The origins of the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital stretch back to 1890, when a group of Jewish immigrants opened the Hebrew Friendly Inn and Aged Home on Aisquith Street in East Baltimore. The city’s established Jewish community wanted to help newly arrived immigrants get started with new lives in Baltimore.
Helene King, an official of the Levindale Auxiliary, said the Friendly Inn initially provided lodging to new immigrants who needed a temporary place to stay.
“As the need to help immigrants tapered off, the inn became a home only for elderly and the chronically ill. The name was the Hebrew Home for Incurables,” she said.
A 1916 Guide to Social Work in Baltimore notes that the state of Maryland also appropriated $3,250 to the charity. The book said that the home for the aged was for persons 65 or older “who would otherwise be sent to Bay View,” the Eastern Avenue institution that is now part of the Johns Hopkins University.
In 1927, the Associated Jewish Charities realized that its recently built orphanage (it replaced an earlier Hebrew Orphan Asylum on Rayner Avenue in West Baltimore), was becoming obsolete.
Isaac Levin, for whom Levindale was named, said of the old Aisquith Street quarters: “A large dormitory was divided up into small rooms, which looked more like stalls for horses than rooms for people. The walls were damp, the toilets unsanitary; residents froze in the winter and roasted in the summer."
King said that after the move to what was then known as Belvedere Avenue, the institution’s name and vision changed as European immigration to Baltimore nearly stopped in the 1920s and the city’s population was aging. “What was the Hebrew Home for the Aged and Infirmary became the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital,” King said.
King’s group, the Levindale Auxiliary, celebrated 120 years of philanthropic work last year.
“Our members have dedicated themselves to enhancing the quality of life, first of immigrants and then of the elderly and disabled,” King said. “They went beyond the medical care being provided to focus on the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of residents, patients and their families.”
She said her group provide funding to promote companionship, cultural stimulation and ways which enable the elderly to maintain their dignity and quality of life. They also support clients of the Adult Day Services Center.
The group, founded in 1899 as the Ladies Auxiliary Society of the Hebrew Friendly Inn was established to provide much-needed support to the Inn.
“The women initially contributed clothing, linens, and kitchen supplies,” she said. "However, their activities soon expanded to hosting fundraisers and to work directly with residents. Those goals have never wavered but have expanded. Over the years, members have also organized birthday parties, festivals, special dinners and have raised funds to support residents."
When residents moved to the current site at Belvedere and Greenspring avenues, the group was known as the Ladies Auxiliary of the Hebrew Home for the Aged and Infirmary at Levindale. Its first president was Anna Puretz.
In 1931, the organization’s name changed to Levindale Ladies Auxiliary and in the 1970s, the name was changed again to the Levindale Auxiliary so that men could join.
King said that in the 1930s, auxiliary members developed a long-running occupational therapy program operated by volunteers who received training at Sinai Hospital.
In 1936, Auxiliary President Rhea Offit wrote that the group’s philosophy was “based on the premise that psychological requirements are greater than physical needs.”
“World War II created personnel shortages so Auxiliary women became volunteer nurses’ aides and helped Levindale residents harvest a Victory Garden,” King said.
By the 1950s the auxiliary funded a library cart and opened a beauty parlor. They raised funds for other buildings on the Levindale campus, bought hospital beds, redecorated rooms and bought window air conditioners.
Over the years, members raised money to buy four specially-equipped buses so residents are able to go on outings. On its 100th anniversary of Levindale, itself, the Levindale Auxiliary raised and donated $100,000.
The also group started a Passover tradition where children conducted Seder for residents and Auxiliary families.
Maxine Cohen, who co-chaired the 120th birthday party, said, “The majority of people in this group just do it because it’s what we are supposed to do. In the Baltimore Jewish, everybody knows somebody who somehow has a relationship with Levindale.”