The JEWISH FAMILY SERVICE ASSN. was established in 1875 as the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society which, after a merger in 1883 with the Hebrew Relief Organization, became the Hebrew Relief Assn. It is the principal family-counseling and social-work service agency for Cleveland Jews. Created to provide monetary and material relief to needy families and individuals, the society remained small during the 19th century, never collecting more than $6,000 annually.
The Russian Relief Committee, established in 1882 to assist the large number of Russian Jews settling in Cleveland, merged with the Hebrew Relief Society in 1894. After joining the Federation of Jewish Charities in 1904, the society dispensed more than $10,000 annually. It hired A. S. Newman of Chicago as its first professional superintendent in 1904. He established the rudiments of casework in 1906, interviewing and investigating prospective clients and implementing "friendly visits" by volunteers to recipients. In 1924 the society changed its name to the Jewish Social Service Bureau and later in the decade affiliated with Western Reserve Univ.'s School of Applied Social Science in the training of social workers.
In 1933 the bureau turned the dispensing of relief over to governmental agencies and expanded into homemaker services, refugee resettlement, and vocational guidance, creating the Vocational Adjustment Department (later the Jewish Vocational Service). In 1943 the name changed to the Jewish Family Service Assn. Over the ensuing decades, the association began to offer services such as individual, family, and group counseling, support groups, education, outreach, and referral. In Jan. 1955 the office was moved to 2060 S. Taylor Rd. in CLEVELAND HTS. In the 1960s, the JFSA established the Rap/Art Center for Teens. In 1991 the agency opened the Drost Family Center in BEACHWOOD. In 1995 JFSA had 4 offices on Cleveland's east side; 8 group homes and apartments, and also offered services for the elderly, divorce mediation, refugee resettlement, and other social service initiatives. Dr. Arthur Becker-Weidman served as director.
In 2022, JFSA’s Strengthening Families Division included the Cleveland Chesed Center (established 2015) to address the growing number of Jewish families facing financial distress by providing free food, clothing and household items in a store front located in Cleveland Heights; domestic violence prevention, the Hebrew Shelter Home to provide emergency and temporary housing for Jewish women and children escaping domestic violence or facing imminent homelessness; and homelessness prevention to those facing eviction. The Home Care Division included private duty non-medical services; skilled nursing; occupational, physical, and speech therapy; geriatric consultation and case management; Holocaust survivor support services; home delivery of kosher meals; and a shuttle service for JFSA clients.
The Empowering Youth Division included a college financial aid program that awarded need-based grants, interest free loans, and scholarships to full-time students in Greater Cleveland; a teen dating violence prevention program; and the Horovitz Youth Ability program, which served disabled and at-risk youth by engaging them in volunteer service, vocational activities, and social enrichment. JFSA also provided an Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Caregiver Support Program. Alyson’s Place Medical Clinic, JFSA’s primary care medical clinic, provided access to comprehensive healthcare services and was located in JFSA’s headquarters in Pepper Pike. The Alyson’s Medical Clinic responded to the COVID pandemic by conducting vaccination clinics at synagogues and with an at-home vaccination program for older adults and special needs adult children.
Jewish Family Service of Akron is a separate nonprofit organization serving Greater Akron and Summit County, including seniors and other at-risk populations. JFS Akron operated as a division of JFSA Cleveland in 2022.
As of 2022, the main office of JFSA was located on Chagrin Blvd. in Pepper Pike. Susan Bichsel, PhD served President & Chief Executive Officer.
Updated by Sylvia Abrams
Last updated: 2/22/2023
See also JEWS AND JUDAISM.