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The Hebrew Order of David, from Whitechapel to Hendon via South Africa

Raymond Kalman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Hebrew Order of David: from Whitechapel to Hendon via South Africa* RAYMOND KALMAN In 1896 the Hebrew Order of Druids was registered as a friendly society at 21 Leman Street, Whitechapel, in the East End of London.1 A century later, in 1995, Lodge London No. 1, the first British lodge of the Hebrew Order of David, a South African Jewish fraternal society, was inaugurated in the Community Centre of Hendon United Synagogue in northwest London. This paper will examine the link between the two organizations. Friendly societies generally and Jewish ones in particular have been rela? tively neglected in social history studies in this country.2 As the work of these self-help organizations spans some three centuries, and they at various times had more members than the trades unions and possessed total funds equalling or exceeding those of some early banks, the neglect is difficult to justify. Their records are important sources of social and economic information con? cerning their members, while the community's involvement adds to our knowledge of the social and economic conditions of Jewish immigrant life in this country, particularly at the turn of the twentieth century. Friendly societies are mutual self-help organizations funded from member? ship fees and governed by their members in accordance with agreed rules. They provide benefits to their members when illness or injury prevent them from working, and additional benefits such as medical services or burial and funeral expenses. Jewish societies gave their members 'confined mourning' benefits if they sat shivah and usually required other members to ensure that there was a minyan at the funeral and during the seven days of shivah. The earliest recognizable examples of such societies date from the early eighteenth century, although at least three were established by Huguenot immigrants in the seventeenth century in the East End of London. More were established with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. The origins of such societies lie at least in part in rural 'box clubs', * Paper presented to the Society on 30 November 2000. 1 Parliamentary Papers LXXXII (London 1912-13) 572-632. 2 The first publication, B. A. Fersht, 'Chebra Rodphea Sholom, the Society of "Pursuers of Peace": Notes upon the first Jewish Friendly Society in England', Misc. JHSE 2 (1935) 90 8, mistakenly identifies the first Jewish society in this country; the next article was Raymond Kaiman, 'The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993', Trans JHSE (1995) 141-61. i8i</page><page sequence="2">Raymond Kaiman institutions of some antiquity which paid benefits to subscribers when illness or injury prevented them from working. Members met at regular intervals to collect subscriptions and pay benefits. They were so called because funds were kept in a box with two padlocks, the keys of which held by the treasurer and president respectively. The exchange of local news, particularly about where labour was required, was an important element of the meetings, and feasts were also held, usually preceded by a procession through the village led by a band and stave-bearer, the members wearing decorated hats.3 As rural workers left for the cities with the rapid expansion of industries, they took the idea of box clubs with them. Such support was essential at a time when the only available social insur? ance took the form of the workhouse or of the Poor Law provisions. Since friendly societies depended on subscriptions, however, membership was restricted to those who could afford the regular fees, which effectively excluded the very poor. The societies were therefore established by and for skilled workers, workshop proprietors or shopkeepers, who formed an emer? ging upwardly mobile class. Their social ambitions are reflected in the grandi? ose quasi-Masonic titles of officials, the regalia, rituals, passwords and identi? fying handshakes. Increasing wellbeing created a demand for consumer products, previously expensively handmade by craftsmen for the better off, but now produced by new manufacturing methods, prices being kept down by using cheap materials imported from the Empire. This supported the economic and financial devel? opment of the Jewish community, which was disproportionately involved in the manufacture of clothing, shoes, furniture, drapery, jewellery and watches. London, the largest centre for production, was also home to the principal Jewish community. Within this community, the most prominent members in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century had been merchants, brokers and bankers. Later arrivals, until the early nineteenth century, tended to be less affluent, but their wealth increased with the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of the Empire. Many late-nineteenth-century immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived as unskilled labourers or artisans, but slowly improved their social and economic conditions, often due to their disproportionate involvement in manufacturing. They also became increasingly involved in small scale produc? tion, in many cases as sub-contractors. A supporting factor to Jewish entrepreneurial success in the new climate was that in London production tended to be in workshops and small units, while in the North and the Midlands it developed mostly in factories. There 3 The Museum of Rural England, Reading, has a large collection of box-club staveheads, nhoroffranhs and other documentation. 