Touro Fraternal at 100

Posted

For 100 years, the Touro Fraternal Association has brought Jewish men together, offering a sense of community and belonging. Founded in 1917 and organized a year later, gatherings were social at first. Later, community service and philanthropy were added to the mix.

Today, its nearly 500 members are fathers and sons from all over Rhode Island, including newcomers to the area who are looking for friends or to get involved in the community in some way.

“Harmony, Friendship, Benevolence” is the group’s slogan, prominently displayed on their website.

Jed Brandes, of Cranston, is the current chairman of the board of the Association, which claims the distinction of being the largest independent Jewish fraternal order in the Northeast. His journey to this post is typical for newcomers to Rhode Island and offers a glimpse into why Touro Fraternal has stayed strong and vital while other community groups have downsized or disappeared.

About 20 years ago, Brandes and his young family attended a block party outside the Jewish Community Center, in Providence, where he saw a table manned by Arthur Poulten, Touro Fraternal’s former longtime president. “He gave us the spiel,” said Brandes, chuckling. 

Brandes said he was an “absentee member” at first; his real involvement began when he was asked to be treasurer, and he started to meet people.

“I tell people who join to get involved,” he says. “I’m unlike many of our brothers. I’m from New York, and I have no family here. If a son of New York can make a go of it, then anybody can.”

Membership comes with perks, including sick benefits, mortuary benefits and gravesites in a dedicated area of Lincoln Park Cemetery, in Warwick. There are student scholarships for family members as well.

The calendar of activities includes picnics, breakfasts and social activities for members and their families, as well as couples.

 “We do a really good job of what we do, whether it’s philanthropic or social activities,” Brandes said.

Brandes became chairman in 2013, after Bob Miller stepped down. Miller served from 2001 to 2013. Miller succeeded Arthur Poulten, who served from 1989 to 2001.   

Leaders serve for the long term. Each of these men served on committees and did many other jobs within the organization before becoming chairman. And they watched as the organization grew in size and scope.

Much of Brandes’ current term has centered on helping to plan the group’s centennial year, which begins with a gala weekend Sept. 16-17.  

“I did this because I want to give back to the Association,” said Brandes, who was recently reelected to a fifth one-year term.  “As long as I feel that way, I’m willing to do the work.”  

“If I had a wish, I would tell Touro’s story in a more direct way in order to break down barriers and let people see what Touro is all about,” he said. His hope is that if people see the real Touro, they will join – and that includes younger Jews in the community.

Touro was founded by Jacob Eaton, the first Jewish member of the Rhode Island General Assembly. Today’s Association was split into two lodges – Harmony and Friendship – in 1990.

The organization started with a meeting hall at 128 North Main St. in Providence. After many moves, they now own a building at 45 Rolfe St. in Cranston. They moved there in 1989.

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of The Jewish Voice.