“Di Linke: the Yiddish Immigrant Left from Popular Front to Cold War”

The immigrant Jewish Left in the United States arose from circumstances particular to the long twentieth century. The Jewish division of the multi-ethnic International Workers Order (IWO), known as the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO), was a crucial component of the larger Jewish Left. It offered a controversial answer, inspired by the Russian Revolution, to questions about the Jewish future. Like its better-known socialist competitor and counterpart the Arbeter Ring from which it split off, the Soviet-aligned JPFO was visibly active in the labor movement aiding immigrants, fighting U.S. anti-Semitism, and expanding the world of Yiddish publishing. It also raised funds for Europe, especially in support of the War effort, and in aid of refugees most especially in Poland in its aftermath. Its history of immigrant organizing includes advocacy for civil rights, affordable health care systems and women’s rights. One unique, critical resource for the history of this organization is the IWO/JPFO archive previously confiscated by New York State’s Insurance Department during the Red Scare, which is now housed at the ILR School Catherwood Library.

This workshop and conference will explore the complex roots and daily work of the immigrant Jewish Left. Bringing together scholars working at the intersections of Jewish immigrant organizations, the Left and its intellectual and cultural apparatus, and race and gender in American, European, and Russian contexts, it will probe how the consideration of political difference refigures “the Jew” as Leftist specter written out of the Jewish community. In turn, what might the study of Soviet aligned Jews reveal about the social, political, and religious hierarchies and structures of power, and of forgetting, within Jewish communities, and within Jewish Studies? Of interest are documents pertaining to fellow travelers and intellectuals such as Albert Einstein, Sholem Asch, and Marc Chagall that speak to the broad support commanded by the Soviet Union during the War after Operation Barbarossa. They also show how leftist culture, and the culture front, intersected with popular culture, including through the participation of well-known artists and public figures. In this regard, the Cornell collection is complemented by the William Gropper collection at Syracuse University. The collection features Gropper’s well known graphic art from this period that was put into service for the JPFO and others, as well as his papers. Tours showing both collections will be part of the program and scholars are encouraged to make use of these Corridor area unique resources.