Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley originated in 1972 as the Family Study Committee of the Jewish Federation of Allentown. The committee was co-chaired by Morris Perkin and Mrs. Irwin Salitsky and dedicated to meeting the human needs of the Jewish community. Soon afterward, a caseworker and a group of volunteers set up an office in the Jewish Community Center.
In 1974, the committee recommended that a Jewish Family Service be established under the direction of a professional social worker, and Bert J. Goldberg, ACSW, became the agency’s first head.
In the ensuing years, the fledgling agency grew as new programs and services were added, services were extended to Bethlehem and Easton, and additional staff joined the agency.
In 1984, JFS became incorporated as an independent agency, and the name was changed from Jewish Family Service of the Jewish Federation of Allentown to Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley. Later in the decade, JFS staff became involved in a great, historical movement: the emigration of Soviet Jews in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Through our Resettlement Program, JFS staff and volunteers helped many of these newcomers resettle in the Lehigh Valley and acclimate to their new environment.
Another milestone occurred when JFS moved from rented quarters into its own building at 2004 West Allen Street, purchased in 2000. The agency’s spacious new home provided ample room for the first, and, thus far the only, kosher food pantry in our area. A few years later, a section for non-kosher food was added.
Over the years, educational programs have stimulated thought and offered learning to many participants. Brunch and Learns featured dynamic speakers on timely, relevant topics in medicine, law, Judaism, the arts, and much more. There have also been discussions of films and books, a memoir-writing course and workshops on Jewish holidays and other subjects.
In 2006, in partnership with two other agencies, JFS piloted Benefits Ambassador. Through this program, staff members screened and helped older adults and people with disabilities discover and apply for state, local and federal benefits they may not have known they were eligible for. The program ran for 10 years.
Current thriving programs include outreach to seniors in residential facilities, counseling and support groups, and crisis support.
Today, four decades after the founders of Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley acted on their vision of a human services agency to serve the Jewish community in a Jewish environment, the staff and volunteers of the agency continue to provide high quality human services in a Jewish context. We look forward to the development of even more services in the future.