182</page><page sequence="3">The Hebrew Order of David were also slow but significant increases in their involvement in retailing and wholesaling. The first Jewish friendly society, established in 1733 by members of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation in London, was called the Amigable Sociedad Para Assistir a sus Enfermos ('Friendly Society to Help its Infirm'),4 its name and rules being in Spanish. Members had to be aged between eight? een and forty-five and to pay ?1 is entrance fee and 4d weekly, plus addi? tional obligatory levies for funeral and burial costs and so on, considerable sums at the time. Many other such societies appeared from the mid eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries, which typically stipulated that if a member was married, the wedding should have been performed 'according to Jewish custom'. Some required only 5s or 7s 6d entrance, but it was common to charge as much as is weekly, plus the obligatory levies.5 Member? ship fees of up to about 3S-5S weekly remained standard from the early nine? teenth century until the 1920s.6 In 1900 this would have been roughly equiva? lent to a family's weekly rent in the East End, but by the end of the period the sum was relatively low. In many instances Jews joined non-Jewish societies, particularly 'Orders' - societies with branches known by terms such as lodges or courts. Some even? tually established Jewish branches, the best-known being the Ancient Order of Foresters, which appears to have established three courts in London between 1863 and 1901 - in Houndsditch, Whitechapel and Spitalfields - and one each in Glasgow and Birmingham. The Birmingham court merged with a non-Jewish one only in 1990.7 The societies were sufficiently important to warrant a reference in a report published by the United Synagogue on its 'East End Scheme' in 1898. Having referred to 'two Jewish Lodges of Foresters'8 and stating that 'we are informed that many Jews belong to societies known as "Druids" and "Buffa? loes'", it mentions four Jewish courts of the Ancient Order of Foresters, one 4 Mr Edgar Samuel informed me in a letter of 3 February 1996 that he had identified the 'oldest Anglo-Jewish Friendly Society, founded in 1733-4' in the catalogue of the Ets Haim Library in Amsterdam. The librarian kindly sent him a copy of the Portuguese text printed apparently in London in 1765. It appears in Cecil Roth, Magna Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica (London 1937) 296, item 4. 5 The PRO (FS 1, 2, 3 etc.) in Kew holds rule books and ephemera for many eighteenth- to twentieth-century Jewish and other friendly societies, containing evidence, somewhat ran? domly preserved, for membership regulations, subscriptions, benefits, officers and (where relevant) regalia. 6 Rose's Act of 1793 was followed by numerous others that increasingly regulated the activities of such societies, reflecting incidentally the rivalry between them and nascent penny banks, insurance companies, building societies etc. 7 Correspondence with Mrs A. M. Fisk; Heritage Trust Co-ordinator, Ancient Order of For? esters Friendly Society, February-April 1995. 8 East End Report, United Synagogue, 1898, Sec IV, p. 16. i83</page><page sequence="4">Raymond Kaiman of the Ancient Order of Druids and three of the Ancient Order of Buffaloes.9 Such information is obviously contradictory, however, confusingly men? tioning a single Hebrew lodge of the Ancient Order of Druids in 1898, although four lodges of the Hebrew Order of Druids had been established by 1896.10 By 1907 thirteen lodges existed, with 1179 members and total benefit funds of ?1003, suggesting an organization that was well funded and grow? ing.11 It has unfortunately not always been possible to discover whether the non-Jewish Order of Druids had Jewish lodges, or even to identify the first of the several 'Orders of Druids'. Disagreements led to the establishment of successive break-away organizations, each with similar names. The Hebrew Order of Druids had expanded to fourteen lodges in East London by 1904, the year in which it established its first overseas lodge in South Africa, probably the first overseas branch of any Anglo-Jewish friendly society. The links between this society and its British parent body, and the fact that its history has been recorded in some detail, make it useful as a model for the movement as a whole. S. A. Rochlin, the South African historian and archivist, has described how the Johannesburg Hebrew Order of David, the first of its kind outside Britain, was