Rebecca’s Tent, formerly named the Shearith Israel Shelter, has given over 30+ consecutive years of service to Atlanta’s homeless women. Nearly 1000 ladies, age 18 and over and in need of food, safety and a helping hand, have come through our doors and found acceptance, love and support. All services have been and continue to be free of charge.
It started in 1983 during a frigid winter in Atlanta when Rabbi Mark Wilson of Congregation Shearith Israel realized that help was sorely needed for the homeless women here. He went to someone in his congregation whose family had fled to the United States in the wake of The Holocaust to escape the Nazi regime. A refugee from Germany whose first-hand experience with displacement and need enabled her to become a beacon of hope to the lucky “guests” who populated the seven and then 13 shelter beds. Her name was Helen Spiegel.
“That first year we faced a world we didn’t know. Every one of us was a novice. We called ourselves the winter resort and our idea was to be like a little family,” Helen remembers. “We learned to check for weapons and eventually to become much more selective to find women who we could really help.”
Helen and her husband Frank have hundreds of stories of success and failure — of shelter residents who banded together to monitor the bathrooms to help a young woman who was bulimic change her behavior, of volunteers who took sick ladies to Grady and of synagogue personnel who contacted young residents’ parents to reunite them and get them help.
In recent years the shelter’s services have expanded to include weekly empowerment workshops, resume and computer coaching, conflict resolution and health education. A year-round Follow-Up program also has been put in place to give former shelter residents support, encouragement and resources for community services to help them build independent lives.
Still dependent on the generosity of volunteers, donors and community partners, the shelter operates today as an independent, non-denominational nonprofit organization that works to create a home-like, welcoming environment to women in need.
The name of the shelter, The Shearith Israel Shelter for Homeless Women, was changed in 2015 to Rebecca’s Tent, A Shelter for Women at Shearith Israel, to enable the entire community and surrounding neighborhoods of volunteers, partners, and donors to better connect and identify with a cause that is relevant to their understanding of serving the mission and vision of the organization.