Horodenker Landsmanshaftn

by Mark Heckman (2000)

There have been several landsmanschaftn for people from Gorodenka. Landsmanshaftn were organized by immigrants as social clubs, as mutual aid societies, and, as their members aged, as burial societies.

In the United States, the oldest landsmanschaft was the"First Horodenker Sick and Benevolent Society", established in 1895. This society is still in existence, but its sole function is to manage the burial plots purchased by the society. The current president said that she has no records.

In 1914, younger immigrants established the"Progressive Horodenker Society". This group is still active and its officers hold regular meetings. (Although some of the group's records, for an unknown reason, are at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.)

Another Horodenker landsmanshaft was the Horodenker Lodge, Independent Order Brith Abraham.

 There is also a "Horodenker Association" in Israel, whose address is

    Zvi Weitzman
    93 Sokolov Street
    Herzlia, 46497


 In the Ontario Jewish Resource Directory of 1989 there was the following listing:

Horodenka Friendship Club
176 Clifton Ave.
Downsview, ON
M3H 4L7
Tel. 635-1060

The phone number, however, is now out of service and the Jewish Information Service there has no knowledge of the organization.

 Read the following books to learn more about Landsmanshaftn:

  • Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-1939, by Daniel Soyer; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997; ISBN 0-674-44417-5.
  • This is an excellent book that traces the origins and development of landsmanshaftn in America. Soyer makes the case that, while communal activities of the sort carried out by landsmanshaftn were common among Jews in Eastern Europe, and while the principle of the landsmanshaft -- an association of immigrants from the same home town -- can be traced in Jewish history back to the Babylonian exile, the American landsmanshaftn reflected in many ways the influence of existing American mutual aid associations and fraternal lodges, and of the greater American political and social culture. For example, American landsmanshaftn were highly democratic, unlike the communal organizations, such as Chevra Kadisha, in European towns.

     I also enjoyed the distinction that Soyer makes between the types of landsmanshaftn, which can be broadly divided into three classes: "Traditional" landsmanshaftn, which were originally centered on religious congregations; "Mutual-aid societies," whose founding purpose was to provide for the social welfare of it's members; and "Socialist/labor societies," established as part of an international socialist culture. While many landsmanshaft remained fiercely independent, many others were affiliated with broader geographical organizations (such as the "Federation of Galician and Bukovinean Jews"), fraternal orders (such as the "Independent Order Brith Abraham"), and socialist and labor orders (such as the "Workmens Circle"). The balance of power between the landsmanshaftn, their affiliated orders, and regional or national Jewish Organizations was a source of constant struggle.

     Over time, the function of the Landsmanshaftn changed. Many were originally established for religious and social reasons. The lack of a government social safety net, and the stigma associated with accepting charity, encouraged the establishment of mutual aid programs -- essentially self-funded health and life-insurance policies. Many landsmanshaftn contracted with doctors to serve their members, paying a fixed fee per member plus a small co-payment for each visit -- a system equivalent to that in many HMOs today. (It is instructive to learn that doctors did not like that kind of health insurance system then any more than they do now.) No matter what the religious or political goals of each landsmanshaft, it served as an important vehicle for the Americanization of its immigrant members, where new arrivals could be assisted by their more experienced landsleit.

     During and immediately after WWI, what Soyer calls "the Heroic Period," landsmanshaftn were dedicated to raising funds for their family, friends, and former neighbors in Europe. Despite the battles and other dangers, an impressive amount of funds managed to find their way to people in the home towns.

     After the war, and as a result of U.S. limits on immigration, the purpose of the landsmanshaftn changed again. Cut off from a flow of new immigrants, the average age of the members climbed. The immigrants' children did not have the same ties to the old country and were usually not interested in joining the landsmanshaft. The increasing prosperity of the members, so that fewer people depended on the mutual aid services, also lead to a decline in membership. The remaining members focused more and more on the social aspects of the societies.

     WWII and its aftermath lead to the final stage in the history of landsmanshaftn, that of writing memorial books to commemorate the destruction of the hometowns.

