|ROSE AND ISIDORE DRENCH MEMORIAL LECTURE • MAX WEINREICH CENTER
Jennifer Young, Ph.D. candidate, Dept. of History and Dept. of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University
In the late 1940s, the International Workers Order (IWO), a leftwing, multi-ethnic fraternal order established by Jews active in the American Communist movement, reached a membership peak of close to several hundred thousand members. These men and women, who had helped create the Popular Front political culture of the 1930s, worked to further develop their activist strategies in the early postwar era around the rhetorics of anti-racism, anti-fascism, and cultural pluralism.
By championing the rights of ethnic cultures, and by linking injustices against racial, cultural and economic groups as related forms of oppression, the Jewish Communist leaders of the IWO created a powerful counter-example to what the IWO’s director of Jewish Education Itshe Goldberg called the “scorched melting pot.” These leaders believed their task was to help complete the unfinished project of American democracy, arguing for the continuing growth of Yiddish language and Jewish culture on its own terms, integrally American and yet uniquely Jewish.