Palestine as Possibility: Polish Jews and the Yishuv as Fact in the 1930s

The Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies presents

Guest Lecture with Kenneth Moss (Univ. of Chicago)

April 26 @ 4 – 5:30 pm at the Pyle Center (702 Langdon St. Madison, WI)

About the lecture:

In the 1920s and 1930s, Diasporists, socialists, integrationists, traditionalists, and Zionists of every variety competed for the hearts and minds of Poland’s three million Jews. A central stake in this bitter political struggle was the question of Palestine: as nearly a dozen varieties of Zionism sought to inculcate their far-reaching visions of Jewish collective and individual self-transformation through nation-building in British Mandatory Palestine, anti-Zionist forces levelled equally far-reaching attacks on every aspect of the movement. Yet beneath this noisy ideological struggle, a different history was unfolding: beginning in the late 1920s, tens and eventually hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews began to negotiate new kinds of relationships to Palestine’s Jewish Yishuv defined neither by Zionist nor anti-Zionist ideological certainties but rather by attitudes of curiosity, personal connection, or – most interestingly — urgent critical inquiry as the situation in Europe worsened and Palestine’s Jewish Yishuv developed ever more rapidly. In this talk, Ken Moss will investigate how Polish Jews previously distant from any version of Zionism, or even hostile to it, were moved to ask about how the fact of a new kind of kind of Jewish community and polity emerging in the Middle East might be relevant to their future – or that of their children. He will focus both on changing attitudes toward young people in 1930s Poland and on penetrating and surprising Palestine travelogues by Diasporist critics of Zionism like Helena Khatskels, Yoysef Tshernikhov, and Max Weinreich to explore a form of Jewish thinking about Zionism and the Yishuv that began not from ideological commitment but from exigency, uncertainty, and an urgent sense of the need for empirical and predictive purchase in a crisis-ridden present.