Report from 1917 about founding of Alabama Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society of Anniston, Alabama, in 1890
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About 27 years ago there were a number of Jewish families in our city. The spirit of Judaism prevailed among them as now. During the great fall holidays of Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, services were held usually in a hall, occasionally in a home. Usually a layman officiated at these services. From the coming of our revered Mr. Sterne — he was our leader — his impulses were consistent with the welfare of our Jewish community. One day almost all of our ladies received a message from our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Sterne, stating that if we felt interested in organizing a Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society we were invited to their home to discuss the matter with them. All responded to the call. There were about twelve ladies present. I believe not one had ever been members of an organization before. After a cordial welcome from our hosts, we were seated. Standing before us were that imposing couple. They made the most inspiring addresses, letting us know of the beauties and duties of a Jewish benevolent society. We became enthused to the highest pitch, and all expressed a willingness to give their time and effort to the work that had been outlined to them. That was the beginning of our Society, later to be known as the Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society. Our object: to promote Judaism in our midst and aid our co-religionists in distress. Our aim: to build a temple, a Beth El [a House of God]. Now, in order to achieve our aim, to build a temple, we had to have funds, and to procure these funds it was decided a bazaar should be held. As you can imagine and as some present know, for I see some charter members here, we worked faithfully. We gave our time and of our substance. We met at the homes of the members weekly at half past two in the afternoon. Light refreshments were served for which a small sum, ten cents, was required. That money, together with an extra dollar given by each member, was used as a needle work fund. Our initiation fees and dues, the same as now, were kept separate. I believe our [synagogue] windows were bought with that money. We bought our material for [the sewing] work out of this fund, besides giving material very often ourselves. Suffice it to say, our little band accomplished much. Some really beautiful pieces of embroidery and fancy articles were made. We were enthused and wanted to accomplish our exalted purpose. After a winter of work and really pleasant meetings, we decided the time had come to hold our bazaar. Our vice-president thought it would be a good move to enlist the outside support of our husbands and other members of the congregation in our work. So we asked them to write to the firms they had “biz” dealings with for aid in our cause. Nearly all responded generously. We actually received merchandise and money amounting to over a thousand dollars. That was a busy time for a small number of willing workers, for not alone did we rely on the fancy articles we had to sell, but we served dinner and supper for three days to the public, besides replacing articles we saw there was a demand for. Of course there was raffling, and other means of chance were resorted to. After three days of arduous labor our bazaar was closed. We had the means on hand wherewith to build a sanctuary. Rights owners: American Jewish Archives
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Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. What were the original aims of the Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society in Anniston? How were these aims shaped by the small size and lack of formal organization of the city’s Jewish community?

2. What do you think the connection was between building a synagogue and aiding Jews in distress?

3. Does it surprise you that none of the original members of the Society had ever belonged to an organization before? Why do you think this was so?

4. How did this society accomplish its aim of building a synagogue? Does it surprise you that the ladies were able to accomplish their goals through these methods?

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Time Period: Modern (Spinoza through post-WWII)