The HBSU, the oldest Jewish benevolent society in Cleveland, was organized in 1881 by 24 Hungarian Jews as the Hungarian Benevolent & Social Union, to aid members in illness or death, assist nonmembers in "unfortunate circumstances," and cultivate social relations among its members. Membership was over 100 by 1885; 763 in 1916; about 500 in the 1980s. In 1919 the union officially changed its name to the HBSU, for membership was no longer based on Hungarian national origin. In the late 1960s, the organization adopted the name Heights Benevolent & Social Union for publicity uses. The HBSU never had its own meeting hall, but has met in many locations.
The HBSU provided typical benevolent and aid society assistance, including partial payment of hospital bills, death benefits for members' families, and visits to sick members. It also expended a large portion of its budget as charitable donations, locally, nationally, and internationally, aiding persecuted Romanian Jews, WORLD WAR I sufferers, and the Red Cross Society for Italian sufferers. Additionally, the HBSU has donated money or subscribed to membership in Cleveland Jewish organizations. The primary function of the HBSU in recent years has been social, sponsoring picnics, dinners, balls, lectures, and other programs. Its Bulletin was first published in 1908 and continues publication. In 1953 a women's auxiliary was created. During the early 1980s, the HBSU officially incorporated as a fraternal organization with two lodges, one in Florida (est. 1981), composed of Clevelanders who had moved South, and one in Cleveland, which serves as the Grand Lodge of the HBSU. In 1995 Hugo Howard served as president of the HBSU, which had a total membership of approx. 690 among its Cleveland and Florida lodges, as well as its ladies' auxiliary.