CONTACT: Meetings and Movements of Jewish People and Artifacts across Cold-War Boundaries

Co-Organized by Jacob Ari Labendz and Rebekah Klein-Pejšová
Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies, Youngstown State University
Jewish Studies Program, Purdue University

All sessions will be held at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor (Steel Museum), 151 W. Wood Street.
Panels (with the exception of the keynote) will not be streamed or recorded. They are open to the public.
Scroll down for full-text version.

Keynote Address

Register to livestream the keynote address

Keynote Address
Dr. Anat Plocker (Stockton University), “‘A Dream of Belonging’: The Expulsion of Jews from Communist Poland” (May 22 / 6PM / Steel Museum)

Symposium Schedule

Full-Text Info

Sunday, May 22 / 6:00 PM

Anat Plocker, “‘A Dream of Belonging’: The Expulsion of Jews from Communist Poland”

In 1967-1968, the Polish communist regime attached its Jewish citizens, leading to the emigration of tens of thousands. Among the emigres were prominent intellectuals, artists, writers, scientists, and journalists—Polish Jews who had built their lives in communist Poland and who had seen it as their home. The talk exposes the conspiracies the communist regime held and promoted, which had turned Polish Jews into “security risks,” seen as part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to weaken communism. It tells the story of those pushed out of their country, showing how the forces of ethno-nationalism and national security marginalized competing visions of citizenship and belonging.

Panel 1: Books & Libraries
Monday, May 23 / 9:30 am

Brian Goodman, “From Behind a Star: Philip Roth, Rita Klímová, and the American Reception of Jiří Weil”

Anna Holzer Kawałko, “Books across Borders: Transfer of German-Jewish Libraries from Postwar Czechoslovakia to the State of Israel”

Dóra Pataricza, “From Szeged to Jerusalem: The Arduous Travel of Immánuel Löw’s Library”

Chair: Brian Bonhomme

Panel 2: Ensuring Jewish Life
Monday, May 23 / 2:00 pm

Jonathan Zisook, “Passover for the Passed Over: Matzah and the Maintenance of Jewish Identity in the People’s Republic of Poland, 1968-1989”

Shaul Kelner, “From Traveler to Travel Agent: American Orthodox Rabbinic Visits to the Soviet Union”

Jacob Ari Labendz, “Domestic and Western Strategies for the Preservation and Destruction of Bohemian and Moravian Jewish Cemeteries in Cooperation and Conflict”

Zohar Segev, “Diaspora Nationalism, Migration and Cultural Revival: American Jewry and the Challenge of European Jewish Diaspora in the Shadow of the Holocaust and the Cold War”

Chair: Amy Fluker

Panel 3: Migrants & Movements
Monday, May 23 / 4:15 pm

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, “Wandering Jews as Cold War Pawns”

Boris Morozov, “The Links between the State of Israel and Soviet Jews during the Cold War and the Struggle for Aliya”

Amy Fedeski, “From Refusenik to Refugee: Jewish Americans Meet Soviet Jewish Migrants, 1965-1989”

Chair: Adam Fuller

Panel 4: Lived Contacts across Borders
Tuesday, May 23 / 9:30

Nicole Freeman, “‘Picture of the New Poland’: Reflections from Visiting Jewish Youth during Summer 1949”

Kunduz Niiazova, “‘A Modern Kyrgyz Dream’ of the Soviet Kyrgyz-Jewish Intellectuals and Artists Beyond the ‘Iron Curtain’”

Paweł Sowiński, “Józef Lebenbaum: A Freedom Campaigner in Sweden, 1969-1989”

Chair: Daphne Carr

Presenter and Organizer Bios

Jonathan Dekel-Chen is Rabbi Edward Sandrow Chair in Soviet & East European Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He holds a dual appointment in the Department of General History and the Department of Jewish History & Contemporary Jewry. His current research and publications deal with transnational philanthropy and advocacy, non-state diplomacy, agrarian history, migration and Applied Humanities. 

Amy Fedeski is a doctoral candidate at the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. She holds a BA (Hons) in History and Politics from the University of Sheffield and an MPhil in American History from Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. She is currently finishing her dissertation, ‘“What We Want To Do As Americans”: Jewish Political Activism and United States Refugee Policy, 1965-1989’. More broadly, Amy’s research explores transnational Jewish migration politics during the Cold War. In August, Amy will be taking up her new role as the Alfred and Isabel Bader Postdoctoral Fellow in Jewish History at Queen’s University, Canada.

