A Short History of The Workers (formerly Workmen’s) Circle

Yiddish at the Circle

When the Yiddish-speaking immigrant Jews came to America, they found overcrowded tenements and hazardous sweatshops. With poverty inevitably came disease. They founded the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring in New York City in 1900 as a refuge from oppression. They established schools and camps for children and adults, published books, operated a famous Medical Department for their members’ care and sanitariums for the infirm, ran credit unions for their members, and bought tracts of land for cemeteries. And they founded the great garment workers’ unions that agitated for better conditions, in short for a shenere un besere velt — a more beautiful and better world. They fulfilled the promise of America.

All over America and Canada, branches of the Workmen’s Circle sprang up to support Jews in their struggle to organize a decent, productive life for themselves and their children. The Karl Liebknecht Branch was the first in Los Angeles, established on January 21, 1908. The organization has enjoyed a continuous presence in the city, and elsewhere in California, ever since. January 2014 marked the completion of our 105th Anniversary Year.

Early in our history, it was Workmen’s Circle members who established the City of Hope, originally for the care of tuberculosis patients, now a world-famous medical center whose philosophy still calls for free medical treatment. Over the years, Workmen’s Circle has expanded into the support of the Jewish Home for the Aging and many other charitable causes. Ours were among the earliest voices to speak up against Nazism in the 1930s, and against Stalinism in the USSR. We have advocated consistently for civil rights legislation, health care reform, affordable housing, pro-labor legislation and fair employment practices, full and equal rights for women, gays and lesbians, and expanded social security. We were particularly active in the earliest Chicano electoral campaigns of the 1940s and 50s and in the farm workers’ struggles.

In keeping with our goal of preserving the unique beauty of Jewish culture, and as the preeminent advocate of Yiddish cultural activity in particular, we offer a rich program of holiday observances and celebrations, concerts, theatre, lectures, forums, debates and discussions.