While many things about Jewish Family Services has changed in its 140-year history, our mission has remained largely the same: to help support those in our community most in need. In its early years, the agency committed its resources to the resettlement of refugees, largely German and Eastern European Jews, within our community.
Originally housed at the Roadside Settlement House, Jewish Family Services at first provided much-needed assistance to the increasing wave of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. Jewish Family Services can trace its origins back to the first Jewish charity organization formed in Des Moines by women of the then newly organized Temple B’nai Jeshurun in 1874. The scope of their work included food baskets and clothing for newly arrived Jews, as well as aid to the sick and needy.
Celia Weinstock assumed responsibility of chairing the most important committee of the fledgling organization, the Committee on Investigation and Relief. By 1914, Mrs. Weinstock had become the “superintendent.” She held this position and contributed her tireless efforts to its cause without salary until her death in 1938.
World War II brought an economic upswing to the country that reduced the need for our charitable relief work, so the name of the agency was changed to the Jewish Social Services. The postwar period then brought a switch from the problems of relief and immigrant aid to services for the enhancement of emotional wellbeing, such as counseling and guidance. The more traditional forms of Tzedakah were now being increasingly carried out by public agencies.
In August 1973, the Jewish Social Services once again became Jewish Family Services. And in 1974, at the request of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the agency began resettlement of Soviet Jews in Des Moines.
Over the last 25 years, we have returned our focus to growing programs to help our neighbors most in need. As our population ages, we are able to provide new activities and events for our seniors. Young families are also supported through education programs and services like the PJ Library.
We continue to grow Jewish Family Services and look outside of our own community to reach others in need, and we can’t help but reflect on what the next 100 years will bring. Whatever may come, our mission and core remain the same: to help those most in need at home and abroad.