“Although our society is as its name proclaims a Hebrew Benevolent society…yet the report of our secretary will show that we have extended charity, not only to those of our own faith, but to every sect who applies for the same; that the only thing taken into consideration was whether they were worthy of receiving assistance or not; that it made no difference whether the applicant were Jew or gentile, as long as he was in actual need of assistance he invariably received it. This is as it should be, and as I trust, it ever will be.”
President of the Hebrew Benevolent Society (predecessor of JFS)
July 10, 1870
In 1854, the tiny Jewish community of the dusty pueblo of Los Angeles (population 1,610) established the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the area’s first charitable organization. The volunteer group’s purpose was to collect funds from “those who have” and distribute them to “those who have not”, Jew and non-Jew alike. The organization began by purchasing land for a cemetery to fulfill the Jewish religious commandment of burying the dead. Little did these pioneers know that they were launching the future Jewish Family Service, the first and largest social service agency in Los Angeles.
By the early 1900s, the Los Angeles Jewish community had grown large enough to require specialized services such as medical and child care, which the agency added to its roster of services. The first synagogue was also born, Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
In 1929, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. The community was suddenly faced with severe unemployment. For the first time, basic necessities such as food, money, immigration and resettlement services were provided by our agency.
The agency has met many challenges throughout its 150 years including helping to providing financial assistance and support services to survivors of the Holocaust, expanding programs to serve the burgeoning suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, meeting demands for mental health and addiction services, providing vital assistance to a rapidly growing population of older adults and helping victims of emotional trauma caused by accidents, violence and natural disasters. In 1946, the Hebrew Benevolent Society changed its name to Jewish Family Service to reflect its wide array of services.
Today, JFS has earned a national and international reputation as a model for excellence in services for children, families, individuals with disablities, survivors of violence, and older adults.
Through our work, JFS peruses its founding mandate: improving quality of life for people of all generations and walks of life, no matter what their ethnicity or religion.