JFCS: Centuries of Pioneering

JFCS published the “Centuries of Pioneering” book in 2010. It tells the story of the Jewish people in the Bay Area and their work to help others since 1850.

Order Your Book Today! $49.95 plus sales tax and shipping. Call 415-449-1256 to order.

The year 1850 is significant for the Bay Area. California became a state, San Francisco was incorporated, and one of the oldest social service agencies in the country—now known as Jewish Family and Children’s Services of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (JFCS)—was established by a group of Bavarian Jews who had immigrated to San Francisco at the time of the California Gold Rush.

This exciting time in history is brought vividly to life in JFCS: Centuries of Pioneering. The book seamlessly connects the agency’s development to the Bay Area’s growth and shows how the stories of San Francisco and JFCS are inextricably linked.

It All Began with The Eureka Benevolent Society

First known as the Eureka Benevolent Society (EBS), JFCS counts one of its founders as its own—dry goods merchant and civic leader August Helbing. Other early leaders and philanthropists associated with the EBS included the Strauss, Sutro, Hellman, and Haas families, whose names resonate in the Bay Area to this day.

PHOAbuilding-250px“As the oldest charitable organization west of the Mississippi, the dynamic story of JFCS mirrors the history of California,” acknowledges United States Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on the book jacket. “Innovation and a generous spirit combine to make the San Francisco Bay Area a wonderful—and unique—region. This book engages us in exploring how it came to be so, through the eyes of those who helped create it.”

 

  • Centuries includes a foreword by Kevin Starr, the former California State Librarian and author of many books about California history.
  • It features hundreds of previously unpublished photos from the JFCS archives, including pictures of an orphanage on Divisadero Street—the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum—and the cottage-style campus, Homewood Terrace, built for orphans and other children whose parents could not take care of them.
  • It also traces how JFCS responded to “earthquake, influenza, and war” in the early 1900s and later resettled tens of thousands of refugees following wars and revolutions in other parts of the world.

Homewood Terrace

Today, the mission of the agency remains the same: to help individuals, families, and children in need. Each year, JFCS serves 70,000 people through its award-winning programs, including Parents Place family resource centers; Seniors At Home; the Center for Special Needs; the Child Trauma Training Institute; the Bullying Prevention Program; and counseling and consultation services for people of all beliefs and backgrounds.

 

Order Your Book Today

The price is $49.95 plus sales tax and shipping. Call 415-449-1256 to order.

Book Caps 160th Anniversary of Founding of JFCS in 1850

In 2010, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties marked its 160th anniversary. Its founders, August Helbing and 11 other Jewish émigrés, established the Eureka Benevolent Society (EBS) in 1850 to help care for the widowed and orphaned of that era of shipwrecks, mining disasters, fires, and disease. JFCS traces its roots and its mission to that organization.

Twenty years later, members of the EBS and other Jewish community leaders in San Francisco founded an orphanage and home for the aged, the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home Society. It established JFCS’ long tradition of offering “a continuum of care”—from infancy to old age.

In 1931 EBS opened new offices at 1600 Scott St.

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Over the ensuing decades of earthquakes, world wars, economic upheaval, massive immigration, and epidemics, these organizations grew into the Jewish Family Service Agency, which worked closely with an outgrowth of PHOA—Homewood Terrace, the first cottage-style home for orphans and other youth whose parents were unable to care for them. In 1977, the two organizations merged to form the present-day JFCS.

In JFCS: Centuries of Pioneering, we celebrate the contributions of these pioneer Jewish leaders—and their modern-day counterparts—in establishing the rich fabric of philanthropy and community of the San Francisco Bay Area. The book traces the vision of the early Jewish leaders as they created their own definition of caring and “community”; the evolution of both the theory and the treatment of mental health and social service; and the global events that shaped our destiny then and now.

Acknowledgment

Jewish Family and Children’s Services is grateful for the rich resources made available to us in the making of this book. Writer and researcher Jackie Krentzman made use of the wealth of material available at the University of California, Berkeley, the Judah L. Magnes Museum, the San Francisco Public Library, and JFCS’ archives, which date back to 1850.

