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"Stayed on Freedom" excerpt

Melanie Kay/Kantrowitz is a civil rights activist from Brooklyn, NY. Years after first joining the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, she wrote an essay, excerpted below, in which she shared some of her views on why she got involved.

The Civil Rights Movement called for undivided focus on what seemed the primary contradiction of our society. Initially black and white together represented, for Jews, one more permutation of the universalism we had been encountering and articulating for several generations in communist, socialists, and liberal thought; for Jews, the emphasis on common humanity, at least in earlier generations, dovetailed neatly with the pressures of anti-Semitism, both external and internalized. Universalism* had quietly promised an escape from anti-Semitism. ...

In the Civil Rights Movement, I could escape Flatbush**, my parents' clothing store, the world of working-and lower-middle-class Jews, a world I thought of as materialistic. ...Against materialistic stood the world of struggle and change -- I didn't say revolution yet -- along with beatniks, sex, poetry, art, folk music, soul, and funk. Every day I watched my parents leave our Brooklyn apartment to take the subway to work and return home drained, and I, with my seventeen-year-old energy, vowed to live differently...It took me twenty years before I understood that my rebellion had be enacted simultaneously by thousands of young Jews; that it was in fact a collective Jewish rebellion, articulated in a classically Jewish fashion.

*Universalism: A focus on the shared human condition rather than on religious, ethnic or other differences. Also a liberal Christian concept that all people will be saved regardless of religion or sect.

**Flatbush: A neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY known for its large Jewish population.


Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, "Stayed on Freedom: Jews in the Civil Rights Movement and After," in The Narrow Bridge: Jewish Views on Multiculturalism, edited by Marla Brettschneider (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 106, 111-112.

Date / time
Kaye/Kantrowitz, Melanie
Brettschneider, Marla
Rutgers University Press
The Narrow Bridge: Jewish Views on Multiculturalism
Date published

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. ""Stayed on Freedom" excerpt." (Viewed on January 20, 2018) <>.


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