Role of Landsmanshaftn
These organizations aided immigrants' transition from Europe to America by providing social structure and support to immigrants who arrived in the United States without the family networks and practical skills that had sustained them in Europe. In the early years, they provided help learning English, finding a place to live and work, locating family and friends, and an introduction to participating in a democracy, through procedures such as voting on officers, holding debates on community issues, and paying dues to support the society. In the later years, these functions faded into the background, but the organizations continued as a way of maintaining ties to life in Europe as well as providing a form of life insurance, disability and unemployment insurance, and subsidized burial. Members would pay dues on a monthly basis, and if they lost their jobs, grew too sick to work, or died, the society would pay the family a benefit to keep them afloat during that time. When the funds were not needed to support members, landsmanshaftn would invest the money in funds that frequently supported the Jewish community in others ways (such as Israel Bonds). Most of these organizations were based in New York city, where conditions were conducive to sustaining these types of organizations, though they sometimes relocated as the membership migrated to the suburbs.
Types of landsmanshaftn
There were different types of landsmanshaftn, including Jewish burial societies, known as chevra kadisha, societies that were associated with a particular synagogue or social movement, or societies for women. (Landsmanshaftn frequently only admitted male members, with the understanding that their wives and daughters would be covered by their membership, and they would receive equivalent benefits). One of the largest and best-known landsmanshaftn that was based on socialist ideology rather than hometown specifically was the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring. Twenty thousand such organizations once existed in the northeast United States, operating burial plots in scores of cemeteries. Most are now defunct.
Decline of landsmanshaftn
Over time, the landsmanshaftn lost members as they aged, and the organizations became defunct. The next generation typically felt less need of a connection to Europe, and relied on the national programs of the New Deal for financial support during difficult times. This resulted in difficulties for the relatives of members who died, because the officers of the landsmanshaftn were required to permit burials. The state of New York, particularly the Department of Insurance, stepped in to take over these functions. Records of the landsmanshaftn eventually made their way from the New York State Department of Insurance to the archives of YIVO.
- Soyer, Daniel, Jewish immigrant associations and American identity in New York, 1880-1939, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001
- Weisser, Michael R., A Brotherhood of Memory: Jewish Landsmanshaftn in the New World, Cornell University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-8014-9676-4,p. 14-23
- Weisser, Michael R., A Brotherhood of Memory: Jewish Landsmanshaftn in the New World, Cornell University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-8014-9676-4, p. 13-14
- "With Demise of Jewish Burial Societies, Resting Places Are in Turmoil," The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/nyregion/03bury.html
- JewishGen Landsmanschaft - Immigrant Benevolent Organizations
- Green, Ada. NY Landsmanshaftn and other Jewish Organizations
- Schwartz, Rosaline and Susan Milamed, A Guide to YIVO's Landsmanshaftn Archive, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1986.
- Soyer, Daniel, Jewish immigrant associations and American identity in New York, 1880-1939, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001.
- Weisser, Michael R., A Brotherhood of Memory: Jewish Landsmanshaftn in the New World, Cornell University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-8014-9676-4.