Isaac Matenko (1874-1960) was a founder, teacher, and principal of the I.L. Peretz School. He worked tirelessly to preserve and promote secular Jewish culture and the Yiddish language in Toronto. He was also a prominent member of local Jewish organizations, such as the Socialist-Territorialist Club and the Yiddish Kultur Gesellshaft.
Isaac was born on February 1, 1874 in the town of Makarov, Kiev, Ukraine. He married Elke Yelia Moshkevitch (1878-November 19, 1953) on August 4, 1900 in Yakatreneslav. They immigrated from tsarist Russia to Toronto in 1906, passing first through New York with their two children, Percy (June 30, 1901-May 1987) and Theodore (1903-1906, died of measles at Ellis Island), and Yelia’s three sisters, Dvora, Bracha, and Celia, and Isaac’s younger half-brother, Paul Frumhartz. They had two more children after arriving: Abraham (August 14, 1908-October 24, 1989) and Shoshana (Sue) (1911-2001). Although he had been a teacher in Russia, Isaac worked as an operator in a cloak factory in Toronto, where he was instrumental in forming the union (likely the Cloakmakers’ Union of Toronto, which later affiliated with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union).
As a child, Isaac received a traditional Jewish education. This, combined with his self-taught secular education and the teachings of Yiddish nationalist Dr. Chaim Zhitlovski, informed his future career and philosophies. He was described as an idealist by his friends, whose dedication to Yiddish culture and language motivated him to bring this knowledge to a younger generation.
On July 11, 1911, Isaac and his fellow Socialist-Territorialist members established the Toronto Yiddish National-Radical School. By 1916, it had been taken over by the Workmen’s Circle and renamed the I.L. Peretz School, after the well-known Yiddish author and playwright. The school began in a rented room at the Zionist Institute on Simcoe Street, moving to larger locations on Richmond Street West, then Beverley Street as it grew. Eventually, several more branches opened, such as the Maria Street school that Isaac was affiliated with. He taught at the school for free in the evenings after working during the day in a shop. His brother Paul was also a founding teacher at the school.
Isaac was described by family, friends, and community members as a passionate teacher with an iron will. He was well-versed in Jewish knowledge, with a desire to pass it on to a younger generation and his fellow union members. He remained involved in the school and in teaching, even after retirement. He died on June 2, 1960 at the age of 86.
These records were donated to the OJA by Sue Levy, daughter of Isaac Matenko.
Scope and Content
Fonds consists of records documenting Isaac Matenko's involvement with the Workmen's Circle and other Jewish organizations. Included are photographs, programmes, certificates, I.L. Peretz School jubilee books, a songbook, a yearbook, articles, and newsclippings.
Fonds has been arranged into one series for the Workmen's Circle. There are also two files attached to the fonds-level. The records are described at the series and file-level, with some item-level descriptions.
Arbeiter Ring Schools
Matenko, Isaac, 1874-1960
National Radical School
For additional Workmen's Circle records, see: accessions 1979-4-4, 1980-2-2, 1983-6-3, 1984-10-1, 1986-4-1, 1992-1-2, 1997-2-1, 1998-3-32, 2004-5-41, 2004-5-105, and fonds 30.
For additional Camp Yungvelt records, see: accessions 1979-4-4, 1986-4-1, 1991-12-4, 1993-6-6, 1999-5-1, 2004-5-37, 2005-6-4, 2006-12-3, photographs # 2964, # 4014, # 6021, MG2N1K, Benjamin Brown fonds 49, and Dorothy Dworkin Fonds 10 (item 14).