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The 'Reconquest' of Jewishness in Post-War America: Will Herberg and Irving Howe
November 26, 2013

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2013 | 6:30pm
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Presenter: Tony Michels, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Moderator: Daniel Soyer, Fordham University

Admission: Free
RSVP Required: | 212.294.6143

The outbreak of the Second World War precipitated an ideological-political crisis among Marxists in the United States. For much of the 1930s, Marxian intellectuals—specifically, those hostile to the Communist Party—had struggled to understand the rise of Nazism and the consolidation of Stalinism, but did so within Marxism's parameters. However, Germany's invasion of Poland, the systematic killing of Jews that followed, and the Soviet invasion of Finland raised questions about Marxism itself. Against the backdrop of totalitarianism, war, and genocide, intellectuals undertook a thorough reconsideration of Marxism. This process of rethinking Marxism entailed a new engagement with things Jewish: religion, Yiddish literature, Zionism, and the meaning of Jewish identity. This paper explores the turn to Jewishness by intellectuals during the 1940s and 1950s through the examples of Will Herberg and Irving Howe. Herberg rejected Marxism in the early 1940s, but over the next dozen years attempted to recast socialism on a theological basis, before he moved to the political right. Howe, who remained a socialist his entire life, negotiated a partial "reconquest" of Jewishness as an interpreter of Yiddish literature and the Jewish immigrant experience. Both individuals reflected larger political and cultural trends among American Jews in the post-World War II period.

Tony Michels is the George L. Mosse Associate Professor of American Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York (Harvard, 2005) and editor of Jewish Radicals: A Documentary History (NYU, 2012). He is currently at work on a book on Communism, anti-Communism, and American Jews.

Daniel Soyer is Professor of History at Fordham University. He is author, with Annie Polland, of The Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920 (Volume Two of City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York; NYU Press, 2012), winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Book of the Year.

The Ruth Gay Seminar
Inaugurated in 2008 thanks to a major gift to YIVO from the family of Ruth Gay, the Ruth Gay Seminar in Jewish Studies takes place several times a year. Established in honor of Ruth Gay (1922-2006), the noted American Jewish historian and writer, the seminar series is given by scholars who have used the resources of the YIVO Archives and who wish to share their research with the public.
Venue: YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History  |  15 West 16th Street - NYC   view map

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