United Jewish People's Order

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The United Jewish People's Order is a secular socialist Jewish cultural, political and educational fraternal organization in Canada. The UJPO traces its history to 1926 and the founding of the Labour League. It was for many years associated with the Labor-Progressive Party, as the Communist Party of Canada was known.


The UJPO has branches in Winnipeg, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto where it operates the Winchevsky Centre, named after famed Jewish socialist Morris Winchevsky. The Toronto branch sponsors several groups including the Morris Winchevsky School (kindergarten to grade 7) which holds classes at the 918 Bathurst Street Community Centre, the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir, and Camp Naivelt, an historically significant socialist Jewish camp. The Vancouver branch publishes the national progressive Jewish magazine Outlook as well as a number of cultural and educational activities.[1]

According to Professor Gerald Tulchinsky, the UJPO "embraced many Jews, not all of them necessarily committed Communists, who in varying degrees supported collectivist ideals and tried in interesting ways to emulate some of those values in their personal lives. Camp Naivelt (New World) in Brampton, which is still in operation, also stressed collectivist values and a spirit of internationalism, drew thousands of children over its almost century long existence while many UJPO members rented or owned modest cottages in a colony at Eldorado Park, where for a few weeks they lived a modified communal existence and socialized long into the summer evenings"[1]

The Jewish Folk Choir held well attended concerts, several of which included Paul Robeson, featuring Yiddish and Hebrew music. Another contribution to music made, indirectly, by the UJPO was the founding of the folk group The Travellers, which originated at Camp Naivelt in the 1950s.


Nationally, the UJPO is affiliated to the Canadian Peace Alliance, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, and the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

In 2011, the United Jewish Appeal and Canadian Jewish Congress severed their relations with UJPO's Winchevsky Centre in Toronto after the organization hosted and co-sponsored an event featuring Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer, a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN). In a February 3 letter representatives of CJC and the UJA stated that they were severing their relations because the Centre provided "a platform for these views serves to strengthen those who work toward Israel’s destruction," by hosting the meeting.[2]


The UJPO evolved out of the Yiddish language Arbeiter Ring. In 1925 Communist and other radical members of the Ring were expelled and formed the Jewish Labour League Mutual Benefit Society (or Labour League) in Toronto and the Canadian Workers' Circle in Montreal and Winnipeg. In 1945 these organizations merged to form the UJPO.

At its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, the UJPO had more than 2,500 members nationwide with branches being established in Hamilton and Niagara Falls Ontario, and Calgary, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia, among others.

The UJPO was persecuted during the Cold War. On January 27, 1950, the group's Montreal headquarters was padlocked by police acting under the Quebec government's Padlock Law which permitted the forced closure of subversive organizations. The police carted away boxes of seized books, files and organizational material. In 1951, the UJPO was expelled from the Canadian Jewish Congress for opposing German rearmament despite being, at the time, the largest Jewish fraternal organization in Canada. The UJPO would not be readmitted into the Canadian Jewish Congress until 1995.[3]

The UJPO broke with the Communist Party (known at the time as the Labor-Progressive Party) during the party's crisis in 1956 after long-time UJPO and party stalwart J. B. Salsberg returned from a visit to the Soviet Union and reported his findings of anti-Semitism and suppression of Jewish culture.[1]

A resolution was passed at the UJPO's December 1956 congress stating:

For many years we accepted uncritically all developments in the Soviet Union. This was wrong. There were members who questioned the sudden disappearance of Jewish writers and cultural institutions. Their questioning was rejected and dismissed without justification. Developments and events in the Soviet Union, shall be examined and our attitude to them determined on the basis of full, free discussion in the organization[1]

The UJPO provided for its members "a social world outside the increasingly commodified life" according to Ester Reiter[4]

Originally groups of immigrant workers, the UJPO and its precursors provided mutual fraternal assistance, medical help and financial aid to its mostly working class membership as well as providing a "rich cultural and political milieu with shules (schools), choirs, mandolin orchestras and wind orchestras, sports groups, dance and theatre groups, lectures, symposia and panels on social and political events." [3]

In 1959 about one-third of the membership of UJPO left including long-time UJPO leader J.B. Salsberg, feeling that the organization was not critical enough of the Soviet Union, and started a new organization called the "New Fraternal Jewish Association".

The Toronto branch of the UJPO was originally housed in the Jewish Workers' Cultural Centre at 7 Brunswick Avenue, just north of Kensington Market, and then for many years in its own building at 83 Christie Street in Toronto alongside Christie Pits. In the years following World War II the Jewish community moved north along Bathurst Street and so did the UJPO which, in 1960, moved to its current location at the Winchevsky Centre located in the Bathurst and Lawrence area.[2] In 1960, the old Christie Street location was sold to Ukrainian Cultural Centre of Toronto which remained at the Christie location until 2013. The building now houses the Jesus is Lord Church which is active in the Filipino community.

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  1. ^ a b c Gerald Tulchinsky, Family Quarrel: Joe Salsberg, the 'Jewish' Question, and Canadian Communism Labour/Le Travail, 56 (Fall 2005)
  2. ^ "UJA, CJC sever ties with Winchevsky Centre", Canadian Jewish News, February 10, 2011
  3. ^ a b Ester Reiter & Roz Usiskin, Jewish Dissent in Canada: The United Jewish People's Order, Paper presented at the Forum on Jewish Dissent a conference of the Association of Canadian Jewish Studies (ACJS) in Winnipeg, May 30, 2004 and reprinted in Outlook
  4. ^ Ester Reiter, "Secular Yiddishkait: Left Politics, Culture, and Community," Labour/Le Travail, 49 (Spring 2002), 121–146, 145.

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