This year, Jewish Family Service of San Diego turns exactly 100 years old. That’s a long life for an organization that has made helping others its mission since its founding in 1918. Then known as the “Jolly Sixteen” the young Jewish women who joined together to create the organization were committed to making a difference in people’s lives
“These women united four Jewish women’s groups — Hebrew Sisterhood, Jolly Sewing Circle, Junior Charity League, and the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society — to become Federated Jewish Charities, now known as Jewish Family Service of San Diego,” historian Joellyn Zollman said. Zollman worked with JFS this year to learn more about the history and early missions as part of a larger centennial celebration and project. She is also the curator of “Celebrate San Diego! The History and Heritage of San Diego’s Jewish Community.” at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.
“[When the Jolly Sixteen first got together to form what we now know as JFS] this was a time when women’s roles were drastically different than they are today, which makes the work that these founding sisters did — essentially knocking on doors and asking for money —that much more remarkable.”
Rose Neumann, the agency’s founder and first volunteer director, served the organization from 1918 until 1946, forever shaping the Jewish community. A tireless advocate for refugees, she personally went to Tijuana on more than one occasion to look for Jews who were thought to have landed there while fleeing European countries during World War II. Many were stuck on the other side of the border, unable to enter the U.S., but Neumann saw a population that needed food, clothing, water and shelter, so she “did what she had to do,” said Zollman.
In historical documents and letters, Neumann’s travel and work to help the refugee population was well documented. This and other artifacts from the organization’s rich history, including annual reports and official correspondence will be on display in some fashion by the end of the year, though Zollman says she is not sure about final details or whether they will be available to the public.
Many of the agencies original programs — providing food, emergency shelter, senior adult programming, counseling services, and housing and employment assistance programs, are ongoing today, though in a much larger context. The Hand Up Food Pantry, for example, feeds thousands each year while giving teens a place to volunteer and create meaningful experiences during a crucial time in their lives. JFS has also turned its parking lot into a safe place for homeless families and children with no place to go at night, something that Board Chair Marie Raftery says is near and dear to her heart as a mother.
“The work [here] is important because we are not just helping one person, we are helping the entire family through our services,” she said. “Our goal [through our programs] is really to help people break free of [whatever cycle] that brought them to us, through case management and counseling programs.”
A 1949 annual report still touted by the agency today reads “We are looking to the future of Jewish Social Service in San Diego with enthusiasm and vigor, and we know that in 1950 all of these yesterdays and todays will become bright tomorrows.” Indeed, with Jewish Family Service’s programs, tomorrow already looks brighter.
This year’s Heart & Soul Gala will celebrate the agency’s centennial, and will be held on Saturday, April 21,at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine. The organization’s biggest annual fundraising event will honor eight women who represent the strong females of the agency’s past, present and future, including Inge Feinswog, Kira Finkenberg, Lois Richmond, Marsha Berkson, Jill Spitzer, Jenny Daniel, Estee Einhorn, and Evelyn Rady.
Whether helping new immigrants find shelter, or providing families in need with counseling, food or a place to stay, JFS truly embodies the meaning of tikkun olam, today serving more than 350,000 clients in San Diego County each year. To learn more about JFS or the centennial celebration, including the Heart & Soul Gala, visit jfssd.org.
Rady Family Foundation Pledges Up to $20M to Jewish Family Service
At the official kickoff event for Jewish Family Service’s centennial Celebration in January, it was announced that the Rady Family Foundation will donate up to $20 million to Jewish Family Service of San Diego, including as much as $17 million in one-to-one matching funds.
The pledge is part of Jewish Family Service’s $37 million centennial fundraising campaign. “We are deeply committed to the long-term sustainability of Jewish Family Service because of the critical role it plays in the lives of tens of thousands of people of all faiths and backgrounds across San Diego County – and we challenge the community to join us in supporting this vital resource long into the future,” Ernest and Evelyn Rady said in a press release.
The matching challenge will remain in effect until the goal is realized or the end of the campaign in November 2020.
“During our 100th year, we honor the agency’s history and notable accomplishments, but our main focus is on the next 100 years of service and how we can empower more San Diegans to overcome challenges, set goals, and build more stable, secure, and connected lives,” said JFS CEO Michael Hopkins. “We are incredibly grateful to the Radys for their significant and long-time support of JFS, including Evelyn’s 15 years as JFS’s head of counseling and this generous matching donation. The community has begun to rally in support of the campaign.”
To date, the fundraising campaign has already raised $19 million.
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