In 1899, a visionary group of Jewish leaders from Wilmington embarked on a journey to improve people’s lives in the community.
Originally named the Hebrew Charity Association, the organization’s early mission was clear: to alleviate the suffering of less fortunate members of our Jewish community; to assist them to become self-supporting; to act as a peace committee to adjust the differences among members of the Jewish community; and to perform all such duties as may come before us in the name of charity.
In a brief historical review written in 1966, Harry Bluestone, a prominent leader of Delaware’s Jewish Community at the time, paints a vivid picture of the young organization and its leaders:
“In the early years of the Hebrew Charity Association, the leadership was in the hands of an immigrant generation. The motivating factors were characteristic of Jewish precepts and practices, while the machinery and operating procedures were in the horse and buggy tradition. As decades passed…the Association expanded its horizons and thinking… evolved from a budgetless organization to one expending [a moderate annual budget]; from an organization with volunteer lay staff to a professional staff; and from a society of limited scope of activity to a kaleidoscopic one. In brief, it went from rags to riches, wearing a coat of many colors.”
By November 1930, the Hebrew Charity Association was incorporated, comprising 17 signatories who met regularly in an office at the corner of Eighth and Orange Streets in Wilmington. Under the 23-year leadership of Morris Levy, the organization achieved great stability, touching lives through financial, legal, and medical aid.
By the 1960s, services had expanded dramatically and the agency’s name was changed to Jewish Family Service of Delaware; in 2005 the agency again changed its name to Jewish Family Services of Delaware, emphasizing the multitude and variety of “kaleidoscopic” services provided.
JFS continues to evolve to this day. Yet, its core mission—inspired and guided by the Jewish values of our founders—has never changed: to provide counseling and support services which strengthen the well-being of the individual, family, and community.
The agency’s leaders and staff also continue to follow in the compassionate, innovative, and generous footsteps of its founders. Bluestone described:
“The early founders of the Hebrew Charity Association did not try to avoid obstacles but to overcome them. They had the enthusiasm so essential to the successful attainment of their endeavor. The attitude of many of the pioneers was that, if they could in any way contribute to the improvement of the community in which they lived, they would have the supreme satisfaction of knowing that their contribution was not in vain…”
Over 120 years later, Jewish Family Services of Delaware is still an important, ever-evolving community organization striving to meet the changing needs of those we serve. Today, JFS offers many diverse services and programs, serving families, youth, older adults, caregivers, and refugees. Growing steadily, JFS offers services in offices in Wilmington and Lewes, as well as in local elementary schools, a subsidized senior housing facility, and homes. Service delivery expanded in 2020 to include secure telehealth options, further improving accessibility to JFS’ comprehensive services and caring professionals. As the agency’s presence and prominence in the community have continued to grow, so has our staff, increasing as the agency builds capacity for outreach to the most vulnerable and underserved.
Based on the vision and values of its founders, JFS continues to build upon their legacy, ensuring that the agency’s services are strong and vital for generations to come—always adapting to respond to the needs, crises, and requests of those who need JFS’ support—helping our community thrive.