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Ties that Bund: A roundtable on the history and relevance of the Jewish Labor Bund

Mon, December 16, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Hilton Bayfront San Diego, Sapphire 411B

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


In recent years, scholars, journalists, and Jewish activists have demonstrated a growing interest in the history and possible relevance of the Jewish Labor Bund. Growing scholarly interest has expanded the scope of what we know about the Bund, now incorporating new theoretical approaches, and new geographical focuses. In the public sphere and popular press, numerous recent articles have suggested that looking at the Bund’s history can illuminate present day concerns. This was especially pronounced after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders launched his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2015. The New York Times, for example, characterized Bernie Sanders as a kind of latter-day Bundist.

Further, young Jewish activists have been drawn to the Bund as an inspiration for a brand of Jewish socialism and Jewish identity without Israel at its center. In 2018, the New York Review of Books published a longform essay by journalist and cartoonist Molly Crabapple that went viral. The appearance of the article and the response to it shows that by the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, the Bund still has the power to generate strong feelings among Jews, both positive and negative.

This roundtable will ask:
- what accounts for this growing interest in the Bund?
- What can the history of the Bund tell us about the Jewish world today?
- Do its history and ideas shed light on contemporary Jewish issues, such as the relationship between Israel and other Jewish communities?
- What gets obscured by this focus on a movement that, in effect, only now exists in remote corners of the Jewish world?

Each participant will bring a distinct approach to these questions. The panelists are literary scholar, Madeleine Cohen (Yiddish Book Center); historian of the Russian Bund, Joshua Meyers (Stanford University); cultural critic and journalist Rokhl Kafrissen; historian of Czech Jewry, Jacob Labendz (Youngstown State University); and historian of the American Jewish labor movement, Caroline Luce (UCLA). Historian of the post-Holocaust Bund, David Slucki (College of Charleston), will moderate the discussion.

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