We are indebted also to “Jewish Family and Children’s Services: An Organizational History of Its First 157 Years, 1850 – 2007,” by Sara L. Schwartz and Michael J. Austin of the Mack Center for Nonprofit Management in the Human Services at the University of California, Berkeley. Their report inspired us to learn much more, as did the many fine histories of early San Francisco, including the writings and research of historian Fred Rosenbaum on the Jews of San Francisco.

—Victoria Cooper, Editor-in-Chief

August was a 26-year-old when he arrived in San Francisco in 1849. Along with 11 other Bavarian Jews, he founded the Eureka Benevolent Society, JFCS' predecessor, the next year. It would establish the mission that JFCS still follows today: to help those in need.

August was a 26-year-old when he arrived in San Francisco in 1849. Along with 11 other Bavarian Jews, he founded the Eureka Benevolent Society, JFCS’ predecessor, the next year. It would establish the mission that JFCS still follows today: to help those in need.

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Reconstructed after the 1906 Earthquake, the EBS building still stands as an office building today at 436 O’Farrell St. in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Judah L. Magnes Museum)

Table of Contents

JFCS: Centuries of Pioneering

Foreword by Kevin Starr

Part I: Founding and Early Mission (1850 – 1905)

Chapter 1. The Settling of a City and the Rise of a Community
Chapter 2. JFCS Roots: The Eureka Benevolent Society
Chapter 3. Growth, Integration, and New Challenges in the Late 1800s
Chapter 4. Helping Children: The Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum Leads the Way

Part II: Response to Earthquake, Influenza, and War (1906 – 1928)

Chapter 5. Earthquake Tests the City and the Eureka Benevolent Society
Chapter 6. The Eureka Benevolent Society Modernizes
Chapter 7. The World Rushes In: WW I and the Spanish Influenza Epidemic
Chapter 8. A New Model of Caring for Children: Homewood Terrace

Part III: Depression, World War II, and the Aftermath (1929 – 1959)

Chapter 9. Getting Through the Great Depression
Chapter 10. Wartime and Transition at Homewood Terrace
Chapter 11. Taking Care of Jewish Refugees and Holocaust Survivors
Chapter 12. Demystifying and Popularizing Mental Health

Part IV: New Waves of Immigration and Reinvention (1960 – 1980)

Chapter 13. Helping Emigres Build New Lives in the Bay Area
Chapter 14. Merger of Jewish Family Service Agency and Homewood Terrace
Chapter 15. Stretching Services ‘from Infancy to Old Age’

PART V: Pioneering Programs for Tumultuous Times (1981 – 1999)

Chapter 16. Helping Parents Build Healthy Families
Chapter 17. Helping Parents Build Their Families Through Adoption
Chapter 18. Helping Seniors Stay at Home Longer: Seniors•At•Home
Chapter 19. Meeting the AIDS Epidemic and Other Crises Head On
Chapter 20. Public Issue Advocacy for the Community
Chapter 21. Building Jewish Community

PART VI: JFCS Enters a Third Century in the Year 2000

Chapter 22. JFCS Creates Residential Communities
Chapter 23. New Programs for Children: Center for Special Needs and Child Trauma Training Institute
Chapter 24. Emergency Assistance in Times of Need
Chapter 25. New Frontiers: Jewish Principles in Practice

Notes
Milestones
Past Presidents
Board of Directors 2010 – 2011
Offices
Index

Profiles

JFCS Founder, August Helbing
S. W. Levy: President of PHOA, 1873 – 1910
Superintendent Henry Mauser Saves the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum
Eleanor Haas Koshland, First Female President
Benjamin Bonapart, Homewood Terrace Assistant and Head Superintendent, 1928 – 1958
Social Engineer Hyman Kaplan
Executive Directors David Crystal, 1958 – 1979, and Werner Gottlieb, 1979 – 1985
Change Agent Anita Friedman: First Woman Executive Director