founded as a branch of the Hebrew Order of Druids.12 It was initiated by Joseph Distiller, a former member of the British Order, who had opened a barber shop in the old Empress Victoria Hotel, at the corner of Marshall and West Streets in Johannesburg, owned by a Mr Goldberg. Distiller obtained permission from Grand Lodge in Eng? land to open a branch, and Goldberg's son Harry, the manager of the hotel, agreed to be the first treasurer. Neither could be described as working class. At the inaugural meeting of the Dr Herzl Lodge, No. 19, held in the hotel on Sunday 27 November 1904, fifty members were initiated, soon rising to sixty-five. The Transvaal Leader reported the proceedings at length. A year later, at the Annual General Meeting in 1905, the lodge moved to the Transvaal Arms in Joubert Street, by which time it had 153 paying mem? bers and a bank balance of ?271. In 1906 the Max Langermann Lodge was established in Germiston, and a year later the Krugersdorp Lodge. This was renamed the David Ben Gurion Lodge in 1948, exemplifying the enduringly enthusiastic Zionism of many in the South African community. The first honorary member of the Dr Herzl Lodge was Dr Hyman Goodman of the Executive Council of the South African Zionist Federation, and many other Lodges were named after leading Zionists such as Max Nordau, Chaim Weiz mann, and Nahum Sokolow, besides the two already mentioned. 9 Ibid. 20. 10 Chief Registrar's Report, Parliamentary Papers LXVIII (1907) Sec IV, p. 594. 11 Ibid. LXXIX, Part A, Appendix N, pp. 402-3. 12 Dr Saul Issroff kindly sent me a copy of this article that appeared in the Hebrew Order of David Journal, Golden Jubilee Special Issue (Johannesburg 1964). 184</page><page sequence="5">The Hebrew Order of David In 1907 a new book of rules appeared, printed in English and Yiddish in London, entitled 'Rules of the Dr Herzl Lodge No. 19 ... an auxiliary branch of the Hebrew Order of Druids, whose headquarters are in London, England'. According to this, ordinary meetings would take place weekly and general meetings four times a year. Members would be fined 2s 6d for failing to attend general meetings or for disobeying the president. In 1910, when the South African Order became independent of its English parent body and formed a local Grand Lodge, its three lodges presented an address to the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, visiting Johannesburg for the inauguration of the Union of South Africa. The mayor of Johannesburg, Harry Graumann, who was later knighted, was a leading member, and the Harry Graumann Lodge, established in 1911 in Benoni, was named after him. The Max Langermann Lodge in Germiston was the first to adopt the name 'Grand Order of David' in 1915, and at a special meeting in the same year a resolution to change the name of the Order was carried unanimously, the officers being instructed to urge Grand Lodge to accept this. The parent body, the Hebrew Order of Druids in England, had itself changed its name to the Grand Order of the Shield of David in the same year. In 1934 it merged with the Grand Order of Israel, established in the East End in 1897, to become the Grand Order of Israel and Shield of David. The partner-Order had already established Lodge 21 in Cape Town and Lodge 54 in Bloemfont ein.13 The joint centenary of this only surviving Jewish friendly society in Britain was celebrated with a dinner in 1996. On 16 November 1919 a delegation from Grand Lodge was invited to a final general meeting in Germiston, attended by the founder Brother Joseph Distiller, at which seventy-five of the seventy-nine present voted for the change. By 1921 the Order adopted the name by which it is still known.14 Confusion continued, however, since the Sir Rufus Isaacs Lodge in Boksburg North belonged to the Hebrew Order of Druids, while the Max Nordau Lodge in Brakpan was in the Hebrew Order of David. Both towns were in the Transvaal.15 The growth continued and by June 1924, when the first Conference of the Order took place in Johannesburg, five more lodges had been established - the Otto Warburg in Pretoria and the Sir Rufus Isaacs (later renamed Joshua Mazeill) in Boksburg North, in 1914; the Max Langermann, originally opened in 1906, but reconsecrated in 1920; the Sir Herbert Samuel in Springs in 1921; and the M. M. Ussishkin in Witbank in 1924. In the next thirty years another thirteen lodges were added in Durban, Bloemfontein, Kroonstad, 13 The Jewish Year Book (London 1921) 92-3. 14 Rochlin (see n. 12). 