Los Angeles Jewish People’s Fraternal Order

International Workers’ Order • Jewish Section

The International Workers’ Order came into being as the left wing faction of the Arbeter Ring|Workmen’s Circle during a contentious political rift in 1922. This rift gave rise to an official break and the IWO was established in 1930, promoting leftist, progressive values and operating as a fraternal mutual aid organization and insurance provider. The Jewish Section of the IWO —  there were 13 other sections, including Italian, Ukrainian, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, English, and other language branches — was the largest and, in Los Angeles, was one of the most important Jewish organizations in the first half of the 20th century.

After the Second World War, the rise of McCarthyism with its intense focus on Hollywood leftism together with the virulently antisemitic campaign of California State Senator Jack Tenney, made IWO a clear target. It also became the prime scapegoat for anti-communists and anti-progressives and for members of the L.A. Jewish community establishment, which sought to publicly distance themselves from leftism.

While the IWO-Jewish Section was one of the most popular Jewish organizations in the city and had more children enrolled in its school network than any other single Jewish organization, a campaign began in 1949 to expel it from the official Jewish Community. Members of the Jewish Community Council claimed that community support should not go to any “international” organization. Although the IWO-Jewish Section had become the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO-IWO) in 1944, this was not enough. L.A. Jewish Community Council members challenged the JPFO as political movement and argued that its leftism was a violation of of the Community’s apolitical stance. When the JPFO argued that Zionist organizations were also overtly political, opponents claimed that its domestic politics were the problem and that support for the fledgling State of Israel was not to be considered a “political” cause. Partly to distinguish their particular liberal-left bent from the more radical JPFO, the Workmen’s Circle along with the American Jewish Congress argued vociferously for the JPFO’s expulsion.

The L.A. developments followed the pattern of the nationwide McCarthyite witchhunt. IWO was placed on the U.S. Attorney General’s list of “subversive” organizations (Dec. 5, 1947) and the New York State Insurance Department of moved on December 14, 1950 to liquidate the Order on grounds that its significant cash reserves — far beyond what commercial insurers were required to maintain — would, in the event of war with the Soviet Union, be turned over to the enemy.

After a four year heated struggle, during which the IWO was added to the state’s list of “subversive” organizations, the Jewish Community Council (which became the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles in 1959) expelled the JPFO from the Jewish community, freezing the JPFO’s assets and actively worked towards its dissolution. The Community Council also began a process of halting support fot the Jewish Community Centers on the Eastside — at the Soto-Michigan JCC and the City Terrace Cultural Center where JPFO members met. Within a few years, not only was the JPFO destroyed, but so too were the Eastside’s two most important Jewish cultural institutions.

Do you have memories of the International Workers Order or the JPFO? Please add them below. (Note that there can sometimes be a delay before your comment posts to the page!)
Do you have photos or interesting artifacts you can share? Let us know!
  • Donna Cassyd

    I recently found a beautiful yellow health card, folded in three places, my parents had for me, it was from the IWO, and was printed in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. I thought it must have been from New York, where we came from, before we arrived in L.A. at the end of the war, 1945. I had donated it to the Tenement Museum in New York, but now I’m thinking it might have been from the IWO in L.A.(?). I wonder if the Tenement Museum would lend to here?

  • Harriet Belkin

    I remember the Soto Michigan Center – home of the AZA. My talented brother took an art class there.

  • Ethel Lipson McClatchey

    My mother was a member of JPFO of IWO in Brooklyn and I was sent to the Yiddish school run by them. My mother also had insurance for a gravesite and I still have the Insurance paper. It cost her $20. However she came to Los Angeles and was buried here. I came to LA in 1956 and got a position as Vocational Counselor for the Jewish Vocational Service, a program of the Jewish Community Council at the 590 N. Vermont Bldg.

    Several of us newcomers heard about the union busting in 1948 that ended unions for the service organizations. I became co-Chair of the Union Organizing Committee along with Harriet Perchonok of JFS. With the help of people like Lenny Potash and Elinor Glynn, we managed to organize the Professional and Clerical members of the organizations at the 590 and the Jewish Community Centers. I was never aware of the IWO connection but became very aware of the anti-union Board members of the fundraising arm of what became the Jewish Federation Council (JFC).

