The Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island (JORI) began as two separate organizations. In 1908, initially headed by the South Providence Ladies’ Aid Society and Mr. Herman Paster, the first charter for a specifically Jewish children’s orphanage was granted to “support and maintain orphan children between the ages of six and twenty one.” Very soon after obtaining the charter, the Ladies Aid Society withdrew their support to organize another home. At the same time, Mr. Paster obtained another charter, called Machzeka Hadas Orphans on Willard Ave in South Providence, which housed 17 children within its first few months of operation. The home operated by the South Providence Ladies’ Aid Society and their co-sponsors, the Montefiore Lodge Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Association, was named Hebrew Orphans Home and Day Nursery, located at 151 Orms St. next to the present day Sons of Jacob synagogue.
In January of 1910, the two homes merged and created The Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island with Mr. Maurice Karpeles as President of the board. This new leadership was committed to obtaining a centrally located building to house the dependent children of the Jewish community, and purchased a large Victorian home located at 1213 North Main Street. This new forty-five bed location was led by superintendent Mr. Henry Woolf, along with board members such as Mrs. Ida Silverman, Mrs. Ida Bolotow, Col. Harry Cutler, Mr. Jacob Shartenberg, and countless others.
With the growing number of children living in the orphanage, the board decided it was time to purchase land and build a home that could accommodate more children, and allow them the comforts of a real home and of their community. In 1922, the board purchased land on Summit Avenue in Providence, and the cornerstone was laid on October 21, 1923. Construction of the New Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island was completed, and the building was dedicated on October 5, 1924. This new state of the art home came fully equipped with tennis courts, a basketball court, and plenty of room for the children to enjoy the outdoors while making friends with the neighborhood children.
Throughout the years, the home saw several Superintendents, who in their various ways kept life for the children as normal as possible. Perhaps the most remembered Superintendent, Mr. Maurice Stollerman, was brought to JORI in 1926. Mr. Stollerman was ever the children’s advocate. He attempted to appoint guardians for all children considered full orphans so they might have an established emotional connection with a family during their time in the home. He also initiated steps that allowed the children who would be aging out of the home an easier transition to life on their own.
The children placed in the Jewish Orphanage were often sent to the home because their families could not afford to provide for them. Mr. Stollerman saw to it that if they did have a living parent or relative, that the families could regularly visit their children. Additionally, siblings in the home were often kept together, in the hope that they would feel some semblance of normalcy.
Though this orphanage was a home for displaced children, they were treated as the sons and daughters of the community, and were always taken care of spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The whole orphanage would participate in the Passover seder, and attended religious confirmation classes and services at Temple Emanuel. They held an annual Thanksgiving dance, at which funds for the home would be raised, and the children would put on plays, and showcase their musical talents in the JORI Band. Life at the Jewish Orphanage was not like life in many of the other institutions in Rhode Island.
The orphanage operated until 1942, when foster and adoption arrangements were made for the eight children who remained in the home.