Time flies when you’re helping people!

Throughout our more than 90 years, through the name changes and moves, through local crises and international atrocities, Jewish Family Service has been dedicated to helping individuals, families and the community with whatever challenges and transitions occur. We do this work humbly, as we should. And while we wish there wasn’t a need for our continued work, there is. And we will keep working for the next day, the next year, and the next 90, to ensure the brightest possible future for all of the members of our community and the region. That’s what we’ve always done.

For a more in-depth look at our history, keep reading!

Our History

Does it feel as though Jewish Family Service has been a mainstay of our community since before you could remember? That’s because we’ve been around far longer than most.

Our beginnings date back more than 100 years ago in the Relief Society of Temple Beth El, the Jewish Relief Society, the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society, and the Self-Help Circle. These groups exemplified the traditional Jewish concept of helping the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow. Their concern went beyond emergency assistance and also included a focus on education, Americanization, housing and other issues.

To avoid duplication of services, these groups came together in 1889 as the United Jewish Charities, with the primary function of helping the needy with cash assistance, clothing, household goods and small loans to establish and maintain small businesses.

In 1909, the foster home concept for the care of children took root. Other services included an employment bureau, a medical clinic, and educational and recreation services with an emphasis on Americanization.

In 1928, the Jewish Social Service Bureau took over the relief department and children’s bureau of the United Jewish Charities. The name was changed in 1957 to Jewish Family and Children’s Service to reflect an increased focus on child welfare services. The final name change, to Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit, took place in 1967.

Across the years, much more has evolved than simply our name. Changes in our location from downtown Detroit to Northwest Detroit and Southfield, to Oak Park and West Bloomfield, as well as in our structure and functions, reflect the changing needs, resources and commitments of the Jewish and general communities.

In the 1930s, JFS was committed to providing counseling, granting financial assistance and placing homemakers in homes with an ill, absent or incapacitated mother. The first program of its kind in the state and one of the first in the country, it was created to keep children in their homes. Eventually, it grew to serve older adults, helping many avoid being placed in nursing homes.

In the 1950s, JFS began to define many of the specific services offered today. In 1952, the Department of Services for the Aged was formed, and over the ensuing decades, JFS processed applications for the Jewish Home for the Aged, initiated Kosher Meals on Wheels as a collaborative project with the National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Federation Apartments, and established the Group Apartments for the Elderly, an endowed program with congregate housing and support services.

The 1970s and 1980s saw an increased focus on counseling services, which had been a sliding scale, fee-based service since 1953. In 1975, JFS was approved as an outpatient psychiatric clinic with services reimbursable by insurance. Training was undertaken to develop expertise in a variety of specialty services, including adult and child group therapy, family therapy, and therapy for children who had been physically and sexually abused.

The expansion into non-sectarian services started in 1983 when JFS received a grant for financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and a grant from Area Agency on Aging 1-B for counseling and homemaker services. These grants allowed us to leverage non-sectarian funding sources to benefit the Jewish community while also serving the broader community.

Today, Jewish Family Service is a non-sectarian non-profit health and social services organization helping those facing life’s challenges. Each year, JFS touches the lives of 14,000 people of all ages, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds through a variety of programs centered around older adults, mental health and wellness, and safety net services.