Amichai (Ami) Kronfeld
20 October 2005
Amichai Kronfeld, a lecturer in philosophy and cognitive science and a long-time activist for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, died Sept. 1 of cancer.
Kronfeld was the author of Reference and Computation: An Essay in Applied Philosophy of Language (Cambridge University Press, 1990). His philosophical work has been described by Professor of Linguistics George Lakoff as an extension of both his political ideas and his devotion to jazz improvisation.
"Ami was an integrated person, whose politics, music, and philosophy all fit together," said Lakoff. "That wholeness was integral to his sense of joy and wonder."
Kronfeld was born in one of the first agricultural towns established in Israel, in 1947, and moved as a teenager to a kibbutz, where he became a national champion in a number of sports, a writer, and a musician. Though he served in the Israeli military in several conflicts, during the 1967 Six Day War he refused to follow orders of his commander, Ariel Sharon, to shoot Egyptian prisoners of war.
In her eulogy to Kronfeld, author Rachel Biale spoke to this experience and its influence on his life: "His army service in Israel's wars bred not a military man but a critic, not a fighter of wars but a passionate fighter for peace...."
At Tel Aviv University Kronfeld met and married Chana, his wife of 30 years. In the 1970s they emigrated to Berkeley, where she was hired by the university to teach Hebrew and comparative literature. He received a doctorate in philosophy from Berkeley in 1981, specializing in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophy and technology, then earned a master's degree in computer science from Cornell University.
After returning to the west coast in 1985, Kronfeld worked for a decade in the computer industry, then returned to Berkeley with renewed enthusiasm for teaching. (He said his goal as a teacher was to offer young people tools for "intellectual self-defense" against the state propaganda machine).
He also indulged his life-long passion for jazz by playing drums with his quartet, The Lincoln Street Jazz Brigade. At the time of his death he was writing a manuscript that explored the congruence between the mathematical structure of West African rhythm and jazz and the harmonic structure of classical music.
Kronfeld is survived by his wife, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies Chana Kronfeld, and their daughter, Maya, a jazz pianist and Berkeley undergraduate majoring in philosophy and comparative literature.
Kronfeld's family requests that donations in his name be sent to the Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, for whose newsletter, Jewish Peace News, he served as an editor. Tributes to Kronfeld can be found on the organization's website, www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/.