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Leonard Dinnerstein, scholar of U.S. anti-Semitism and UA professor, dies at 84


Leonard Dinnerstein, a professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, known as one of the foremost scholars of anti-Semitism in America, died Jan. 22, 2019 at the age of 84.

Mr. Dinnerstein served as a professor of history at the UA from 1970 through 2004, and as the director of Judaic studies from 1993 through 2000.

“As Director of the ‘Committee on Judaic Studies,’ Leonard laid a foundation focused on critical scholarship, inspired teaching, and community outreach,” J. Edward Wright, the current director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, who considered Mr. Dinnerstein both a friend and a mentor, wrote in a remembrance posted on the center’s website.

The success the center enjoys today, Wright continued, “is founded on all that Leonard accomplished — we stand on his shoulders with pride, affection, and appreciation. The University of Arizona, the field of Judaic Studies, and the local Jewish community are all in his debt for his achievements as a scholar, teacher, and administrator.”

Born in the Bronx to an immigrant father from what is now Belarus and the daughter of immigrants from modern-day Romania, Mr. Dinnerstein grew up and lived the first half of his life in New York City. After receiving an undergraduate degree from City College of New York and a Ph.D. from Columbia University, he first taught at the New York Institute of Technology and Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, but spent the bulk of his career at the UA.

“Leonard and I served together in the history department for 34 years,” says Richard Cosgrove, a UA distinguished professor emeritus, who calls him “a loyal friend and a great colleague,” adding that he was “a wonderful husband, a loving father, and a terrific grandfather.”

“Professionally his books, articles and reviews established him as the foremost scholar of Jewish history in the United States,” says Cosgrove.  “His first book, on the Leo Frank case in Georgia, has remained in print since its initial publication in 1968.”

Mr. Dinnerstein’s other works include “Natives and Strangers: Ethnic Groups and the Building of Modern America,” “Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration and Assimilation,” “America and the Survivors of the Holocaust,” “Uneasy at Home,” and “Anti-Semitism in America,” for which he won the National Jewish Book Award in 1994.

His wife of more than 57 years, Myra Dinnerstein, says, “We always considered ourselves the luckiest of people to have a marriage that went so well and that lasted so long.” They were supportive of each other’s careers, adds Myra, who was the founding director of the women’s studies program at the UA.

Along with his wife, Mr. Dinnerstein’s survivors include his children, Julie Dinnerstein of New York City and Andrew (Elizabeth) Dinnerstein of Scottsdale; a sister, Rita Kabasakalian of New Rochelle, N.Y.; and one grandchild.

Services were held at Evergreen Mortuary and Cemetery with Professor Seymour Drescher of the University of Pittsburgh, a friend since Mr. Dinnerstein’s City College days, officiating.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Friends of the Pima County Public Library (pimafriends.com) and the National Immigration Law Center (http://nilc.org).