Reflections from the Past

2019 marks the 120th anniversary year of Jewish Family Services of Delaware serving the most vulnerable populations in our community.

In celebration of this milestone, the agency spent time reflecting on the history of the small but vital organization. In reviewing the brief historical review written in 1966 by Harry Bluestone, a prominent leader of Delaware’s Jewish Community at the time, we were impressed to realize not just how the agency has grown, but how our foundation and values are still quite the same.

Bluestone opens:

“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.”

JFS is humbled by the continued growth of our agency after 120 years and how our programs and services contribute to the thriving of our community. We credit the generosity and support from community members and partnering agencies for JFS’ ability to consistently reexamine the relevance of our services and respond to evolving needs. Together, we strengthen the fabric of our community – persistent on our joint mission in Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) with shared values of kindness, compassion, and justice.

Dedication of the shacks at Hope Farm, Beth Israel
Hebrew Charity Association, 1909

Though, certainly, the organization has changed over the years – not taking the name ‘Jewish Family Services’ until 1960 – our mission today still upholds the original intentions of its founding leaders 120 years ago…

“The Hebrew Charity Association…was formed on January 1, 1899… The Jews called it an association and the newspaper reporters called it a society. Whatever the appellation, Jewish charity assumed organized form in Delaware with the creation of this group dedicated to helping the unfortunate to become self-supporting.

“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…

“By the end of its first year, the young organization was sufficiently active to feel itself a vital part of the community and to be impressed with its own worth and importance…”

120 years later, Jewish Family Services is still an important, ever-evolving community organization. Today, JFS offers many diverse services and programs; serves 2,400 clients each year, including families, youth, older adults, and refugees; employs 60 staff members including 40 social workers and the agency’s 11th Executive Director. What will the agency be like in the next 120 years? This is a legacy our community can create together, ensuring that JFS remains strong & vital for generations to come.

At the end of his report, Bluestone quotes former Executive Director, Jerome Siskind, explaining the importance of our fundamental Jewish values and responsibility to one another. As the mission of Jewish Family Services is still well-rooted in these values, his words are well worth quoting here:

“Observances may vary, changes may be made in emphasis, but a sense of the written and oral tradition of the Jew must be part of the climate we create in the community and in which we work…there is room enough for variation; differences need not be divisive, but an intrinsic sense of belief in Jewish values and identity will provide us with the continuity it has given to our people in the past.”

Indeed, though JFS serves all those in need, such Jewish values and identity have given JFS a sense of continuity and purpose for 120 years. Thanks to all who have helped JFS reach this anniversary milestone – we hope you will celebrate with us this year and for the next 120!