Reborn as an Innovator in Jewish Education, Workmen’s Circle Starts its Second Century with New Mission, Leadership, Energy

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With Pending Sale of Iconic Midtown Headquarters, 110-Year-Old Progressive Organization Returns to Its Roots, Relocating to Garment District; http://www.circle.org

With a transformed mission, new leadership, and renewed zeal for progressive values, a legendary Jewish organization is getting reborn as a major force in Jewish education.

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring – the celebrated social-justice organization founded in 1900 by Jewish immigrants - will now “create innovative education programs to inspire a new generation of progressive activists,” according to executive director Ann Toback.

At an historic annual meeting October 24, Toback will also unveil a long-awaited reboot of the Workmen’s Circle’s decades-old board and membership structures. For the first time in its history, the organization will elect a woman president, Philadelphia education non-profit professional Madelon Braun, whose father, Harold Ostroff, who served multiple terms as a dynamic president and leader of the Workmen’s Circle. The organization will elect its board and president by “direct democracy” for the first time, replacing the old “representative democracy” system.

Toback – the group’s first woman executive director -- will also announce to members that the organization is in contract to sell the iconic headquarters it has occupied at 45 E. 33rd Street since 1973. The Workmen’s Circle will move to new offices in the Garment District, Toback said.

“Along with the fact that the sale is advantageous both financially and strategically, there’s an inspiring symbolic value in moving from our longtime offices to a new location,” she said. “While we’re going back to our roots, in a sense, we’re also very much looking toward the future in one of the city’s most dynamic and progressive neighborhoods.”

New Mission Looks to Grow Membership Among Families, Youth

Likewise, the Workmen’s Circle’s new mission will revitalize an organization with an active but aging membership. Working with culture influencers, educators, lay leaders, and parents, the Workmen’s Circle will develop “a professional, original educational model for children and their families,” said Toback, who had been a longtime leader of the Writer’s Guild of America, East.

The goal: To engage thousands of Jewish families nationwide by 2015. The programs, which will pair expressions of Jewish identity with progressive activism, will aim to fill a gap in Jewish education that has focused largely on religious studies, Toback said. “As many as two-thirds of unaffiliated American Jews have indicated they want more inspiring alternatives in Jewish education.”

The organization will begin developing a network of Jewish “learning circles” based on advancing progressive values of social and economic justice, Toback said. By doing so, the Workmen’s Circle will align itself with a new generation of progressive American Jewish organizations that promote social justice through Jewish values.

“In our second century, Workmen’s Circle has the opportunity to nourish American Jewish life as much our predecessors did,” Toback said. “The DNA of the Workmen’s Circle has always been a passion for making the world a better place for everyone, and that’s what will drive the new Workmen’s Circle as we engage a new generation of activists.”

Educational projects will be documented, analyzed and evaluated for their effectiveness as the Workmen’s Circle develops replicable curricula that are easily transferable. The organization will also add staff positions as it expands it educational offerings. The Workmen’s Circle currently affiliates with seven “shules” nationwide – schools that emphasize cultural literacy and Jewish identity – that will form the basis for the new “learning circles” model.

New Structure Heralds Strong Future for 110-year-old Organization

Here’s how the new structure of the Workmen’s Circle works: The Workmen’s Circle will elect its national board and president in a “direct-democracy” process for the first time in its history this year. The new 19-person board of directors of the Workmen’s Circle will replace its former National Executive Board; the annual meeting, to be held each fall, will take the place of the group’s longtime biennial convention of delegates. The new structure also gives members a direct vote on the organization’s most significant business transactions, like the impending sale of the organization’s Manhattan headquarters.

The Workmen’s Circle also includes over twenty “active branches” in cities across the US. The role of these affiliates will also shift to allow them to play a key role in the Workmen’s Circle’s new vision. Rather than participate in direct governance of the organization, active branches will become an important local resource as the organization expands programming and seeds new communities.

A Brief History of The Workmen’s Circle
Recognizing the importance of facing challenges of a new land with a unified front, and feeling the resonance of traditional and deeply-held Jewish values emphasizing community and social justice, a group of progressive-minded immigrants gathered in 1900 to found Der Arbeter Ring -- in English, the Workmen's Circle. The Workmen's Circle has remained passionately committed to the principles at the living core of the organization: Jewish community, the promotion of an enlightened Jewish culture, and social justice.

About the New Workmen’s Circle
Proudly progressive since 1900, the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring seeks to make the world a better place by promoting social justice through Jewish values. Today’s Workmen’s Circle engages Jewish families with lifelong education, cultural celebrations, and activism. Workmen’s Circle is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Join us at circle.org.

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Adrienne Cooper
The Workmen's Circle
212-889-6800 ext. 226
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