The role of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century women in organizing charitable work is well documented. Deborah Fox was a microcosm of the nationwide phenomenon of middle class women taking leading roles in charitable organisations and self help institutions. Yet the experience of Jewish women was by no means uniform. The 1901 and 1911 census records reveal that many Jewish women worked outside of the home. Hannah Vogoder (a Russian Jew) of No. 24 Fleetwood Street worked as a dressmaker, along with her four daughters who helped their father Mayer sustain his drapery business.13 Yet Teresa Weiner, whose headstone in Carnmoney dates her death as November 1946, enjoyed sufficient revenue even as a widow, to employ a Catholic domestic servant from Newry – Maggie Kinney.14 Indeed a substantial number of domestic servants were resident in Jewish households at the beginning of the twentieth century. Myer and Leopold Rosenfield, both of Cliftonpark Avenue and buried in Carnmoney, also employed domestic servants (one Roman Catholic and one Church of Ireland).
Sophia Cohen is a wonderful example of an independent Jewish lady of considerable means. Her headstone at City Cemetery is the record of a life filled with charitable interests. Sophia, who died in 1947, to the best of my knowledge did not marry. She bequeathed gifts to a remarkable array of institutions including; the Royal Victoria and Mater Hospitals, the Women’s and Children’s hospital Templemore Avenue, the Royal Maternity Hospital, the Cripples Institute Donegall Road (also her crutches not used since 1928), the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Belfast Hebrew Benevolent Society, Dr Barnardo’s Home, the Salvation Army, the Cancer Hospital and Jewish Maternity Hospital London, and the Lord Mayor’s Coal Fund for the Deserving Poor, but to name a few.
Yet to some extent Sophia is unique, Many Jewish women lived what some might term unremarkable lives. The headstone of Caroline Boas (wife of the German Jewish merchant Herman) stands in City Cemetery. She was lived Windsor Park and died in 1916. Caroline provides an intricate picture of domestic Jewish life in Belfast after the trials of the First World War. Her home life was no doubt similar to many “middle class” Jewish homes in Northern Ireland throughout the first half of the last century, filled with the objects of suburban domesticity: family portraits, sterling silver teapots, a Sheffield candelabra and hand painted china.15 Her headstone reminds us of the prominent place given in Jewish practice to the home and the family. Collectively the lives of these women reveal that despite their common religious beliefs, the domestic and social experiences of Jewish women in Northern Ireland during this period was far from uniform.