Sidebars

JFCS Family Tree
Aaron Sapiro: PHOA Alumnus Gains Fame as Farm Labor Reformer
The Federation of Jewish Charities of San Francisco
Life at Homewood Terrace
Child Guidance and Foster Care
‘Mr. and Mrs. Homewood Terrace’
One of the ‘One Thousand Children’
Establishing Services for Holocaust Survivors in the Bay Area

Providing Work for Refugees: Utility Workshop
1974 Amendment Fuels Emigration
One Emigre’s Perspective: Marina Tikhman
Shifting from Crisis Counseling to Prevention
Early Intervention: The Schools Partnership Project and the Early Childhood Mental Health Program
YouthFirst Helps Teens Explore Their Identity and Potential

‘Cleanerific’ Social Enterprise Grows Out of Service to Seniors
L’Chaim Adult Day Health Center

 

California Gold Rush

 “On January 24, 1848, James Wilson Marshall, a foreman at John Sutter’s lumber mill in the California foothills, found a small, shiny hunk of metal in the shallow waters of the American River. That tiny rock—gold—launched one of the great migrations in American history.” (Opening of Chapter 1, p. 3, JFCS: Centuries of Pioneering; photo source: www.historichwy49.com)

Foreword by Kevin Starr

It is dangerous to generalize. It can be argued, however, that ever since the St. Charles brought the first Jewish immigrants to New Amsterdam in 1654,the predominant experience of Jews in North America has been urban. To say this is not to devalue all those Jews—including the Socialist chicken farmers of Petaluma—who lived their lives in rural or small-town circumstances. But it is to stress something obvious: the proclivity that Jewish immigrants to North America had for city life, even if their origins in the old country had been non-urban. In this regard, few cities in the United States have represented this trend more dramatically than San Francisco, the fourth largest Jewish urban community in the United States by 1860.

GermanJewish Emigres Come to San Francisco Following Political Turmoil Back Home

Following the political turmoil of 1848, a large number of German Jews immigrated to the United States. Many of these German-speaking emigres were of the educated middle class. Reform Jews in their religious practice, profoundly urban in their values and lifestyles, they did not restrict themselves to the Atlantic seaboard, but moved steadily across the continent and in the process built strong Jewish communities in such then-frontier cities as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Louisville, St. Louis, and San Francisco.

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Early 1900s Fillmore Street
(Photo courtesy of Judah L. Magnes Museum)

In these cities, German Jewish emigres established businesses, raised large families, built synagogues, fostered a public school system, and assumed leadership positions in public and private life. Remembering the European cities of their earlier years, they helped their newly emergent communities grow into maturity. Adolph Sutro, for example, remembering the Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) of his younger years, and having made his fortune in Nevada silver, devoted his later years to the development of San Francisco as a center of commerce and culture reflective of the Aachen / Aix la Chapelle that he knew.

The problem with all of this success—in San Francisco especially—is that it can mask the full nature of the Jewish experience in 19th century America. Everyone seems so self-possessed and successful.This is not the case with later waves of Jewish emigres from Eastern Europe. Here were exploited, frequently brutalized Jews fleeing oppression, in contrast to the middle-class German Jewish emigres of the mid-19th century who voluntarily chose to come to the United States in search of better opportunities. By and large, they found these opportunities, as the history of San Francisco reveals, in terms of both the pioneering generation of the 1850s and the generations to follow. Building upon the business success of the first generation, they emerged into philanthropy and cultural leadership across the next three generations, and continue to do so to this day.

The record of this success, however, should not be allowed to obscure the full complexity of the Jewish experience, even in San Francisco. Like everyone else in the Gold Rush, the first frontier, and the provincial years that followed, Jews experienced the hardships of the long voyage or the transcontinental trek to the Pacific Coast, the danger and disease of the mines, serious illness, and, sometimes, the breakups of families, early deaths, and the orphaning or half-orphaning of children. They experienced nervous breakdowns born of disappointed hopes, unemployment in the depression of the 1870s, and other assaults on spiritual, psychological, and bodily wellbeing.

