Toronto Hebrew Benevolent Society

During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, large numbers of Jews immigrated to North America. Among these Jewish immigrants, it became common practice to establish mutual benefit societies. In return for annual dues, members received assistance in several areas, such as medical or financial expenses, as well as cemetery privileges and community social programs.

Incorporated in 1899, the Toronto Hebrew Benevolent Society (THBS) was the first Jewish mutual benefit society in Ontario not associated with a particular synagogue. The members were mostly immigrants from eastern Europe; the original thirty-five members were all cloak makers. In addition to its sick benefits and burial functions, the THBS also provided organized social programs for the community. However, once the federal government implemented healthcare and unemployment insurance programs, the THBS ceased to provide these services.

The THBS prided itself on its involvement in philanthropic activities, donating to various causes and institutions, both in the Jewish community and outside it. During the Second World War, it sent comfort boxes to servicemen overseas and supported programs at Camp Borden, a large military and air force training facility near Barrie, Ontario.

Still active today, the THBS offers social events, meetings, and charity work and continues to maintain its cemetery properties and provide burial plots. It supports several organizations, such as Beit Halochem, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Israel Cancer Research Fund, and United Jewish Appeal, among others.

The Toronto Hebrew Benevolent Society fonds consists of executive meeting minutes, notices and agendas, member ledgers, artifacts, photographs, commemorative booklets, newspaper clippings, correspondence, financial records, and other materials. These records provide an in-depth look at the workings and history of the organization as well as the history of its members. This collection also presents opportunities for research into philanthropic activities, social programs, and the THBS’s commitment to Jewish values and well-being.

Archivist Notes

Records from mutual benefit societies such as the Toronto Hebrew Benefit Society showcase the role that these organizations played in providing much-needed assistance at a time when government healthcare and other social assistance programs were non-existent. The societies were often a first line of support for new immigrants. Not only did mutual benefit societies provide members with financial assistance and burial functions, they also operated as a social group; as such, their records document a range of topics such as issues faced by new immigrants, charitable activities, individual members, and social events.

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