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Rita Arditti

Activist, Biologist, Teacher
1934 – 2009
by Federico Muchnik

My mom, Rita Arditti, was a unique person who lived a great life and did many wonderful things for people. She left a warm and loving family that continues to strive for many of the things she so selflessly devoted herself to. She died on December 25th with dignity and grace, surrounded by the people who loved her; when her condition worsened, she knew that her time had come yet she was fearless. 

Rita lived life on a grand scale – her first act in Argentina, her second one in Europe and the U.S., and her third act with Estelle Disch, her devoted life partner, and subsequently with all of us here in Cambridge. As a grandma, she fit the role to a t. She went from a young Argentinian middle- to upper-class kid raised not to question women's roles in the home to leading crusader for women's issues (notably as they applied to the world of science), from traditionalist researcher at Harvard Medical School to author on a book about the grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. She was as much of a product of her generation as she was someone who defined it – her politics, her compassion for women in the Third World and, maybe most notably, her fight for breast cancer research and cancer's link to the environment. These are a handful of things that concerned her.

I would ask that we not mourn her too long, but that if you want to honor her go out and do something about one of the causes she fought for – carry on in her tradition even if it means reading a book or watching a story on the news about it. She would have wanted it that way.

"Six Sephardic Cousins," circa 2003
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Rita Arditti with her sisters and three cousins, circa 2003.
Photo by Estelle Disch
Used by permission

She was a formidable intellect as can be evidenced by the walls of books in her home. She had a curiosity about an extremely wide number of topics, and she wasn't afraid of letting her opinions and ideas be known to the world at large. Only this week her letter to a newspaper about a local politician she endorses was published.

And as much as she devoted herself to the "big picture," she remained there for Estelle, me, her granddaughter Layla, and Layla's mother Naima Benali. No question but that our world is poorer without her today. She prepared us all for a life independent of her. She really was the person around whom the five of us congregated, and she was at the same time dependent on us but fully cognizant of the importance of self-reliance in life.

… I already miss her, but I know she's finished suffering and she's asking me, you, all of us, to continue to live as best as we can in a world that will always need people devoted to making it a better place.

Rita Arditti, 2009
Full image
Rita Arditti, August, 2009.

Photo: Estelle Disch, used with permission

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rita Arditti, 1934 - 2009." (Viewed on January 19, 2017) <>.

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