Brith Sholom’s move to Beth Sholom has been a win-win

July 16, 2018

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Energetic president Joe Goldberg has led a 300% rise in membership

“No heat, no bugs, no rain.”

That’s how Joe Goldberg described the wise decision to move a July 1 pre-holiday cookout into the Pincus Paul Community Room at Beth Sholom Village. There were no complaints from the nearly 150 in attendance, all members of the Brith Sholom Center, which was about to fold its tent in 2013 when Goldberg approached Beth Sholom CEO David Abraham with a novel idea.

“If we sell our building off Raby Road in Norfolk, can we move all our events into yours?” Goldberg asked.

“You can have the room for free, just pay for the food,” answered Abraham.

Five years later, Brith Sholom membership, which had shrunk to 70, is up to 250, and Beth Sholom has a steady stream of monthly income and guests—some of whom have already become rehab, assisted living, or long-term care patients.

“I am so proud of what we have accomplished,” says Goldberg, who moved to Hampton Roads from New York where he had been a shoe buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue. He opened his own women’s shoe store, Pappagallo’s, in Lynnhaven Mall in 1981, and then two more in Richmond before retiring in 1996.

Fortunately for Brith Sholom, which began in downtown Norfolk in 1915 as a men’s only fraternal organization helping Jewish immigrants, Goldberg did not slow down. He was part of the leadership that decided to part with the Norfolk structure, which had lost its luster as primarily a for-rent bingo hall. Brith Sholom invested the $1-million from the sale, earning interest that has enabled the group to charge its members just $25 in annual dues, $3 for a lavish monthly Sunday brunch and $10 for occasional dinner and entertainment events—all at Beth Sholom.

“I am able to be with friends that I don’t always get to see,” says Ernestine (Ernie) Goldstein, who was enjoying hamburgers, hot dogs, wings, and sides with her husband Steve and other buddies including Harvey Eluto, whose great uncle was a charter member. “The camaraderie here is wonderful, and it’s such a great deal.”

The low prices and upgraded setting have made a difference, but the real accomplishment was overcoming Brith Sholom’s brand as an old people’s club. “I didn’t want to join either at first,” says Goldberg, now 85. “We had to recruit younger people.” So today, his daughter Marilyn Johns and husband Bob are in the fold. So is Barbara Stein, as is her mother Ruth Rothman who is thrilled that Brith Sholom has become a reliable supporter of local Jewish education.

“We give to all of the schools, including BINA, HAT and the synagogues,” says Rothman, at home at Beth Sholom where she once worked.

Indeed Brith Sholom is also a generous donor to Beth Sholom, pledging $50,000 over five years to the Honor Campaign to renovate the Berger-Goldrich Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. “This is our home,” says Goldberg. “We have to take care of our home.”

The average age of members is now about 70, says LeeAnne Mallory, Brith Sholom’s secretary and administrator. “We have some in their 50s, but we also had a 101-year-old join the other day.” Jewish singles, not just couples, are welcome.

“I love it,” says widow Annette Mand. “It gives us a good place to go and feel accepted.”

When Joe Goldberg’s term ends in March, VP Joe Weintraub will become president. “People love coming here,” says the next Joe. “We have a good future now.”

- Joel Rubin

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