Louis Rittenberg, one of the earliest Jewish settlers in Springfield, established his dry goods store on Worthington Street in 1887- planting the seeds for JFS.
The seeds for Jewish Family Service were planted in 1881 when Louis Rittenberg, a philanthropist and Springfield dry goods business person aided struggling members of the Jewish community by giving them goods on credit that they could then sell. These peddlers became successful philanthropic members of the Springfield Jewish community operating from the belief of tzedakah – providing for those in need. By 1895 there were a number of Jewish charitable organizations in the area. In 1898, Jewish Family Service established roots as the Hebrew Ladies Relief Association to help the sick and unfortunate. In 1915 it incorporated as the United Hebrew Charities in order to give financial assistance to needy Jewish families.
As time went on and the needs of the community changed, the agency evolved to meet new challenges. In 1927 the agency changed its name again to the Jewish Social Services Bureau. This name reflected an expansive change in services to include family casework, counseling and resettlement from abroad.
The new mission was to “conserve, develop, and foster normal and wholesome family life in the Jewish community.” From 1915-1940 the Jewish Social Services Bureau provided relief services to the Springfield Jewish community. While it participated in welfare work in the greater Springfield community, it maintained an identity as a Jewish community agency focusing primarily on its members.
In the 1940’s the agency focused on providing services of Gemilut Chasidim, acts of loving kindness. It provided day care for mothers in war industries and dependent allowances for families of men in the service. It also offered transient services for families, children and refugees.
In the 1950’s the Jewish Social Services Bureau refocused its efforts on the Jewish community and offered counseling and traditional adoptions. The mission at this time was to conserve, develop and foster normal and wholesome life in the Jewish community.
The 1960’s were a low period for the agency. Caseloads dwindled and there seemed to be a loss of direction. It was a vulnerable period and the agency’s survival was threatened.
In 1970 the agency changed its name to Jewish Family Service of Greater Springfield, Inc. and focused its mission on family cohesion and unity. It became a licensed adoption agency. The agency grew stronger and also began resettling Jews from the former USSR. It also began to align with other successful Jewish Family Service organizations in the country.
The beginning of the 80’s was a challenging time for non-profits. Many closed their doors but JFS weathered the time. Their funding streams increased and, after a major staffing change, the agency began to expand. At this time the mission was to maintain a strong commitment to the creation and maintenance of the family unit. JFS provided adoption and counseling services, family therapy, and outreach programs, resettlement, and began the guardianship program. In 1987 the agency moved to 15 Lenox St. in Springfield and established the Lenox Charitable Fund.
Jewish Family Service of Greater Springfield entered the 90’s actively serving the needs of the increasingly connected global community. It helped resettle a second wave of Russian Jews and relocated 70 people in 1990. It also organized and maintained Chesed House, a community home for people with AIDS until budget constraints forced it to close in 1991. In 1995 JFS was 80 years old and provided counseling, adoption, resettlement and elder services.
In 2001 a renewed resettlement program began to help the Somali Bantu population. In 2002 the agency changed its name to Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts and developed a formal strategic plan illustrating the shift in the agency’s clientele to focus on providing comprehensive and non-sectarian services to a diverse community. The agency’s boost in financial stability and reputation gave energy to new expansion, including providing case work in the Berkshires and in the Upper Valley with an office in Northampton.
The next two decades solidified Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts’ standing in the national refugee resettlement community. The relationship with HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) strengthened and the breadth of services expanded. In 2010 JFSWM received a pilot grant from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to offer a Citizenship program to Hampden county residents. In addition, it expanded services in the Jewish community by providing young Jewish children’s music groups and by creating a strong relationship with the local Jewish Day School in Northampton for hands on experience in tikun olam within its refugee community work. JFSWM also grew its Behavioral Health department significantly by creating an In Home Therapy program for refugee youth and their families.
Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts successfully pivoted to all remote work in March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced all in person activity to temporarily close. At this writing JFSWM is slowly reopening to in person work again.
Current programming at JFSWM includes:
- Jewish Life Enrichment;
- Older Adult programs including Guardianship and Conservatorship
- NORC ( Naturally Recurring Retirement Communities) and case management;
- Citizenship and Naturalization including Immigrant petitions;
- Behavioral Health for the general community with specialized services for the refugee community
- New American program encompassing refugee resettlement, intensive case management, employment training and placement, cultural adjustment support, Youth adjustment services, and a Trafficking Victims Assistance program.
- JFSWM’s robust Volunteer program engages community members from Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin, and Berkshire counties, and offers opportunities for internships and placement for AmeriCorps staff.
The Board is comprised of 15 members who maintain a vibrant support to the agency. The Board has weathered the financial storms of these past several years and has thrived. The annual JFSWM budget is now over 3 million dollars.
Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts is here today because of strong community support and the many individuals committed to its mission throughout the years. The Jewish ideal of service to others and to repair the world, one person at a time continues to guide Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts as it looks boldly ahead to the future needs of an ever changing community.