B'NAI B'RITH is the oldest service organization in Cleveland. Ten years after its founding in New York City, Solomon Lodge No. 16 of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith was organized in Jan. 1853 by SIMPSON THORMAN, its first president, Abraham Wiener, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN PEIXOTTO, and Dr. Jas. Horwitz. Montefiore Lodge No. 54 was established in 1864, a year later opening the first B'nai B'rith library in America. In 1863 Peixotto was elected Grand Saar (national president), 3 years later suggesting creation of a Jewish orphan asylum for the Midwest. In 1868 the Jewish Orphan Home was dedicated in Cleveland.
The Cleveland B'nai B'rith lodge donated funds for various projects, assisting Russian immigrants (1881); assuring college educations to qualified orphans; helping Russian pogrom victims (1901, 1905), San Francisco earthquake (1906), and Ohio River Flood (1937) victims; and "adopting" World War I orphans (1923). A third Cleveland lodge was established in 1896. Six years later, the 3 lodges merged, forming Cleveland Lodge No. 16. Over 20 years, beginning in 1930, 12 additional Cleveland lodges were created. In 1933 Heights Chapter 119, the first B'nai B'rith women's organization in Cleveland, was founded.
In 1942 the Cleveland Interlodge Council was formed to help coordinate activities. The B'nai B'rith Women's Council had begun operation in 1941. The Cleveland Hillel Foundation was created at Western Reserve Univ.-Case Institute of Technology in 1945, dedicating Hillel House 3 years later. Beyond its service functions, B'nai B'rith was important in the social and economic mobility of Jews in Cleveland, providing an arena in which Jews of varying cultural backgrounds could interact without being self-conscious. In 1995 there were 10 lodges in Cleveland and 865 members.