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).
File consists of biographical sketches of Isaac Matenko. The bulk of these sketches were written just after Isaac's death in 1960 and were originally published in various newspapers, including; The Vochenblat, Der Yiddisher Zhurnal, and On the Threshold. The Yiddish articles are accompanied by English translations.
13 photographs : b&w ; 19 x 23 cm mounted on board 30 x 34 cm or smaller
The Workmen's Circle (Arbeiter Ring) is a radical left Jewish fraternal organization founded in 1900. It was originally established to protect the rights of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who were entering the North American labour force. The Workmen's Circle's main purpose was to promote the labour movement and ensure economic justice for its members. It also promoted secular Yiddish culture, and ran many schools and summer camps across North America, such as Camp Yungvelt in Pickering.
The I.L. Peretz School began as the Toronto Yiddish National-Radical School in 1911. It was founded by Socialist-Territorialist members Isaac Matenko, Abraham Rhinewine, Paul Frumhartz, Aaron Bromberg, H. Rigelhaupt, L. Goldman, and Louis Koldovsky in order to promote Yiddish culture and language. By 1916, it had been taken over by the Workmen’s Circle and renamed the I.L. Peretz School. The founders overcame many obstacles to establish the school, including opposition from religious groups (which preferred Hebrew over Yiddish); a lack of support from the Jewish community; and a serious lack of funds.
The school began in a rented room in the Zionist Institute on Simcoe St., with about forty students. By the following school year, the number had increased to 330, due to cheap tuition and a good reputation. The growing number of students necessitated several moves to larger spaces, among them 260 Richmond St. W. and 194 Beverley St. Later, other branches and other levels (kindergarten to mittelshul) were established on Maria St., Bellwoods Ave., and St. Clair Ave. The school flourished for about 50 years before its decline and ultimate closure.
Scope and Content
Series consists of records documenting Isaac Matenko's involvement in the Workmen's Circle and the affiliated I.L. Peretz School and Camp Yungvelt. Included are photographs, programmes, certificates, a yearbook, a songbook, and newsclippings.
File consists of newsclippings and a programme book commemmorating Matenko's 80th birthday celebration, organized for him by the Workmen's Circle Peretz Schools. Also included are English translations for some of the articles published in the programme book.