‘Di Linke’ webinar series explores history of Jewish Left

The Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO) was founded in 1930 and flourished for two decades as the Jewish division of the multi-ethnic International Workers Order (IWO) before being shut down during the Cold War.

Cornell’s Jewish Studies Program will host “Di Linke: The Yiddish Immigrant Left from Popular Front to Cold War,” a conference exploring the complex history of the JPFO, a crucial yet largely unknown component of the immigrant Jewish Left in America.

The conference will take place in a series of six webinars, Dec. 6-14; registration is required.

“Di Linke (The Left), as they were known in Yiddish, merit integration into broader narratives of immigrant responses to the Russian Revolution, immigration, Jim Crow, the Depression, World War II and the Cold War,” said conference organizer Elissa Sampson, visiting scholar in the Jewish Studies Program. “Today, students and many others attend to issues that the older Jewish Left effectively tackled with vigor.”

fiks-birobidzhan-a-map-of-birobidzhan-from-series-pleshka-birobidzhan-2016-copy_600x400px.jpg

Map illustration
In this image, post-Soviet artist Yevgeniy Fiks reimagines a map of Birobidzhan, the official Jewish autonomous oblast (region) of the former USSR, with the names of political activists and artists. Yevgeniy Fiks/Provided.

One critical resource for the history of this organization is the IWO/JPFO archive. Confiscated by the New York Department of Insurance in 1953 during the Red Scare, the archive is now housed at the ILR School’s Catherwood Library. This partially digitized archive offers information about war effort organizing and postwar relief for Jewish communities in Poland, France and Belgium, as well as Mandate Palestine.

The Dec. 8 session is devoted to a tour of the archive.

“These documents provide a window into the politics and culture of the Yiddish-speaking immigrant Left, including how questions of anti-Semitism played out in the postwar period in the Soviet Union, Europe, the U.S. and Canada,” Sampson said. “Not least, they offer a window into the intersections of feminist Jewish and Black identity in programmatic political work and cultural productions prior to the 1960s mainstream civil rights movement.”

The first webinar, “America: Communism, the Jewish Left, and Unity” is Sunday, Dec. 6, 1-3 p.m. Topics of future webinars include “Kulture Arbet: Creativity & Repression” and “The Arts of Resistance.”

Support is provided by the Jewish Studies Program, the Central New York Humanities Corridor, the Cornell Center for Social SciencesCatherwood Library’s Kheel Center, the Syracuse Jewish Studies Program, the Cornell Society for the Humanities and various Cornell departments.

Co-sponsors are the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; and New York University’s Tamiment Library archives.

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.

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