Times change…but the vision remains the same for Hebrew Ladies Charity Society

by | Aug 31, 2012 | Uncategorized

Sisters Judy Eichelbaum and Joan Harrison, granddaughters of original founder Frieda Schapiro

Sisters Judy Eichelbaum and Joan Harrison, granddaughters of original founder Frieda Schapiro

This is the second in a series of articles about the 110th anniversary of the Hebrew Ladies Charity Society.

Big things make headlines, but little things can also make a difference. The nine Orthodox Jewish women who started the Hebrew Ladies Charity Society in 1902 were limited in the big things they could do by tradition and the times, so they sought to make a difference one small gift at a time, one individual at a time.

They impacted generations of gift-givers and recipients and, perhaps, made headlines after all.

To honor the nine founders of HLCS and their grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, a salute to them will take place Oct. 23 at Beth Sholom Village, with a “tip of our hats” with a luncheon and a fashion show featuring millinery. This is so appropriate because no “lady” in 1902 would be seen in public without an attractive hat, and neither will members of HLCS for this occasion.

Who were these wives and mothers who gave so much of their time and of themselves?

Fannie Honig Brenner, 33, the mother of eight children, was the organizer. During her 25 years as president, the Society set the dues at $3 a year to support a Free Loan Fund, scholarships at the Norfolk branch of William and Mary and a Baltimore yeshiva, housing and jobs for immigrants, milk for children, and dowries for brides.

Three of Rosa Saks Brener’s heirs, Florence Brener Kroskin, Helen Brener Sherman and Judy Sherman Dobrinsky served as president over the years. While Rosa was a member, the Society made its annual distribution of food and money during Passover and the High Holidays so that families could plan traditional observances.

Rachael “Ray” Cohen, originally from Nashville, raised four children in West Ghent. In Norfolk, she was involved in her family- owned pawnshop on Main St. Cohen personally delivered clothing to needy children, climbing the stairs in apartment houses without elevators. For 35 years, she served as chairman of the organization’s Free Loan Fund, lending money, without interest, to deserving people. One of her daughters, Freda Berman Amelson, served as president of HLCS for five years and as chairman of the Free Loan Fund for eight years.

Two of the founders, Rebecca Goodman and Sara Dean Legum, spent so much time together doing HLCS business that their children, Jake and Tillie, later married. The women pushed their baby carriages around Norfolk collecting 25 cents a month toward the $3 per year membership dues and delivering food, money and medicine. They held card parties to raise funds for the organization.

Frieda Crockin Schapiro, mother of six, was very active on a committee to find housing and kosher food for Jewish visitors to Norfolk. She loved music and often took her granddaughters, Joan Harrison and Judy Eichelbaum, to shows around the city, and in return, the girls would create a stage in grandma’s home, singing and dancing. Harrison says, ”I remember Grandmother as having gray hair arranged in a bun and wearing dark clothing and laced shoes.” Schapiro’s husband, the town mohel, knew everyone in the area.

Having served as treasurer from 1902 until her death 55 years later, Bertha Siegel was also chairman of the Society’s table to roll bandages for the Red Cross during World War I. Her daughter, Sylvia Legum, held the job of recording secretary for 20 years.

The final two founders, Hennye Shaeffer and Annie Spensky, like the others, walked around the community holding large white handkerchiefs into which quarters were dropped for the good works of the Society. They helped plan weddings for those who could not afford the cost of a bridal gown or a reception and gave money for confirmation dresses, utility bills and decent burials.

In recent years, through a partnership with Jewish Family Service, the Hebrew Ladies Charity Society has provided funds for home nursing care, medicine, and assistance and acculturation for the new Russian families who arrived in the community.

The latest effort, 110 years after the founders began their work, will go toward the Freda H. Gordon Hospice and Palliative Care of Tidewater, for which the group has created “The 110th Anniversary Society.” Those who become members of this society will give a one-time gift of $110, to be placed into a special account to support those who will need the services of the joint venture of JFS and Beth Sholom Village.

by Rena Dorf Rogoff,
Hebrew Ladies Charity Society