Workmen’s Circle Gets New, Gender-Neutral Name
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Workmen’s Circle Gets New, Gender-Neutral Name

The new name was debuted at a benefit this week that also honored comedian and actor Seth Rogen and his dad for their contributions to Jewish culture.

From left: Rich Rumelt, the board president of The Workers Circle; Ann Toback, the group's executive director; Seth Rogen; and Mark Rogen at the organization's ceremony in New York City, Dec. 2, 2019. JTA
From left: Rich Rumelt, the board president of The Workers Circle; Ann Toback, the group's executive director; Seth Rogen; and Mark Rogen at the organization's ceremony in New York City, Dec. 2, 2019. JTA

At its annual benefit dinner on Monday night, the Workmen’s Circle announced that it will now be known as the Workers Circle. The move towards a gender-neutral name by the storied social justice organization is a nod to the changing times and reflects the group’s transition from a socialist organization dedicated to workers’ rights to one focusing on progressive causes more generally, including issues of gender.

The name was unveiled at the organization’s benefit where they honored Seth Rogen, the comedian, actor, and producer, and his father, Mark, for their contributions to Jewish culture, activism and promotion of the Yiddish language. Mark Rogen, 66, once worked for the Workmen’s Circle in Los Angeles.

Seth Rogen, 37, who usually plays Jewish characters in his movies, recently studied Yiddish for “An American Pickle,” an upcoming film in which he plays a Jewish pickle maker who emerges from a pickle barrel after being stuck there for 100 years.

Both of Rogen’s parents were Labor Zionists who have performed in Yiddish theater productions.

Seth Rogen (R) and his father, Mark Rogen, were honored at the Workers Circle dinner this week. Courtesy of The Workers Circle

The organization is currently led by Ann Toback, the first woman to serve as executive director of the Workers Circle in its nearly 120-year history.

“As the first woman to lead the organization, I am proud to uphold a welcoming and inclusive culture,” said Toback in a statement. “Everything we do communicates our commitment to living our progressive values, and that includes choosing a name that reflects both our origin and our contemporary ideals.” The organization pointed out that the new name is also a better translation of the organization’s original Yiddish name, Der Arbeter Ring.

The Rogens were presented with the organization’s Generation to Generation award. In a short speech, the younger Rogen described the room as having “more people who speak Yiddish” than there has been “in any room since the shtetl in the 1920s.”

New name, new times: Workers Circle exec Ann Toback. Courtesy of Workers Circle

The actor and filmmaker also added an anecdote about activism: When Seth was a child, his father made the news in his native Vancouver for interrupting a Chanukah lighting ceremony to yell at an adversary, a man named Bill Vander Zalm, about all his “injustices.” (He did not elaborate.)

The elder Rogen did so even though his wife, Sandy — the couple met on a kibbutz in Israel in the 1970s — told Mark that she would pretend not to know him if he went through with the plan to yell at the man during Chanukah.

“If you believe in something,” Seth Rogen said, “you should stand up for it, and yell about it, and scream about it, even if it will make you look so nuts that your own wife pretends not to know who you are.”

The Workers Circle is not the only Jewish organization to change its name in recent years. The Reconstructionist movement changed its name to Reconstructing Judaism last year. The Board of Jewish Education became the Jewish Education Project. And the Jewish Federations of North America has cycled through several names, most recently changing its name from the United Jewish Communities to its current version in 2009.

Related: Ahead of the ceremony we spoke to Seth Rogen about being recognized by the Workers Circle, preparing for his upcoming movie — arguably his most Jewish role yet — and how it felt to film in Pittsburgh in the immediate aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting. Read it here.

JTA contributed to this report.

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