An English Jewish emigre from South Africa by the name of Joshua Norton—having experienced a nervous breakdown in the aftermath of a failed effort to corner the rice market —redesigned himself as Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, and lived at public expense. But for most other Jewish San Franciscans experiencing difficulties, this was not an option. Which was why such a representative figure as August Helbing, a 26-year-old dry-goods merchant, gathered 11 other San Francisco businessmen on 2 October 1850 to discuss forming the Eureka Benevolent Association, officially incorporated on 29 March 1851 “to afford aid and relief to indigent, sick, and infirm Jews; to bury the poor dead; and in general to relieve and aid their coreligionists who might be in poverty and distress.” A Bavarian by birth, Helbing had grown up in Munich in prosperous circumstances, was liberally educated, and as his business success in New Orleans and in San Francisco following his immigration to the United States in 1848 indicated, he knew cities, knew how they worked, knew as well how they could mask suffering in an otherwise prosperous Jewish community.

Establishment of Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home Society

A few years later, in 1858, the Eureka Benevolent Association—having already assisted the poor, buried the dead, given shelter to the homeless, helped the unemployed find work—found itself with a baby boy on its hands after a Jewish widower from Marysville, taking his baby son to San Francisco for better care, was killed when the boiler on his steamboat on the Sacramento River exploded, leaving his son an orphan: a baby Moses found in the bulrushes of the Sacramento River not by Pharaoh’s daughter but by the entire Jewish community as represented by the Eureka Benevolent Association. To care for this child, the association established a Widows and Orphans Fund, and this in turn, in 1871, encouraged B’nai B’rith and Temple Emanu-El to form the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Home Society and thereby create an organization that would care for innumerable children and adolescents to this very day.

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The first Temple Emanu-El, built in the late 1800s
(Photo courtesy of Judah L. Magnes Museum)

In a rambling Victorian on Divisadero or the cottages of Homewood Terrace in the sylvan southern portion of the city, or in smaller home-based communities throughout the Bay Area, this special philanthropy, brought into being to care for one solitary infant, over the decades has sheltered countless children. Later, through supervised foster care, adoption, counseling, and psychiatric services on an outpatient basis—or in other instances, by making available places for troubled young people just to hang out and, at their own pace, talk over their problems with receptive counselors—this mission of care for children and adolescents was continued at the highest possible professional level.

Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam

Two powerful concepts in the Jewish tradition—tzedakah, the Hebrew word for justice, and tikkun olam, Hebrew for “to repair the world”—animate and structure the narrative unfolding in this history. From the beginning—meaning, in San Francisco terms, from the 1850s—numerous social, cultural, and philanthropic organizations were developed by the Jewish community. Like the brooks and streams of the Sierra Nevada, these organizations in time coalesced into larger rivers, and in time these rivers merged. From the beginning, in the Jewish community of San Francisco—however remote it might have initially seemed, so far ahead of the advancing frontier, not linked to the East Coast by railroad until late 1869—global events and developing approaches to community care played equal roles alongside tzedakah and tikkun olam, justice and correction, as embedded in Jewish tradition. Global as well as local events challenged the Bay Area Jewish community from the Gold Rush onwards and shaped the various organizations and programs that in 1977 coalesced into the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, serving the epicenter of the fourth largest metropolitan region in the United States: an epicenter as well of American Jewish civilization, hence a community—in its people, its social and cultural life, its commerce and philanthropy—of relevance to Jews across the planet as it pursued the enduring, always developing dynamics of Jewish tradition and identity.

The Gold Rush, first frontier, and provincial Jewish society of the mid-19th century, animated by an era of commercial expansion, yielded to the unemployment of the 1870s, when so many Jewish men came west to improve their circumstances and required help. A generation of middle-class emigrants from German-speaking Europe gave way to the arrival at the end of the century of Yiddish-speaking and Polish-speaking immigrants fleeing to the New World, in many cases for their very lives. A regional capital, San Francisco, cherished home of so many Jewish Americans, was in mid-April 1906 shaken by earthquake and gutted by fire. Along with their fellow citizens, Jewish San Franciscans of every class and social condition—the working people South of Market, the more affluent and the wealthy aligned along the Van Ness corridor—watched in horror as their homes were dynamited by the Army or consumed by fire, then fled to tent or cabin life in a refugee camp in Golden Gate Park or other parks and squares in the city. This same community played a major role in rebuilding the city, further developing the Western Addition and the Fillmore corridor as a flourishing center of Jewish life.