     This book is adapted from Soyer's doctoral dissertation, but while it is exhaustively researched it is also quite easy to read, and will be enjoyed by the scholar and non-scholar alike.

     I obtained this book from the library of the University of California at Davis, call number F 128.9 J5 S69 1997.


  • Jewish Hometown Associations and Family Circles in New York, edited by Hannah Kliger; Indiana University Press, 1992; ISBN 0-253-33128-5.
  •  The Yiddish Writers' Group of the Federal Writers' Project, Works Progress Administration, prepared a report called Di Yidishe Landsmanshaftn fun Nyu York (The Jewish Landsmanshaftn of New York), which was published by the I.L. Peretz Yiddish Writers' Group in 1938. This work was followed in 1939 by another report:Yidishe familyes un Familye Krayzn fun Nyu York (Jewish Families and Family Circles of New York). Additional works, in English, were completed but never published. One of the English projects was Jewish Hometown Associations and Family Circles in New York. Hannah Kliger discovered the work in the New York Municipal Archives and published this annotated edition, including some history on the Yiddish Writers' Project and their research methods.

     The book consists of translations of sections of the two Yiddish books, including chapters titled "The Social Role of Landsmanshaftn," "The Constitutions of the Landsmanshaftn," and "Jewish Family Circles." The book seems disjointed to me, understandable for a work that consists of translations of extracts from two other books. The focus of the work is on the conditions and basic organization of landsmanshaftn at that time, and is longer on statistics than it is on analysis.

     I would have liked to have seen some more historical and sociological context for how and why the landsmanshaftn were the way they were, but perhaps that wasn't possible at the time, when landsmanshaftn were still thriving and some of the authors were themselves members.


  • A Brotherhood of Memory: Jewish Landsmanshaftn in the New World, by Michael R. Weisser; New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1985; ISBN 0-465-00779-1.
  •  In this book, Weisser explains how the Jewish immigration experience was quite different from that of other ethnic groups in that the connection to the Old World was irrevocably broken. For example, Italian immigrants might come to the U.S. because of its greater opportunities, but the long-term goal was to retire back in the home village. Jewish immigrants, however, could never do so. The role of the benevolent societies for most Central and East European immigrants, according to Weisser, was to act as a conduit between the old World and the New -- a mechanism for maintaining that connection. For Jews, Weisser says, the landsmanshaftn was a means of recreating the Old World within the New.

     Furthermore, Weisser goes on to say, the landsmanshftn did not serve as vehicles for assimilation into the general U.S. culture, but as a barrier against the need to assimilate. Weisser characterizes the psychology of immigrant Jews as based on "fear of change, avoidance of chance, and minimizing of risk." They stayed in their impoverished villages until forced to leave, then attempted to recreate their villages in their new location. As proof that "landsmanshaftn as a whole remained mired in the Old World view of things," Weisser cites the retention of Yiddish as the universal meeting language, a basically Orthodox religious orientation, eating of only Kosher food at meetings, and the long-term identification with the shtetl or region of origin.

     A problem with Weisser's thesis is that it is based primarily on interviews and observations of long-term landsmanshaftn members. While he says that the landsmanshaftn helped many new immigrants while they adjusted to life in America, and who later may have dropped out of active membership after their adjustment was complete, Weisser seems to focus exclusively on those members who remained members until the end of their lives. While his conclusions may be valid for those elderly members, the conclusions are undercut by the many people who did not remain lifetime members. It is like looking at a math class and studying only those who fail each term and have to repeat the course. Does one conclude that all who take the class are failures in math, or that the math class itself is the cause of their failure?

     It occured to me as I read the book that Weisser was being too harsh on the elderly members of the groups that he studied. Was it really so bad for the members to continue to join together to retain a memory of their old homes? People choose their social groups for all sorts of reasons. Why was socializing based on a similar Old World home so bad? The judgemental tone detracts from Weisser's otherwise well-written work.

     One strength of the book is that it gives quite good coverage of the history of the landsmanshaftn during and after WWII. But overall I would recommend Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-1939, by Daniel Soyer, if you were only going to read one book about landsmanshaftn.

     I obtained this book from the library of the University of California at Davis, call number F 128.9 J5 W45 1985.

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