Nikki Freeman is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the Ohio State University and Director of Education at the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach. She is currently completing her dissertation, “Our Children Are Our Future”: Child Care, Education, and Rebuilding Jewish Life in Poland after the Holocaust. She was a 2021 National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellow and received a Fulbright-Hays DDRA grant in 2017.  She earned her MA in History from the Ohio State University in 2015 and BA in History and Secondary Education from Salem State University in 2012. 

Brian K. Goodman is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University, where he is also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Jewish Studies and the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies. His academic writing has been published by American Literary History and Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development. He has contributed a chapter on “American Jewish Writers and the Eastern Bloc” to The Bloomsbury Handbook to Cold War Literary Cultures (forthcoming in June 2022), and he has just completed his first book on the history of literary dissent between the United States and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War (forthcoming from Harvard UP in spring 2023). 

Anna Holzer-Kawałko is a PhD candidate at the Department of History of the Jewish People and Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she prepares her doctoral dissertation “Vanishing Heritage. Nation-building, Cultural Restitution and German-Jewish Libraries in Postwar Czechoslovakia” (under the supervision of Prof. Yfaat Weiss). She is an author of several articles devoted to the history of Nazi-looted Jewish libraries and archives, and a co-editor of “Contested Heritage: Jewish Cultural Property after 1945” (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019). Her first scholarly monograph “In fremden Häusern. Polen und Juden in Niederschlesien nach 1945” will be published in the summer of 2022 by the Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow. Her research interests include Jewish cultural property after 1945, heritage and migration studies, and historical study of material culture. 

Rebekah Klein-Pejšova is Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Purdue University and director of the Human Rights Program there. She is the author of Mapping Jewish Loyalties in Interwar Slovakia (Indiana University Press, 2015), and chapters appearing in Europe on the Move: Refugees in the Era of the Great War (Manchester University Press, 2017), World War I and the Jews: Conflict and Transformations in Europe, the Middle East, and America (Berghahn, 2017), and The Holocaust in Hungary: Seventy Years Later (Central European University Press, 2016).  Her current book project concerns postwar Jewish displacement, dispersion, and diaspora.

Shaul Kelner is Associate Professor of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. He is currently completing a National Endowment for the Humanities-supported book project on the culture and mass mobilization tactics of the American campaign for Soviet Jewish emigration rights. He is the author of Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage and Israeli Birthright Tourism.

Jacob Ari Labendz directs the Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies at Youngstown State University (through May 31st). His main areas of research are the intersections of statecraft, nationalism, and diaspora, with a focus on Jews in and from communist Czechoslovakia. Dr. Labendz also contributes to discussions of antisemitism, in Europe and the USA, Holocaust memory and aftermath, and Jewish food cultures. He edited Jewish Property after 1945: Cultures and Economies of Ownership, Loss, Recovery, and Transfer (Routledge, 2018), and co-edited with Shmuly Yanklowitz, Jewish Veganism and Vegetarianism: Studies and New Directions (SUNY 2019).

Boris Morozov is a research fellow at Tel-Aviv University’s Cummings Center for Russian and East European Studies. In addition to numerous articles, he has authored or edited nine books. Dr. Morozov’s next book, slated for publication with Routledge Press in 2023 and co-edited by Yaacov Ro’i and Yehoshua Freindlich is Israeli-Soviet Documents, 1954-1967. Dr. Morozov earned his PhD from Moscow State University in 1983.

Kunduz Niiazova is originally from Kyrgyzstan. She is currently a PhD candidate under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Ali Igman (California State University) and Dr. Vera Kaplant at Tel-Aviv University. Her PhD research falls under the title, “Empire, Nationality, and Modernity in Soviet Kyrgyzstan: Nexus of Kyrgyz-Jewish Intellectuals and Formation of Kyrgyz Cultural Identity from 1930 till 1970.” Kunduz Niiazova hopes that her work will contribute to post-colonial studies in the Central Asian region and Kyrgyzstan.

Dóra Pataricza, PhD, is a post-doctoral researcher in History who worked at the Szeged, Hungary and Helsinki, Finland Jewish Communities at projects aiming to index, catalog and digitize the Jewish archives. Currently, she is working as a part-time post-doctoral researcher at Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland. Since January 2020, she has also been a project manager in the Jewish community in Szeged, financed by the Claims Conference and IHRA, to reconstruct the fate of Holocaust victims from the Szeged region. In 2021, she received the Immanuel Löw Award of the Szeged Jewish Community.

​​Anat Plocker teaches at the School of General Studies at Stockton University, specializing in Modern European History. She gained her PhD from Stanford University and had been a fellow at Yale University and the University of Haifa. Her work on communist Poland has appeared in English, Polish and Hebrew. Plocker’s first book, The Expulsion of Jews from Communist Poland, has been published with Indiana University Press in 2022.

Zohar Segev Ph.D (1999) is professor of Jewish History at the University of Haifa. He has published books and many articles on American Jewish History including, The World Jewish Congress During the Holocaust: Between Activism and Restraint (De Gruyter, 2014). Prof. Segev’s most recent book is Immigration, Ideology, and Public Activity from an American Jewish Perspective: A Journey Across Three Continents (Brill 2022). He was a NY Public Library – Fordham Research Fellow in 2020-2021.

Paweł Sowiński is a research fellow at the Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Science in Warsaw, Poland. His research includes transnational support for Polish anti-communist opposition during the Cold War, the Polish underground book scene, tourism, cross-border petit traders, and May First festivals in communist Poland. Sowiński offers ten years of experience in the field of U.S. covert action programs for Eastern Europe during the Cold War. In 2020, he has contributed to the “Eastern European Politics Society and Culture” journal with his article about the book project entitled “Overseas Mechanism: The Polonia Book Fund, Ltd. Transnational Network, 1958-1963”.

Jonathan Zisook is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also serves on the faculty of Jewish Studies. Jonathan’s research has been supported by the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission, the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, and the American Joint Distribution Committee. His scholarship has appeared in the Journal of Classical Sociology, Religious Studies Review, and Studies in Contemporary Jewry. Jonathan received a PhD in sociology from the City University of New York and an MA in modern Jewish history from Yeshiva University.

Call for Papers (CLOSED)

We are seeking participants for a three-day symposium in Youngstown, Ohio to deliver papers exploring the meetings and movements of Jewish people and artifacts across Cold-War boundaries. We intend for the proceedings to form the basis of an edited volume and are already in discussion with a university press.

Date: Sunday, May 22 – Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Location: Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH
Organizers: Rebekah Klein-Pejšová (Purdue) and Jacob Ari Labendz (YSU)
Sponsors: The Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies at YSU and The Jewish Studies Program at Purdue University
Questions and Submissions:  

NOTE: We will cover the cost of accommodations, airport transfer to and from Youngstown, breakfasts and two dinners. There is no conference fee. Six travel grants of up to $500 are available. Priority will be given to graduate students, overseas scholars, and precariously employed instructors/researchers (i.e., non-tenure-track or tenured).


The political discourses of the Cold War, and of the first decades of reflection following the regime changes in Central Europe in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, portrayed a world divided by ideology and bifurcated by militarized borders. We seek to explore areas and moments of contact between Jews and Jewish communities across Cold-War boundaries, with the goal of deepening our understanding of the Cold War as a global phenomenon, and of shared cultural patterns across its divides. We aim to include works which cover a broad geographical scope, including the USSR, but without centering experiences with that state. Proposals pertaining to southeastern and central Europe, as well as to capitalist regions beyond the USA are desired.

Topics may include the meetings, frameworks, and strategies of individuals and organizations, as well as the circulation of artifacts and capital. We are interested in how local, national, and bloc politics conditioned the varied initiatives and experiences of stakeholders, while also widening our focus to appreciate what so many instances of cross-boundary “contact” may teach us about the Cold War, in this case, with specific attention to Jewish politics, culture, and life in the postwar world.

Scholars working on questions outside the fields of statecraft and community organization are encouraged to apply, including those researching areas where Jewish cultures and politics intersected with the concerns of other communities and family life.

We seek to include scholars at all career stages, including advanced graduate students (ABD only). We are committed to achieving diversity among participants. Minoritized scholars are encouraged to apply.

Finally, we would like to draw your attention to a roundtable scheduled for the December 2021 meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies, which will introduce and explore some of these themes. (Attendance will not affect acceptance into the symposium.)

TO APPLY, please send a proposal of no more than 250 words to by February 7, 2022. Please also attach a CV of no more than two pages. We will send invitations to participate by February 25, 2021.

Contact Symposium Flyer