Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe to the United States reached explosive proportions. Having endured the hardships of a sometimes harrowing journey across the Atlantic, many among the newly arrived were dumbfounded by what greeted them in America: a land of freedom and opportunity to be sure, but one too of exploitative labor practices, blighted and overcrowded tenements, ethnic rivalries, and the daunting job of assimilating into an unfamiliar new culture. Recognizing the importance of facing these challenges with a unified front, and feeling the resonance of traditional and deeply-held Jewish values emphasizing community and social justice, a convocation of progressive-minded immigrants gathered in 1900 to found Der Arbeter Ring or, in English, the Workmen’s Circle.
Over the past century, we at the Workmen’s Circle have undergone significant changes in outlook and program, but have remained passionately committed to the principles at the living core of our organization: Jewish community, the promotion of an enlightened Jewish culture, and social justice. Our social institutions for years played a crucial ameliorative role in the lives of American Jews; through our camp, our schools, our MultiCare Center, and through our lively communities across North America, we continue to play such a role today. Yiddish was once the primary language of the majority of our members and we are today widely known and respected as a central force in the renaissance of fascination and creativity in Yiddish culture that includes literature, music, theater, and more. Historically, the Workmen’s Circle raised a crucial voice in the struggles of American labor; today we work fiercely to remain a bulwark in the fight for the dignity and economic rights of immigrants, fairness in labor practices, decent health care for all Americans, in short, for the very promises that brought our organization’s founders to this nation in the first place.