Temple Sherith Israel still stands in its 1800s location in San Francisco (Photo courtesy of Judah L. Magnes Museum)

Temple Sherith Israel still stands in its 1800s location in San Francisco
(Photo courtesy of Judah L. Magnes Museum)

Later Waves of Immigration

Then came the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, and the Russian Revolution, precipitating a small but steady influx of displaced Jewish refugees arriving in San Francisco via Harbin, China, only to have their settlement further challenged by a Great Depression that created a whole new host of social problems and challenges, requiring new organizations and strategies. In 1939, the Eureka Benevolent Society changed its name to the Jewish Family Service Agency, signifying an expansion of its activities.

Even as this depression continued through the 1930s, yet another wave of Jewish emigres, the majority of them from the German-speaking lands that first peopled Jewish San Francisco, began to arrive, many of them penniless, dispirited, speaking in anguished tones of a monstrous evil on the rise in Europe. And then, during and just after the world war in which so many Jewish San Franciscans served, there arrived survivors—tattooed numbers on their forearms—of something unspeakable whose name was Shoah or Holocaust. As a matter of scale and intensity, the atrocities of the Holocaust seemed beyond belief to sheltered Americans, were it not for the horrors being depicted, if only selectively, in the newsreels and magazines of the period. So too, 30 to 40 years following the war, Jews would be arriving from the Soviet Union, an entirely new generation of emigres, many of them highly qualified in the professions, all of them requiring assistance as they moved through the complex process of adjusting from one culture to another.

As if all this were not enough, one might say, echoing the language of Passover, American society itself was at the same time experiencing an acceleration of challenges to the mental and physical well-being of its young people, Jews included, in almost direct proportion to their percentage of the population. And so the Jewish Family Service Agency (with whom Homewood Terrace would merge in 1977), starting with its response to the youthquake centered on the Haight Ashbury, embarked upon a new round of health care and counseling services and  expanded its outreach as well to a parental generation entering what could frequently seem to be an epidemic of dysfunctionalism.

Care for the Elderly

The elderly, meanwhile, a concern of the community since the 19th century, were increasing exponentially as health care improved and were living longer for the same reason. How were the elderly to live life in these newly acquired years in the best manner possible, Jewish Family and Children’s Services challenged itself? The answers were multiple, ranging from home care to assisted living singly or in groups, to recreational and educational programs, to counseling and, for those physically able, to volunteerism on behalf of the community. And how were the elderly to pass on from this life? So too did Jewish Family and Children’s Services address this delicate issue, aligning itself, among other alternatives, to a homebased hospice program.

And thus, in its concern for final things, history was repeating itself, a circle was being circled; for among August Helbing’s earliest concerns in the 1850s was the dignified death and burial of an elderly Jewish resident, somehow finding himself at the end of his life in this brawling city on the empty edge of the North American continent.

The following narrative is primarily a history of an organization. Through well-selected photographs and quotations, however, it offers as well the images and voices of the San Francisco and Bay Area Jewish past, which in turn allows that past to reappear in its own image and to speak for itself in its own voice. We see the headlong, overnight frontier city, nonexistent
as an American place until 1847, by 1870 the tenth largest city in the United States and a city of considerable importance to its American Jewish community, where the hybrid architecture of Temple Emanu-El in the downtown blended Gothic Revival with the Byzantine and the Levant, thus evoking the complex cultural heritage of the German Reform, now translated to these far Pacific shores.

