The Vera Institute of Justice Honors Its Namesake
Legendary Jewish philanthropist Vera Schweitzer was remembered by a contemporary organization bearing her name, the Vera Institute of Justice, in an evening of celebration at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan in June.
Today, the Vera Institute works to develop solutions for problems in the criminal justice system, providing legal services, conducting research and developing policy. On the immigration front, the Vera Institute arranges legal representation for undocumented migrants.
Herbert Sturz, who co-founded the institute in 1961 along with Schweitzer’s late son, Louis, attended the June event, where he shared his recollections of Louis Schweitzer from the institute’s early days.
“He didn’t know much about criminal justice, but I knew less,” said Sturz. The pair settled on the name Vera, for Schweitzer’s mother, who died in 1938, hoping the institute would “earn its reputation.”
“It’s been an honor to discover this remarkable leader,” said Kevin Keenan, executive vice president of the institute. “It’s a throughline of inspiration that we get to walk by her portrait every day as we fight these battles.”
Through a donation in 1921 to Hadassah, Schweitzer and her husband, Peter, funded the first hospital in Tiberias, Israel. She also helped found Keren Hayesod’s “jewel” appeal, a fund-raising initiative that allowed women to donate jewelry toward the development of pre-state Israel.
“In Judaism, names are so important; it’s a way that we carry on legacy,” said Erica Licht, Schweitzer’s great-granddaughter and assistant director at the Bank Street School Center on Culture, Race and Equity. “As someone who’s involved in justice work as well as social equity work, it’s incredible to see this familial legacy carried on through the Vera Institute.”