Cytoplasmic dynein-driven movement of chromosomes during prophase I of meiosis is essential for synapsis and genetic exchange. Dynein connects to chromosome telomeres via KASH5 and SUN1/2, which span the outer and inner nuclear envelopes, respectively. Here, we show that KASH5 promotes dynein motility in vitro, and cytosolic KASH5 inhibits dynein’s interphase functions. KASH5 interacts with either dynein light intermediate chain (DYNC1LI1 or DYNC1LI2) via a conserved linker-helix in the LIC C-terminal, and this region is also needed for dynein’s recruitment to other cellular membranes. KASH5’s N-terminal EF-hands are essential, as the interaction with dynein is disrupted by mutation of key calcium-binding residues, although it is not regulated by cellular calcium levels. Dynein can be recruited to KASH5 at the nuclear envelope independently of dynactin, while LIS1 is essential for dynactin incorporation into the KASH5-dynein complex. Altogether, we show that the trans-membrane protein KASH5 is an activating adaptor for dynein, and shed light on the hierarchy of assembly of KASH5-dynein-dynactin complexes.