A pair of original Levis suggest the commercial fortunes being assembled. The printed brochure “Constitution and By-Laws of the Eureka Benevolent Society” underscores the development of social philanthropy. One can appreciate the manly presence of August Helbing, hands nonchalantly tucked into his pockets, his top hat tilted at a rakish angle, his side whiskers bespeaking a gentleman with proper self-regard, his muscular frame suggesting the young firebrand who on the voyage out to San Francisco from New Orleans threatened a gunfight with another man trying to take over his cabin, then generously surrendered it to a cabin-less Jewish couple and their child and spent the voyage sleeping on the deck in the cold and wet open air. We see seven Kosher butchers, aligned behind the counter of the Shenson Brothers Kosher Sausage Company at 1149 McAllister Street in the heart of the rapidly developing post-earthquake Jewish community of the Western Addition. The baseball team and the band from the orphanage show off their natty new uniforms. Other young men are instructed in woodworking at the same institution. Boys and girls do their homework in the library. During the First World War, uniformed youngsters proudly display the American flag.

Helping All Those in Need

And the voices, not heard fully yet there, some evoked in quotations, others not even present on the printed page, but heard nevertheless in imagination: voices from the past, an elderly man dying far from home in a Gold Rush city, the cry of the orphaned infant pulled from a burning wreck on the Sacramento River. It is a lusty cry, as the cry of Moses must have been to have been heard by Pharaoh’s daughter: crying, this little Moses, this orphaned infant, on behalf of his own isolation, his lost mother and father, and thereby anticipating the sense of isolation that so many Jewish youngsters, equally deprived of one or another or both parents, would also experience in the decades to come, only to have this pain, this isolation, alleviated by the very same Jewish community to which these children would forever belong as a matter of birthright.

Tzedakah and tikkun olam. Serve justice, ensure fairness, repair a torn world. And do this out of Jewish particularism, which is to say, out of Jewish care for its own community, as well as out of the universal implications and legacies of the Jewish experience. Take care of one Hebrew orphan, and 120-plus years later, the successor organization is caring for the orphans of Southeast Asia arriving in the United States from their devastated homelands. Take care of the widow, the orphan, the unemployed, the confused, the physically disabled, the elderly, and in so doing serve the Jewish community but also set an example for—and in so many instances, cooperate with—Americans of other religious traditions in a combined effort to struggle for justice and to assuage the pain of a broken world.

-San Francisco, October 2010

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Kevin Starr is a fourth-generation San Franciscan whose ancestors arrived in 1852. He is the author of eight books about “Americans and the California Dream” and a Professor of History at the University of Southern California.

Chapter 5 - Earthquake Tests the City and the Eureka Benevolent Society - Excerpt

The Jewish Community Moves Westward in the City

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Food lines in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake
(Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle)

The earthquake changed the geographicdistribution of the San Francisco Jewish population. Prior to 1906, much of the Yiddish-speaking, working-class and middle-class population had been clustered in the South of Market area (then called “South of the Slot,” named for the cable car slot running down the middle of Market Street), which was largely destroyed by the quake and fire. After the shaker, instead of rebuilding in an area that was already showing its age, the bulk of the Jewish population migrated to the Western Addition, with Fillmore and McAllister streets as the focal point of this new and vibrant community. In addition, roughly 100 Orthodox Jews moved to an area centered on San Bruno Avenue, in the southeast corner of the city. At the time, the area seemed so remote (the streetcar did not extend to this neighborhood) that it was referred to as “Out the Road.” By the 1920s, the Jewish population there had swelled to more than 1,000, but it dwindled by World War II, when most of the residents had moved to more central areas of the city or the Peninsula.

A Test of the EBS

The Great San Francisco Earthquake was a turning point for the Eureka Benevolent Society. It was the first major external event and emergency situation that had a profound impact on the Jewish community and required mass mobilization. It certainly wouldn’t be the last. Over the next 100 years, the Eureka Benevolent Society—which later became known as the Jewish Family Service Agency and then Jewish Family and Children’s Services—would be on the front lines, leading the response to world wars, natural disasters, economic meltdowns, epidemics, and waves of refugees displaced by war and persecution. As the San Francisco Jewish community learned after the earthquake and fire, this was an organization they could always count on.

