Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf, Special to The CJN
TORONTO — At first they were associated with the Druids. Then, they took matters into their own hands and asserted their Jewish identity.
For those who don’t know, there’s a relatively new player on the charitable scene in Toronto: the Hebrew Order of David (HOD) International.
An offshoot of an international brotherhood with origins in Johannesburg, the order has lodges located around the world. The Toronto chapter is named Lodge Ilan Ramon, after the late Israeli astronaut who died in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster.
Its stated goals are to promote “the ideals of peace, unity, fraternity and love across the world, and the personal development of our members.”
The Toronto lodge was consecrated in 2011, but is now looking for more members and community interest.
On June 27, the lodge rewarded a local resident with an all-inclusive trip to Israel as a prize for one of its raffle-winners. Proceeds went to benefit Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and Zareinu.
The lodge, which counts some 50 local members, operates as a non-profit and has sent volunteers to work with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, taken clients of Reena on daily activities and assisted the Zareinu Educational Centre of Metropolitan Toronto when called upon.
Leonard Laser, the lodge’s vice-president, recounted the history of the order to The CJN.
“The Hebrew Order of David International is an offshoot of a Jewish brotherhood which originated in England in 1896 as the Hebrew Order of Druids.
“In 1904, the pioneers of the order formed a branch of The Hebrew Order of Druids in Johannesburg, South Africa,” he wrote in an email.
“They did so at the conclusion of the South African War of 1899-1902. Local economic, social and other conditions were on the whole not very alluring to immigrant Jews, especially those from eastern Europe. This period witnessed not only a general re-organization of Jewish life in South Africa, but also the need for newly arrived Jews to seek a closer companionship among their own people, to improve their economic position, and to re-adjust themselves in strange and none too friendly surroundings.”
Laser added: “In 1921, the lodge changed its name to HOD to better reflect the characteristics and objectives of the lodge, [which] by then had established itself in different parts of what was then the Union of South Africa.”
The order also encouraged a more active social life among its members through sport and social events, he said.
However, in 1955 the order became a fraternal organization, and all benefits were dispensed with.
At the point, Laser continued, members felt that the order should “shoulder the ideals of Judaism” and stimulate more knowledge of the faith among its brethren.
Specifically, the order noted that many members were unaffiliated with any stream of Judaism, choosing instead to seek a connection to the faith solely through membership in the order.
“The political unrest of the 1960s heralded the beginning of the [Jewish] emigration phenomenon from South Africa, and this was to have a negative impact on the order, as well as all community-based organizations,” Laser wrote.
With that emigration wave, the order has since spread itself worldwide, and now has lodges in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Israel and the United Kingdom.
For more information, visit www.hodtoronto.com.