Back in 1967, right around the time of Israel’s Six Day War, some of the gentlemen in B’nai Brith’s Empire Forest Hill Lodge thought it was time to get their kids involved in the fraternal organization.
An existential crisis can do that to you – make you think of community, charity and Jewish fraternity, suggested Jerome Zwicker, who got involved with the organization in the 1970s.
With about 100 young men, mostly in their early 20s, the Toronto Freedom Lodge (TFL) was born and over the years it became one of the country’s largest. At its peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s, some 700 men called themselves members.
Those numbers are smaller today, but there are still 200 active members and, of course, hundreds more alumni.
On Oct. 28, TFL will host its 50th anniversary by bringing together members and former members from around the world for a reunion.
More than 200 are expected to attend, with RSVPs coming in from Spain, the Bahamas, Denver and Florida, said Zwicker, one of four anniversary co-chairs.
Zwicker, who served as president of the lodge back in the ’70s, recalls its heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, when its charitable works really made a difference in the lives of many.
For some 30 years or more, lodge members would raise money to bring disadvantaged children to Blue Jays baseball games on B’nai Brith Day.
Over the years, perhaps as many as 30,000 kids benefited from the program, Zwicker said.
For many years, lodge members raised money for the youngsters at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Members would visit the children, get in wheelchairs and play against the kids in a game of wheelchair hockey. What’s more, “we took a couple of busloads to Blue Jays games,” Zwicker noted.
Back around 1990, the lodge raised about $200,000 and with the help of the Canadian Committee for the Tel Aviv Foundation, donated the funds to create the Toronto Freedom Lodge B’nai Brith Mother and Child Centre in Israel.
In recent years, the lodge has supported Maccabi Canada and contributed to shelters for battered women.
TFL’s good works continue to this day, Zwicker said. Over the past five years, the lodge has focused on the Jewish community in Cuba, sending them clothing and financing the purchase of industrial-grade refrigeration units for Havana’s Synagoga Beth Shalom, as well as office supplies. The lodge also provided financial assistance to help the community send an athlete to the 2013 Maccabiah Games for the first time ever, Zwicker added.
Despite the decline in numbers, the lodge has a dedicated group of members who enjoy helping others and who take a lot of pride in their charitable work.
“It was a big part of my life. And not just me, for a lot of guys,” Zwicker said. “We’re all volunteers and I think we feel good being volunteers and doing good works.”
Joining Zwicker as anniversary co-chairs are Bryon Alexandroff, Warren Kimel and Peter Levy.
For tickets and information, contact Lynn McPhail at 905-940-2611.