    I grew up thinking that all Jews were liberal. Boy, was I wrong. I later spent 30 years with the Hollywood Los Feliz JCC as a Board member, officer and President. I have never forgiven JFC for destroying the JCC’s.

  • Julia Stein

    My grandparents were members of the I.W.O. in LA and were buried in their cemetery in, I believe, Rosemead. Does anybody know the exact address of the cemetery as I would like it know it. Also in 1980 I did an interview of Abe Maymudes, who was secretary (director) of the IWO during the 1940s in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, and he talks a lot about what he did, what the IWO did, and the politics.

  • Lois Eisenberg

    My father, Phil Barbanell, owned and operated Barbanell’s Pharmacy in City Terrace on the corner of City Terrace Drive and Miller Ave. from Jan. 1941 until his retirement. My husband Harry Eisenberg and my brother Neil Barbanell took over the Pharmacy until its closing.

  • Libby Ginsburg

    I attended the IWO schule on Wabash and Stone St. when I was in the 7th, 8th and 9th grades in the 1930’s and have a play entitled Play Street a one-act play in three scenes by Muni Diamond in which I had a role. It was supplied by the Educational Dept…Junior Section, IWO, 80 Fifth Ave., New York City, N.Y. I think it should be included in the ephemera that is being collected.

  • Manuel (Manny) (Mendl) Morden

    I “grew up” at the Soto Michigan Center, attended the JPFO Kindershul on Brooklyn (now Cesar Chavez) Ave. and Mittleshul at the Soto Michigan Center. Sabelle Bender “declamirt” and acted in those years and my favorite Mitleshul “lehrerin” was Rivke Zolataroff. Later, when I lived in City Terrace, Barbanell’s was our meeting place to either ride the bus (to the “P” car and then wherever our destination was) or pile in with whoever had a car. I have so many memories: of the most diverse, multi-cultural community that ever existed; in L.A. or anywhere. I remember all of the left wing schisms (not only IWO vs Arbetering) and the subsequent destruction of our L.A. Jewish community.

  • yiddishkayt

    We’d love to see (or hear) that interview if you still have it! Could the cemetery be Mt. Carmel in Commerce (6501 E. Gage Avenue)? — Many IWO members were buried there (including Abe Maymudes).

  • Marsha Bogdanoff Spector

    We went to Menorah Center for nursery school, Mrs. Perlmutter and Mr. T were my teachers. I have a class photo with them included. My grandparents, Herschel and Sonia Cohen, sent me to the JPFO Kindershule in 2 locations on Wabash Ave. where Rose Cohen and Mr. Maymudes were my teachers. Later there was summer day camp at the Soto-Michigan Center where I broke fingers on my right hand when I was 9 yrs. old, no piano practice for the rest of the summer. The McCarthy years are indelible in my memory. My dad’s friend was imprisoned and I recall delivering food to help feed his family. Many other tales to tell.

  • yiddishkayt

    Was this the Menorah Center on Wabash and Alma in City Terrace? We plan to profile the Menorah Center in an upcoming issue! Please let us know how to reach you by EMAILING US. Thanks!

  • Aaron Paley

    I love how the JPFO reverberated through the Valley Kindershule and Mittelshule in the 1960s and 1970s after the closure of the Eastside centers. Rose Cohen was my first Yiddish teacher at the Valley Kindershule in 1966. No one mentioned the JPFO connection while we were in shule, but looking back, the connection is so clear!

  • Noralee Landau Gold

    Is there anyone out there in Jewish Computer Land who is from Chicago or environs who remembers Camp Lincoln in Bristol, Wisconsin? Also known as Camp Nisht Gadiget (Not to worry)…
    Bikel was the leader, supervisor, the guy who ran the camp and it was great….Both the adult side, where parents came to spend a few days or a week and the kids’ side, where I became a very young camper in the late 30’s.
    In Chicago, on the West Side, I attended the IWO CHEDER. The teacher was known as Chaver Kaplan…Wow, how did I remember that!!!!

  • the International workers Order was founded March 30, 1930, not 1931.

  • Steven S Dornbusch

    As a slightly younger (59) Jewish reader who didn’t grow up in LA (arrived 1983) and only know of Boyle Heights (Jewish) life rather tangentially, I thank each of you for your comments below. With each anecdote and set of facts, you contribute to painting a picture of socialist traditions and cultural activities. along with bad history too prevalent and shameful to ignore. Thank you all!