1910s: Organized Workers—Jews, Class and History Series

October 5, 2020

The first decades of the twentieth century are viewed by many on the Jewish left as the golden age of Jewish radicalism. The new Jewish left finds inspiration in the strikes, songs, and philosophies of “the Jewish working class” of the first decades of the 20th century. Why do people find such inspiration in this period, and how did labor and socialism actually develop? What is the danger of romanticizing this period, and what are its most important lessons for today’s activists?

HERE IS A STORY you might find familiar:

The early 20th century was a golden age of Jewish working-class radical activism. But after World War II, upward-mobility, suburbanization, and assimilation into whiteness caused many Jews to lose their moorings and embrace increasingly conservative ideas. The new organized “Jewish Establishment” exponentially grew its wealth and influence and began to undemocratically shape Jewish communal life.

How much of this narrative is true? And what does it mean for communities struggling for justice today?

These and other pressing questions will be discussed by our participants, who range from historians of American Jews, to scholars of labor, gender, wealth, and philanthropy, to journalists, politicians, teachers, and political organizers. Join us for this intellectual and historical event.

Hosted with support from the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History.

Alice Kessler-Harris is the R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History, Emerita, at Columbia University. Her books include In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America; and Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States, among many others.

Tony Michels is the George L. Mosse Professor of American Jewish History at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York and editor of Jewish Radicals: A Documentary History. He’s finishing a book on relations between American Jews and Soviet Russia.

Julia Salazar is a New York State Senator representing New York’s 18th State Senate District, including the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, as well as parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville and East New York. Upon her election in 2018, she became the youngest woman elected in the history of the New York State Senate.

Moderated by Kim Kelly, a freelance journalist and organizer based in Philadelphia. She is the labor columnist at Teen Vogue, and a regular contributor on labor, class, and culture to the Baffler, the New Republic, Esquire, Bitch, and many more. She is currently working on her first book, a marginalized peoples’ history of labor in the U.S.