BELLEFAIRE-JCB is the oldest Jewish social-service agency in Cleveland. It was established in 1868 by the B'NAI B'RITH Grand Lodge #2 to care for Jewish Civil War orphans from 15 states. A large building on 4 1/ 2 acres, formerly Dr. Seeyle's water sanitorium at Sawtell (E. 51st) St. and Woodland Ave., was dedicated on 14 July 1868 as the Jewish Orphan Asylum. It opened 2 months later with over 80 residents and grew to include 400 orphans by 1900. It was the largest of the Cleveland ORPHANAGES, and like them, it sheltered children most of whom had living parents who couldn’t support them financially. The children stayed weeks, months, sometimes years, receiving secular and religious education and learning a trade. Dr. Samuel Wolfenstein, a rabbi with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Rabbiner Seminar, a Reform rabbinical school, served as superintendent from 1878 to1913.
Due to increasing numbers of children, deterioration of the facilities, and population shifts, the asylum planned to move east to the suburbs as the large Protestant and Catholic orphanages were doing. Rebuffed by CLEVELAND HEIGHTS in 1924, the orphanage purchased land in UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS in 1925 and then, defended by former Cleveland mayor NEWTON D. BAKER, fought and won a two-year court battle over zoning restrictions. The orphanage opened at the intersection of Fairmount and Belvoir Boulevards in 1929 and re-named itself Bellefaire; it replaced its large congregate facility with cottages and began to shed its historic identity as an asylum for dependent children. In 1940, Bellefaire changed its focus to include residential therapeutic care for emotionally disturbed children; the asylum stopped accepting orphans altogether in 1943. In 1941, the Orthodox Jewish Orphan Asylum merged with the Welfare Assn. for Jewish Children to form the Jewish Children's Bureau, which then formed a functional merger with Bellefaire. The institution became Bellefaire-JCB. Bellefaire became a residential treatment center; the bureau provided local casework, foster-home placement, group-home care, and daycare.
In 2021, Bellefaire served children, youth, and families from all segments of Cleveland's diverse community. In addition to its residential treatment program, Bellefaire offered an on-campus school for students with behavioral problems, in-home and school-based counseling, and Monarch School for Autism.
Updated by Marian J. Morton
Polster, Gary E. Inside Looking Out: The Jewish Orphan Asylum 1868-1924 (Kent: KSU Press, 1990)