By Jehuda Reinharz
FARBAND Labor Zionist Order, originally called Yiddish Natzionaler Arbeiter Farband (Jewish National Workers’ Alliance) was a fraternal order associated with the Labor Zionist movement.
The establishment of the Farband was first conceived in Philadelphia in 1908 by a small group headed by Meyer L. Brown which sought to build a fraternal order in which Labor Zionists would feel at home – one that would combine fraternal benefits and mutual aid with a Labor Zionist outlook and program. In the succeeding two years groups were formed in several cities, and on June 10–16 a founding conference of the national Farband took place in Rochester, New York. It adopted the name Yiddish Natzionaler Arbeiter Farband (Jewish National Workers Alliance) and formulated the following program:
The JNWA strives to organize all Jewish workers on the following principles:
1. Mutual help in case of need, sickness, and death.
2. Education of Jewish workers to full awareness of their national and social interests.
3. Support of all endeavors which lead to the national liberation and renascence of the Jewish people… support of all activities which lead to the strengthening and liberation of the working class.
With the then-existing Jewish fraternal orders largely devoid of ideological content, and with the only other Jewish workers order – the Workmen’s Circle (Arbeiter Ring) – initially adopting an anti-Zionist position, Farband, with its socialist-Zionist viewpoint and program in Israel and America, grew in number from 1,000 in 1911 to 25,000 in 1946 and 40,000 in 1972.
In 1971, the Farband joined with the Labor Zionist Organization of America-Poale Zion and the American Habonim Association, the alumni organization of the Habonim youth movement, to form the Labor Zionist Alliance, which in 2004 re-branded and renamed itself as Ameinu.
In 1911 Farband developed the first modern insurance and mutual benefit system for Jewish workers. The organization received its official charter, licensing it to sell various insurance and medical plans, from the State of New York on January 6, 1913, and from Canada in 1921. The main mutual benefits of Farband include: life, accident, health, hospitalization, and juvenile insurance; a major medical plan; and savings and loan groups.
Jewish Culture and Education
From its inception Farband was involved in Jewish communal affairs at home and abroad. In 1913 it fought against the “literacy test” given to immigrants and protested against the *Beilis Trial. During World War I, Farband participated in the establishment of the American Jewish Congress and the People’s Relief Committee, and sent many volunteers to fight in the ranks of the Jewish Legion. During World War II, Farband campaigned actively to raise funds for the Labor Zionist Committee for Relief and Rehabilitation. It also energetically supported the founding of the American Jewish Conference in 1944. Farband was active in the civil rights struggle and espoused many other liberal causes both in the United States and Canada. Much of that activity was spearheaded by the political arm of the American Labor Zionist movement, the Labor Zionist Organization of America-Poale Zion, with Farband providing financial and logistical support and, frequently, manpower.
Farband itself concentrated much of its energies on cultural activities. It established “educational bureaus” in the 1920s to encourage Jewish cultural activities by promoting Friday evening Sabbath celebrations or Oneg Shabbat, musical and drama presentations, seminars, study groups, and lectures throughout the United States and Canada. Farband encouraged its members to use Hebrew and Yiddish and in cooperation with the Hillel Foundation, beginning in 1966, promoted the study of the Yiddish language and literature on many campuses throughout the United States. Farband supported the Jewish Teachers’ Seminary, the People’s University in New York, the Farband Book Publishing Association, and a number of newspapers and periodicals in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. It provided educational programs during the summer months through its summer camps: in 1926 Unser Camp (for adults) and Kindervelt (for youth) were created in New York.
Farband was instrumental in the founding in 1913 of the first secular Jewish day schools in North America, the National Radical Schools, later renamed the I.L. Peretz Schools, in Montreal and Winnipeg.An ideological split in the Montreal Peretz School in 1914 led to the formation of the Jewish People’s School-Folkshule. The two Montreal schools, Peretz and People’s, remerged in 1971 to form the Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools. Together with their affiliated Bialik High School they form the largest and most successful secular Jewish day school system in North America.
In 1947 Farband spearheaded the founding of a secular Jewish day school, the Kinneret School, in the Bronx, N.Y. Now located in the Riverdale section, Kinneret is still known for its secular orientation, its strong ties to Israeli culture and, consistent with its working-class roots, a relatively low tuition structure. It is particularly popular with Israeli families.
A fuller history of the Jewish Peretz and People’s schools in Montreal is found in Rebecca Margolis’s Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil: Yiddish Cultural Life in Montreal, 1905-1945.
As a Labor Zionist organization Farband maintained strong ties with Eretz Israel and the State of Israel, especially the workers’ groups there. At its founding conference, it resolved to institute obligatory taxes for the benefit of workers in Eretẓ Israel. Important Israeli leaders, among them David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Golda Meir, and Zalman Shazar, frequently came to the United States to address its conventions and leaders. In 1919 Farband opened a branch in Eretẓ Israel, and during the British Mandate period and after World War II it campaigned energetically for the creation of a Jewish state and assisted with funds and manpower in its creation. After the birth of Israel, Farband continued its work on behalf of the cooperative, pioneering sector through support of the Histadrut. It consistently invested a part of its insurance funds in bodies which promoted its ideals, particularly in the investment arms associated with the Histadrut Labor Federation.
While mainly based in New York, the Farband was active throughout the United States and Canada, forming local chapters and summer camps in many cities with significant Jewish communities. The summer camp for the New York chapter was called Camp Kinderwelt, located in upstate New York, and had an adjoining adults’ camp called Unser Camp. In 1931 the Farband Yugnt Clubs, their youth wing, joined with Young Poale Zion" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poale_Zion">Poale Zion to form the Young Poale Zion Alliance (YPZA) as the official youth wing of the entire Labor Zionist movement in America.
The YPZA children’s division, originally called the Buds, was renamed Habonim (The Builders) in 1932, to associate itself with the Habonim Labor Zionist youth movement formed in England and South Africa in 1927. Habonim became an independent organization in 1935, merged with the Gordonia youth movement in 1938 and in 1940 absorbed the YPZA, which became the senior division of Habonim.