Caring and Service for 125 Years

Caring and service are the consistent qualities our community has exhibited through the work of the agency now known as Jewish Family Service. Names prior to 1978 were: Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society (1892 – 1917); Hebrew Benevolent Society (1917 – 1929); Jewish Welfare Society (1929 – 1947); and Jewish Family & Child Service (1947 – 1978). The name changed through the years — but the commitment to one another never has.

A mother and daughter formed a small society that would later become Jewish Family Service of Seattle.
The Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society assisted hundreds of European and Mediterranean Jews arriving in the Puget Sound region. Their concerns were homelessness, hunger and unemployment in the Jewish community. Today, JFS continues to combat these issues.
“Many a delicacy has been carried to the sick; many a child had been provided with warm and comfortable clothing…”
That was how the Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society described its work in the annual report. Today’s annual report noted, “Acts of loving kindness are not simply our past — they are also this community’s present.”
A charity ball raised $568 to help people in need.
Last year, the JFS community raised $1.56 million at the Community of Caring Luncheon to help the most vulnerable in our community.
The agency hired Bernice Degginger Greengard, its first paid professional. She served as executive secretary and caseworker.
Today, JFS has a professional staff of more than 80 people to serve the community.
JFS helped 50 Jewish orphans become adopted in Seattle.
The focus changed from simply providing relief to helping families function better.
Mae Goldsmith brought casework practices to the agency, and that holistic approach to well-being continues at JFS today.
“…constant cry for coal and wood during the winter and for food for cold, hungry bodies.”
From Board Secretary Viola Silver’s March report that also noted 406 visits to needy families had been made.
“For the first time in the history of the community, we have not only cooperated, but worked in actual contact with all other Jewish groups in the city…”
Those were reflections from JFS Board President Viola Silver. Today, JFS is proud to partner with synagogues, schools and other Jewish organizations across the region.
JFS helped resettle Jewish children escaping Germany.
This past year, JFS helped resettle about 400 refugees.
“Mrs. Otto Guthman and I met every boat that came in …. I used to take the wheelbarrow to help them take their baggage, put them in my car and take them to the house we had ready for them.”
That was Minnie Bernhard recalling busy immigration years. Today, JFS volunteers help mentor refugee families, deliver food to home-bound community members and visit older adults or people with disabilities.
“A few years ago, I would have mentioned how many pairs of shoes and how many quarts of milk we had given and how much unemployment there was and other problems. Now, we, as social workers, help them overcome these causes.”
Executive Secretary Mae Goldsmith was thinking about change-making solutions decades ago. That same spirit is why, today, JFS strives to help vulnerable individuals and families achieve well-being, health and stability.
The agency’s work underwent significant changes because of a tremendous population increase caused by growth in the defense industries.
JFS continues adjusting to meet the needs of those struggling with housing security and transportation challenges in today’s booming region.
“During these 50 years, we served through a war, which was followed by some years of prosperity and then by the Depression.”
Jessie Danz, who served 14 years as President, reflected upon the agency’s golden anniversary, “We have come a long way since that first small gathering of women founders. Relief was carried in baskets, and the applicant for aid would appear at any and all hours at the homes of officers.”
In addition to immense postwar resettlement, the agency still provided emergency services to families in need, counseling for individuals and families, and services to older clients.
More than 100 Jewish individuals received financial help, and about half of them were elderly clients accepting a monthly kosher food allowance.
Today, older adults continue to turn to JFS, where they make up more than 50 percent of Polack Food Bank clients.
When the government reduced financial assistance, the agency began temporary rent assistance to keep older adults in safe housing.
Today, JFS continues to provide financial assistance to older adults affected by the affordable housing crisis.
The federal government assigned Ugandan refugees to the agency, its first non-Jewish resettlement clients.
This past year, JFS helped 1,212 refugees establish new lives.
The official Russian Resettlement Program began, and 17 families from the Soviet Union were resettled.
Patsy Policar, Program Coordinator of Russian Resettlement, described the experience of working with individuals and families who had lived through Soviet anti-Semitism, “You came to know them, you began to understand what they had to do to survive over decades.”
The agency changed its name a final time to Jewish Family Service.
JFS opened a Bellevue office to serve older adults and immigrants, including Russian-speaking Jews.
Today, JFS is serving increasing numbers of Russian-speaking older adults and is proud to provide a monthly pop-up Food Bank in Bellevue.
JFS launched employment assistance services to help vulnerable people find jobs that will help them achieve financial stability.
Today, Emergency Services provides case management, financial assistance, eviction prevention and employment coaching.
JFS opened the Polack Food Bank.
The Food Bank started off in a closet and has expanded to a client-choice shopping model that serves more than 3,300 people annually.
JFS began providing services for people with disabilities.
The SAJD Foundation continues to help JFS provide Supportive Living Services to 80 adults annually to bring hope and a higher quality of life to people with cognitive disabilities.
Discussion about culturally specific addiction services at JFS begins.
This past year, Counseling & Addiction Services provided support for 145 people.
JFS launched a program for domestic violence survivors and their families known as Project DVORA.
This past year, JFS helped 210 survivors move beyond domestic violence. Project DVORA is the only domestic violence service program in the Puget Sound region to provide culturally specific resources for the Jewish community.
Project DVORA began offering services for children who witnessed domestic abuse.
“I know I’m going to be okay. I know the children will be able to be strong adults and the cycle will be broken,” said one DVORA client.
JFS received $500,000 in federal stimulus funding to expand the Polack Food Bank and move to a client-choice shopping model.
Today, more than 3,300 people annually shop the Food Bank, receives home delivery or benefit from a pop-up neighborhood option.
For the first time in its history, JFS has a facility built specifically to meet the social service needs of vulnerable individuals and families in the Puget Sound region.
Counseling & Addiction Services merged to focus on recovery and healing for people with mental health challenges, physical or social stressors, addiction and trauma.
Last year, JFS served 145 people with counseling and addiction services.
Join us in continuing the 125-year tradition of caring and service.
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With special thanks to Carolee Danz for the information in “Shards of Light,” a history of JFS from 1892 to 2012.

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