Jewish Family Services has been a part of the Richmond community for so long, it’s almost impossible to imagine the city without its presence. 165 years, a span of several lifetimes in America’s history marked by several wars, technological expansion, and growing diversity. During this time Jewish Family Services has become an ingrained part of the community. The organization first began as The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Association (LHBA), a group of hardworking Jewish women in Richmond who simply wanted to serve those most in need. While the agency has undergone many changes, the dedication of those involved has marked every period of its history.
The Early Years- The LHBA met their first real challenge head on during the Civil War—serving soldiers in nearby encampments, collecting fabric for bandages and saving meager food supplies to deliver to convalescing soldiers. After the war, as the city began the slow process of rebuilding, The LHBA was there to help the many widows and orphans left without the support of their families.
JFS Enters the Modern Era- The LHBA had gained a reputation for expertly confronting some of the more difficult problems in the Richmond community. In the fifties, the organization started to add a growing number of professionals to the organization who could meet specific targeted needs. During this time the first incarnation of JFS Personal Care, Counseling, Adoption and Care Management programs began, still in existence today. Executive Secretary Stanley Bass correctly predicted in 1957 that “help with family and personal problems…would be the future basis for our help.”
New Challenges, Dynamic Solutions- In the late 60’s social upheaval left many youth and young adults without support. The number of runaways, young Vietnam-vets and draft-evaders led to a climate of unrest but also great potential. JFS Executive Director Anne Lane, with the support of the Lipman family, openedThe Daily Planet: a space to attract young people and find positive solutions to their problems. Their services included; yoga classes, family life education, counseling, weekly communal meals, and beds for homeless individuals. The Daily Planet was so successful that it eventually broke off into a stand-alone organization, which still has a positive impact on the Richmond community today.
In the early 90’s, with the fall of Communism, many Jews in The Soviet Union finally found themselves with the freedom to immigrate to America and pursue a new life with greater personal freedoms. Suddenly hundreds of “New Americans” were moving to Richmond, many without a single friend or family member to help them. JFS stepped forward to take the lead in helping these families resettle, providing housing assistance, translation, and career services. While moving to a new country was a daunting experience, JFS was there to help support these families.
Strength in our past, building for the future- Today JFS continues to evolve, providing help where it is needed most. Currently JFS offers the core programs of Personal Care, Skilled Care, Care Management, Counseling, Adoption, Telephone Reassurance and Friendly Visitors. JFS is also embarking on exciting new projects to meet changing needs in our community. JFS has partnered with Congregation Beth Ahabah on KiRVA (Hebrew for ‘closeness’). This pilot program brings together the unique skills of JFS and Congregation Beth Ahabah to meet the physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of Richmond’s Jewish seniors.
Another exciting development is within the JFS Adoption program. Since the late 1990s JFS has facilitated dozens of LGBT adoptions in Richmond and across Virginia. Despite the 2012 “conscience clause” allowing agencies to deny services to prospective parents for religious or moral reasons- including sexual orientation- JFS continues to serve all individuals regardless of age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity pursuing adoption as a way to build their family.
Like Richmond itself, JFS has changed a lot over the years. JFS may not be able to predict the next challenges our community will meet in the future, but is excited and ready to meet them head on.
Much of the information in this post comes from “Like a Giant Oak’”A History of the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Association and Jewish Family Services of Richmond, Virginia, 1849-1999. By Peter K. Opper, Ph.D, LCSW.