This is the first in a series about the 110th anniversary of the Hebrew Ladies Charity Society. In future issues: about the founders, how the organization helps the community, and how HLC will commemorate 110 years.
Some say it takes a village, but it took only nine Jewish women from Norfolk to revolutionize local charitable giving in 1902.
At that time, the plight of financially distressed people in Norfolk was often known publicly. Well-meaning friends and neighbors, with only the best intentions and with hearts filled with pity and concern, would carry big white handkerchiefs around to collect money for the needy. While these volunteer solicitors lamented the fact that the details of each case had to be explained and identities revealed, they had no other arrangement. And so, while poverty is no crime, the unfortunate beneficiaries of these charity drives were exposed to the pity – sympathetic as it was – of the entire community and felt a stigma attached to their names and the charity provided.
One woman in Norfolk was so profoundly touched and deeply distressed by these circumstances that she decided to make a change.
Fannie Brenner gathered a group of young Jewish matrons, and in March 1902, Hebrew Ladies Charity Society was born. The other eight original members were Rosa Brener, Ray Cohen, Rebecca Goodman, Sara Legum, Frieda Schapiro, Hennye Shaeffer, Bertha Siegel and Annie Spensky.
In 1946, this group formed what is now known as Jewish Family Service of Tidewater.
One hundred and ten years later, the Hebrew Ladies Charity Society pays homage to these nine ladies—and all other members—and celebrates the agency’s commitment to what was then radical: client privacy and confidentiality.
For these past 110 years, the Relief Committee of the Hebrew Ladies Charity Society has stood ready to meet emergencies or crises in the local Jewish community requiring immediate financial assistance.
The organization provides money for food and clothing for the High Holidays so needy families may observe holidays with appropriate meals; they offer money before Chanukah so parents may experience the joy of giving and the look of happiness and excitement on their children’s faces; on Passover, HLC repeats the distribution of gifts of money so needy Jewish families may enjoy a Seder.
Hebrew Ladies Charity Society has provided confirmation and wedding dresses for those who needed them. They have prevented local Jews from eviction because of their inability to pay utility bills. They have provided summer camp scholarships to the Jewish Community Center and substantial funds to Beth Sholom Village in Richmond and Virginia Beach.
In recent years, through partnership with Jewish Family Service, the organization has provided funds for home nursing care, medicines, home hospice care, and services for senior adults. Preserving the dignity of the poor, even in death, has always been one of the Society’s goals as it contributes funds for burial or headstones when a rabbi makes a request.
This year, in celebration of the Hebrew Ladies Charity Society’s 110th Anniversary, the group has created the “110th Anniversary Society.” A one-time gift of $110 to be placed in a special account to support those who will need the services of the Freda H. Gordon Hospice and Palliative Care of Tidewater, a joint venture of JFS and Beth Sholom Village, makes a donor a member of this society.