This December 2020 conference explored the complex history of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO) a crucial yet largely unknown component of the immigrant Jewish Left. Founded in 1930, the JPFO flourished for two decades as the Jewish division of the Soviet-oriented, multi-ethnic, International Workers Order (IWO) before being shut down during the Cold War.
One critical resource for the history of this organization is the IWO/JPFO archive previously confiscated by New York State’s Insurance Department, housed at Cornell’s ILR School Catherwood Library. This partially-digitized archive offers a wealth of information about war effort organizing, as well as postwar relief for Jewish communities in Poland, France and Belgium, and Mandate Palestine.
These documents and map provide a window into the politics and culture of the Communist-affiliated, Yiddish-speaking immigrant Left, including how questions of antisemitism played out in the postwar period in the Soviet Union, Europe, the U.S. and Canada. 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.
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Image courtesy of Cornell University Library. Der Hammer cover, May 1931, Jewish Section of the IWO.
Sunday, December 6, 1:00-3:00 p.m. EST; America: Communism, the Jewish Left, and Unity
- Short 1949 IWO Movie with Paul Robeson followed by Rubin Saltzman in Yiddish
- Paul Buhle (Emeritus, Brown University) "The Melting Pot Has a Scorched Base," navigating Yiddish/Jewish identity in the Left
- Elissa Sampson (Cornell University) Achdus: Forging Jewish Unity in Wartime Platforms
- Paul Mishler (Indiana University South Bend) The Jewish Left and the “American” Left: Ethnicity, Radical Politics, and Tradition in the US
- Respondent: Tony Michels (University of Wisconsin)
- Chair: Randi Storch (Cortland, SUNY)
Monday, December 7, 3:00-5:00 p.m. EST; A Fraternal Society with Emmas: Mutual Aid, Insurance, Acculturation, Civil Rights & Feminism
- Jonathan Karp (Binghamton, SUNY) Jews as Historians of the Black American Experience
- Jennifer Young (Independent Scholar) The Emma Lazarus Division: Communist Jewish Women's Activism in the 1930s
- Robert Zecker (Saint Francis Xavier University) “A Fraternal Order Sentenced to Death": The Legal Persecution of the International Workers Order
- Caroline Luce, (UCLA) Americans All! Immigrants All! The IWO Against Fascism
- Chair: David Ost (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)
Tuesday, December 8, 3:00-5:00 p.m. EST; Virtual Tour of the Archives and Library
- Welsey Chenault, Director of the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives in the Martin P. Catherwood Library
- Steven Calco, Research archivist of the Kheel Center for Labor Management Documentation & Archives in the Martin P. Catherwood Library
- Patrick Stevens, Curator in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, bibliographer for Jewish Studies in the Cornell University Library
- Petrina Jackson, Director of the Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research Center
Wednesday, December 9, 3:00-5:00p.m. EST; The Internationale
- Henry F. Srebrnik (University of Prince Edward Island) A Constellation of One's Own: Canadian Jewish Communists & their Mass Organizations (Birobidzhan, ICOR)
- Nerina Visacovsky (UNSAM-CONICET, Buenos Aires) Di progressive: YKUF in Argentina and South America
- Amelia Glaser (University of California San Diego) ProletPen: The relationship between the American Proletpen writers and African Americans during the Scottsboro trial
- Chair: Larry Glickman (Cornell University)
- Respondent: Jack Jacobs (John Jay College, Graduate Center, CUNY)
Thursday, December 10, 3:00-5:00 p.m. EST; Kultur Arbet: Creativity & Repression
- Eddy Portnoy (YIVO) Modicut: Progressive Puppets for the Yiddish Left
- Lauren Strauss (American University) A Circle of Radical "Kultur-Tuers" - William Gropper and his Yiddishist, artist comrades
- Dylan Kaufman-Obstler (University of Wisconsin) Yiddish Communist Education
- Chair & Respondent: Harvey Teres (Syracuse University)
Monday, December 14, 3:00-5:00 p.m. EST; The Art of Resistance
- Ben Katchor (New School, Parsons) Children’s Text-image work in Yiddish Communist School and Camp Movement
- Respondent: Paul Buhle (Emeritus, Brown University)
Support provided by the Central New York Humanities Corridor, Cornell Center for Social Sciences, Catherwood Library Cornell ILR School Kheel Center, Cornell Jewish Studies Program, Syracuse Jewish Studies Program, Society for the Humanities,Cornell Departments of History, Anthropology, Near Eastern Studies, and Government, and the American Studies Program.