The 190 children of the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum were sleeping peacefully in the early morning hours of April 18, 1906 when the earthquake struck. Superintendent Henry Mauser rushed them all outside and then, two days later, into the gymnasium. Many members of the community pitched in, providing food and other necessities for the next month.The 190 children of the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum were sleeping peacefully in the early morning hours of April 18, 1906 when the earthquake struck. Superintendent Henry Mauser rushed them all outside and then, two days later, into the gymnasium. Many members of the community pitched in, providing food and other necessities for the next month.

 

 

Chapter 19 - Meeting the AIDS Epidemic and Other Crises Head On - Excerpt

By 1986, approximately 3,000 in San Francisco had been diagnosed with AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Of that number, an estimated 10% were Jewish. JFCS acted quickly, establishing the first Jewish-based AIDS project in the United States—the AIDS Family Assistance Project. JFCS board president Siesel Maibach was instrumental in establishing it. Led by Avi Rose, the program provided case management, crisis counseling, material aid, transportation, and connections and referrals to other service agencies. Notably, it served not only the patient, but the whole family unit, including partners, parents, and other relatives, many of whom were coming from out of town and needed help finding temporary housing as well as a support system of their own.

“We wanted to demonstrate that the Jewish community cared about all of its members,” says [JFCS Executive Director] Anita Friedman.“ At the time, those afflicted by AIDS were mostly gay men. We wanted to be there for them—and their families. Oftentimes, parents would find out that their sons were gay and terminally ill at the same time. That was a big crisis for a lot of families, and they needed help dealing with this reality. They would trust and turn to a Jewish institution for that.”

A Leadership Role

JFCS took a leadership role in community education around AIDS. At the time, there was a good deal of misinformation about the cause and the spread of the disease, and gay men were often blamed and demonized. The JFCS Speakers Bureau sent speakers, often gay men who were HIV-positive, to community groups and schools. The speakers would educate about all aspects of AIDS, including the cultural, medical, and contagion issues. Additionally, Friedman traveled throughout the country speaking to groups about AIDS and how the agency was reaching out to help the gay community.

AIDS-Human-ribbon-optAn AIDS Rally in San Francisco

JFCS’ commitment to serving the San Francisco gay community slowly evolved into a robust slate of services targeted to this group. As the understanding of AIDS increased, people learned how to prevent exposure, and treatments were developed to combat it, the agency adjusted its programs. By the late 1990s, it was serving the entire spectrum of issues confronting the LGBT community.

“The agency’s work with the LGBT community developed organically,” says former longtime board member Jerry Rosenstein. “The Jewish community got more sophisticated and realized what a high percentage of their children or relatives were gay or lesbian, so the integration of services at JFCS was natural.”

Katrina-92178177-bridge-optJFCS garners support from the philanthropic community of the Bay Area during natural disasters as well, helping victims of Hurricane Katrina and of earthquakes in Haiti and Chili in recent years, for example.

One of the "One Thousand Children" - Excerpt

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Warren Hirsch

Warren Hirsch was a boy of 15 when he left his family and hometown in Mannheim, Germany in 1937. He was upset that Jews could not go on to university. Bright and enterprising, he hoped for a better opportunity to realize his dream of becoming a doctor in the United States.

“My parents had no idea what was ahead,” he says. “My father was a WW I veteran who fought for Germany on the Russian front; he was wounded and received an Iron Cross. He always thought Hitler was going to go away and, besides, the Nazis would not touch him because of his war record. But afterKristallnacht (“Crystal Night”), in November 1938, they put most of the Jews in concentration camps. I was one of the 1,000 children on the Children’s Transport to the United States.”

Better Fortune

This was the first of many strokes of good fortune that saved this young man, his older brother, and his mother. The two of them would escape eventually to New York City, while his father would die in Auschwitz in 1942.

