An Unchosen People: A CEERES of Voices Conversation With Kenneth Moss
Kenneth Moss (University of Chicago) will discuss his recently published book "An Unchosen People: Jewish Political Reckoning in Interwar Poland." He will be joined in conversation by Tara Zahra (University of Chicago) and James Loeffler (University of Virginia).
Jan 20, 2022 06:00 PM CST
Register here to attend online.
About the Book
A revisionist account of interwar Europe’s largest Jewish community that upends histories of Jewish agency to rediscover reckonings with nationalism’s pathologies, diaspora’s fragility, Zionism’s promises, and the necessity of choice.
What did the future hold for interwar Europe’s largest Jewish community, the font of global Jewish hopes? When intrepid analysts asked these questions on the cusp of the 1930s, they discovered a Polish Jewry reckoning with “no tomorrow.” Assailed by antisemitism and witnessing liberalism’s collapse, some Polish Jews looked past progressive hopes or religious certainties to investigate what the nation-state was becoming, what powers minority communities really possessed, and where a future might be found—and for whom.
The story of modern Jewry is often told as one of creativity and contestation. Kenneth B. Moss traces instead a late Jewish reckoning with diasporic vulnerability, nationalism’s terrible potencies, Zionism’s promises, and the necessity of choice. Moss examines the works of Polish Jewry’s most searching thinkers as they confronted political irrationality, state crisis, and the limits of resistance. He reconstructs the desperate creativity of activists seeking to counter despair where they could not redress its causes. And he recovers a lost grassroots history of critical thought and political searching among ordinary Jews, young and powerless, as they struggled to find a viable future for themselves—in Palestine if not in Poland, individually if not communally.
Focusing not on ideals but on a search for realism, Moss recasts the history of modern Jewish political thought. Where much scholarship seeks Jewish agency over a collective future, An Unchosen People recovers a darker tradition characterized by painful tradeoffs amid a harrowing political reality, making Polish Jewry a paradigmatic example of the minority experience endemic to the nation-state.
About the Author
Kenneth Moss is Harriet and Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of Jewish History and the College at the University of Chicago. A historian of modern Jewish politics, culture, and thought, his work focuses on how Jewish visions of cultural and political self-determination born in the age of nationalism have been realized, unmade, or recast in the 20th century. He is the author of Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution, which won the Sami Rohr Prize of the National Jewish Book Council. His work has appeared in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German, and Portuguese as well as English.
About the Interlocutors
Tara Zahra is Homer J. Livingston Professor of East European History and the College at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the transnational history of modern Europe, migration, the family, nationalism, and humanitarianism. She is currently working on two book projects: a history of deglobalization in interwar Europe and, with Pieter Judson, a history of the First World War in the Habsburg Empire. Zahra is most recently the author of The Great Departure: Mass Migration and the Making of the Free World (Norton, 2016) and, with Leora Auslander, Objects of War: The Material Culture of Conflict and Displacement (Cornell, 2018). Her previous books include The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families after World War II (Harvard, 2011) and Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands (Cornell, 2008).
James Loeffler is Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History at the University of Virginia, where he also serves as Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of the Jewish Studies Program. Between 2013 and 2015 he was a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellow in International Law and Dean’s Visiting Scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center. At UVa he teaches courses in Jewish and European history, Russian and East European history, international legal history, and the history of human rights. He is a co-covenor of the UVa Human Rights Research Network, a faculty partner in the UVa Religion, Race & Democracy Lab, and co-editor of the Association for Jewish Studies Review. In 2020 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research.