if you’re going to be involved with the Left, you’ve got to start thinking about Israel. Melanie and I became very committed to supporting the Women in Black in ‘87.
  • Kaye/Kantrowitz is a courageous activist and thinker
    • Tony Kushner blurb in The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism (2007)
  • Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz is passionate, strategic, pithy, generous, realistic, controversial, unquenchable-like the best of our movements for change.
  • The narratives recorded here are part of the effort to chronicle the lives of Jewish women activists in what Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz calls the Jewish "political diaspora." The experiences of Jewish women civil rights activists are an integral part of a collective Jewish and activist heritage, one that must remain alive and accessible to future generations.
    • Debra L. Schultz Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (2002)
  • I met Melanie because of the women’s movement, specifically that part of the women’s movement where radical, anti-racist, Lesbian feminists were doing revolutionary work and carving out a place to survive. A lot of us here know how tough it was to be out as a Lesbian in the 1970’s...There is an untold history of feminists who challenged white supremacy, who did anti-racist organizing often in places where we were far from welcome. Our political activism and practice formed the roots of intersectionality, before the word was invented. Melanie was at the forefront of this work, which is embodied in both her beautiful writing and activism...Her inclusive political vision was nowhere more clear than in her leadership of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Look at the name of that organization. It says, Jewish people are challenging racism and class oppression. It says that Non-Jews can too! People of color and Jews can work together. There are Jews who are people of color and people of color who are Jewish. Melanie was far more than an ally. She was an incomparable co-conspirator... There’s so much integrity and courage that Melanie embodies and always will. We need to share that with others who think that it may have been easy and who don’t necessarily know the streets that we walked and the battles that we fought.
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