Soon after he arrived in San Francisco, on the Fourth of July 1937, Hirsch was placed at Homewood Terrace. Another stroke of luck: the superintendent, Dr. Samuel Langer, took the young Hirsch, a talented pianist, into his own home, Cottage 12. “I stayed with Dr. Langer for 1½ years, then he retired and I went to a foster home,” Hirsch explains. Soon after, Langer’s successor, Benjamin Bonapart, allowed Hirsch to come back and stay in the cottage that housed college-age alumni of Homewood Terrace, and Hirsch was grateful. “Since I left home so young and had no family or friends to talk with, Homewood Terrace was a comfort,” he says.

Giving up his idea to be a doctor, Hirsch became a successful pharmacist in San Francisco, marrying another Holocaust survivor. Today, he gives back to the community by participating in JFCS’ Holocaust Survivors Speakers Bureau. He is mindful of the lessons of his story: “I realize that my generation is dying out. Soon, there will be no one left who survived the Holocaust to tell the story first-hand.”

JFCS has a long history of welcoming and resettling newcomers since its founding in 1850. In more recent history, since World War II, JFCS absorbed and resettled thousands of refugees from Nazi Germany and other European countries, and offered services geared towards the special needs of survivors of the Holocaust.JFCS has a long history of welcoming and resettling newcomers since its founding in 1850. In more recent history, since World War II, JFCS absorbed and resettled thousands of refugees from Nazi Germany and other European countries, and offered services geared towards the special needs of survivors of the Holocaust.

In Praise of JFCS - Centuries of Pioneering

Comment on the Back of the Book Jacket

As the oldest charitable organization west of the Mississippi, the dynamic story of JFCS mirrors the history of California. Innovation and a generous spirit combine to make the San Francisco Bay Area a wonderful—and unique—region. This book engages us in exploring how it came to be so, through the eyes of those who helped create it.

—Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator (D-California)

Two powerful concepts in the Jewish tradition—tzedakah, the Hebrew word for justice, and tikkun olam, Hebrew for “to repair the world”—animate and structure the narrative unfolding in this history. … Serve justice, ensure fairness, repair a torn world. And do this out of … the universal implications and legacies of the Jewish experience.

—Kevin Starr, University Professor and Professor of History, University of Southern California, and author of eight books about “Americans and the California Dream”; excerpted from the Foreword to this book

JFCS: Centuries of Pioneering is far more than a visually compelling and historically informative elucidation of the accomplishments of Jewish Family and Children’s Services in San Francisco. It provides the reader with an invaluable study of the past eight-score years, of the transformation of the American Jewish community and the American people, and of the tragedies and triumphs of our history.

—Michael Berenbaum, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, California; Managing Editor, Second Edition, Encyclopaedia Judaica; former director of the U.S. Holocaust Research Institute of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Finally, the oldest Jewish organization in the American West has a work of history worthy of its 160 years of stellar work in the community. Vividly illustrated, painstakingly researched, and engagingly written, JFCS: Centuries of Pioneeringbrilliantly illuminates the remarkable intersection of Jewish and American values in the San Francisco Bay Area, a symbiosis exceeded nowhere else.

—Fred Rosenbaum, author of Cosmopolitans: A Social and Cultural History of the Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area

The story of JFCS is the story of San Francisco. In this lively, lushly illustrated book, Jackie Krentzman brings to life the remarkable history of an organization that has shaped, defined, and assisted not only the Bay Area Jewish community, but the entire region.

—Frances Dinkelspiel, author of Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California

JFCS: Centuries of Pioneering demonstrates local history at its best, revealing how San Francisco’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services emerged as one of the nation’s most important private social service agencies. This volume captures inspired examples from more than 160 years of religious volunteerism, civic engagement, and compassion for others.

—Marc Dollinger, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility, San Francisco State University

“The gold mines were spread out along the foothill rivers that carried the runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountain range, but the center of commerce was the tiny village of San Francisco, ideally situated on a large bay.” (From Chapter 1; photo courtesy of San Francisco Maritime Historical Park; source: California Historical Society)“The gold mines were spread out along the foothill rivers that carried the runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountain range, but the center of commerce was the tiny village of San Francisco, ideally situated on a large bay.” (From Chapter 1; photo courtesy of San Francisco Maritime Historical Park; source: California Historical Society)

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