15 The Jewish Year Book (London 1925) 138-55. i8s</page><page sequence="6">Raymond Kaiman Randfontein, Vereeniging, Kimberley, Nigel, Krugersdorp, Brthal, Greenside and three in Johannesburg. In all, the Hebrew Order of David established no fewer than fifty-five lodges throughout South Africa, and its importance within the Jewish community was considerable.16 Conversations with veteran members indicate that the prestige of the Order and its involvement in the Jewish (and non-Jewish) community far exceeded that of its Anglo-Jewish counterparts. The end came with the third reading of the Friendly Societies Act in the South African Parliament, when the Grand Executive decided to recommend to the Biennial Conference in 1955 that the Hebrew Order of David become a fraternal organization and that all financial benefits to which members of the Order had been entitled under its rules as a friendly society would now cease.17 The new Act would have imposed conditions that were considered unacceptable, including the modification or even abolition of some of the officers' titles and the quasi-Masonic ritual and regalia inherited from Eng? land fifty years earlier. The officers preferred to conclude its activities. The origins and development of the South African Jewish community help explain the disproportionate role played by the Order, compared with its parent body. The modern South African Jewish community, founded in 1841 in the Cape Colony, numbered some 3000, growing after the Boer War, and particularly after the discovery of gold and diamonds.18 This led to the devel? opment of non-precious-mineral extraction, industry, commerce and agricul? ture. In 1900-1 the community numbered approximately io,ooo,19 and by 1921 had grown to about 47,ooo.20 The 1936 census estimate was 102,000 i04,ooo.21 At its peak in about 1966 the community was estimated at n6,ooo.22 The importance of the Order in South African society owes much to the limited size of the community and the relative lack of other social-support organizations at the time of its founding in the late nineteenth century.23 South African Jewry was only two generations old at the time the Order was founded. The British community, in comparison, was long established and well equipped with facilities for education and the care of the aged and infirm. These expanded still further to cater for the waves of immigrants after 1881. 16 In the 1980s the Order published The H 0 D, The First 80 Years (Johannesburg undated). 17 D. Wacks, The Hebrew Order of David from 1954', in H 0 D, The First 80 Years (Johannesburg undated) 29-32. 18 The Jewish Year Book (London 1896-7) 30. 19 Ibid. (London 1900-01) 26. 20 Ibid. (London 1921) 173. 21 Ibid. (London 1939) 350. 22 Ibid. (London 1966) 149. 23 Louis Herrman, History of the Jews of South Africa, from the Earliest Times to i8gs (Johannesburg 1935) 273. 186</page><page sequence="7">The Hebrew Order of David The growth of the Order in South Africa was stimulated by the fact that much of South African Jewry came from specific areas of Lithuania, Latvia and the present Belorus and that iandsmannschaften' (social societies estab? lished by people originating from the same European region or town) flour? ished there in a way they did not in Britain. Such societies frequently extended financial help as part of their programme, an activity known technic? ally in Hebrew as Gemilas Hesed. Eastern European Jews were drawn together also by the fact that they belonged neither to the governing English-speaking minority nor to the Afrikaans-speaking society of the first European settlers, and were seemingly rejected by both. Coupled to these factors was the natural appeal of a non-party-political, exclusively Jewish society with branches throughout the country, open to all sections of the community and able to assist with communal problems. The emphasis on chavershaft, 'brotherhood', and the provision of an informal social programme including outdoor sports and events, merely added to its appeal. Acceptance was not automatic and membership could be refused, ensuring that an element of status attached to the Order, reflected also in the use of 'secret' ritual, including handshakes and passwords borrowed from Freemasonry. Other borrowings were the grandiose titles and impressive officers' regalia. The community is now in decline due to emigration to Israel, Canada, the United States and Australasia, and in 1999 was estimated at 90,ooo.24 A recent article in the Jewish Chronicle noted the benefit to the New Zealand commun? ity of a 'transfusion' from South Africa.25 Estimates of the number of South African Jews in Britain vary between 10,000 and 60,000, many of them in northwest London and south Hertfordshire. After head office approved the proposal, former members of the Hebrew Order of David inaugurated Lodge London No. 1, a British branch of the Order, in November 1995 at the United Synagogue Community Centre in Hendon. The following year Lodge London No. 2, Yitzhak Rabin, was inaugurated in Edgware, and in 1998 Lodge London No. 3 was inaugurated in Borehamwood and Elstree. The 200 or so members in Britain are involved in charitable and support activities - they steward charity bike rides, ferry the infirm, donate wheelchairs and equipment to Jewish old people's homes, Christmas gifts to hospitals and funds to charitable causes. They have barbecues rather than the South Africa braai, and few veterans compare the boerworst from London's kosher butchers with the real thing in Springs or Benoni, but the South African influence remains strong, as can be seen from the interest in sport. 24 The Jewish Year Book (London 1999) 195. 25 Jewish Chronicle 6 July 2001, p. 8. 187</page></plain_text>