Jewish Family and Children's Service Records, 1867-1973


The Jewish Family and Children's Service of Milwaukee has been known by various names throughout its 116 year history. It began as the Hebrew Relief Society in 1867, incorporated as the Hebrew Relief Association in 1889, renamed itself the Jewish Social Service Association in 1921 and, after a merger with the Milwaukee Jewish Children's Service in 1948. The Hebrew Relief Association affiliated itself with the newly formed United Hebrew Charities in 1893, and joined the Federated Jewish charities of Milwaukee when that organization began in 1902.

Founded after a general meeting of Milwaukee's Jews, called by a committee of three on August 1, 1867, the Hebrew Relief Society was open to anyone willing to contribute the requisite five dollars. German Jews dominated the membership, as they did the city's Jewish community as a whole, and Society secretaries kept the minutes of meetings in German until 1879. A board of three trustees and various officers carried out the routine business, and the membership met in a general meeting once each year. The Society gave needy persons financial assistance for purchasing fuel, food, transportation, and medical services. Funds came from door-to-door canvassing, charity balls, and voluntary contributions.

A great new influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century helped draw together the various Jewish charitable organizations of Milwaukee. In 1880, the Hebrew Relief Society led a movement to form a United Hebrew Relief Organization. In 1892 and 1893 the Society cooperated with the Russian Refugee Relief Organization, helping to set up a temporary shelter on Water Street. The Hebrew Relief Association helped to form the United Hebrew Charities of Milwaukee in 1893. Other groups that belonged to this united organization were the Widows' and Orphans' Association, the Ladies' Relief Sewing Society, and the Sisterhood of Personal Service.

In May of 1889, the Hebrew Relief Society incorporated itself as the Hebrew Relief Association. Paying annual dues of two dollars, the membership numbered about 170 at that time. The Hebrew Relief Association followed the national trend of professionalization of charity. Originally, funds had been distributed and collected personally by members of the organization. But toward the end of the 19th century, as massive numbers of European Jews crowded into the cities of America, the pressures on local relief organizations made this personal form of operation obsolete. In 1905 the Association jointed with the Federated Jewish charities, which had replaced the United Hebrew Charities in 1902, and hired a professional director -- Jacob Billikopf, a trained social worker. From then on a professional superintendent or Executive Director supervised the day-to-day operations of the organization.

The activities of the organization steadily diversified. Beginning as a dispenser of alms, the organization began to operate more as a social service agency in the first decades of the twentieth century. Acknowledging this new role, the Association changed its name to the Jewish Social Service Association in 1921. Staff members often visited homes of aid recipients and began to perform the functions later handled by professional social service caseworkers.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, funds for aid were in such great demand that the federated Jewish charities could not adequately handle the added burden. During this period the Jewish Social Service Association became a recipient of the Community Fund. A vocational department was set up in June 1938, which later became a separate organization called the Jewish Vocational Service. Also in 1938, the association formed an immigration department, helping to settle a new wave of immigrants from Europe.

Following World War II, the association concerned itself primarily with settling refugees from the Holocaust, and it collected funds to aid the remnants of Europe's Jewish community. The association distinguished itself in the effort to secure homes for orphaned children rescued from Nazi concentration camps. Its immigration department handled more than 1,000 cases in the year 1946 alone.

In January of 1948, the Jewish Social Service Association merged with the Milwaukee Jewish Children's Home, becoming the Jewish Family and Children's Service. In 1949, the Service became part of a national network, the Family Service Association of America. In May of 1951, The Child Welfare League of America granted membership to the Service. During the 1950's the organization entered a new area of community service: Counseling. The Service helped initiate the Family Life Education Program in 1960, and became increasingly concerned with the care and treatment of emotionally disturbed children in the following decade. Drawing on funds provided by the Jewish Welfare Fund of Milwaukee, the Service opened a residential treatment center for adolescent boys in 1964.

Among a long line of presidents of the organization, Charles Friend served the longest term, from 1908 to 1941. He helped change the organization into a more scientific and professional operation. Miss Rebecca B. Tennebaum made an important contribution to the organization, serving as executive director from 1933 to 1965. The current (as of 1983) director of the Jewish Family and Children's Service is Ralph Sherman, and its current president is Joseph Bernstein. The offices of the organization are presently located at 1360 North Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee.