One hundred fifty years ago, Boston businessman Nathan Strauss gathered a group of “26 responsible men” to help needy and indigent Boston Jews, calling themselves the United Hebrew Benevolent Society (the UHBA), and the predecessor to modern day JF&CS was formed. These men gave freely of their time and effort in distributing food, money, and clothing to the needy. Guided by Talmudic law, which compels acts of charitable kindness to others who are less fortunate, the UHBA was completely run by volunteers.

Throughout the first decades of our predecessor agencies, volunteers ran the show. Groups of Jewish women volunteers taught recent immigrants how to sew, as well as how to earn wages and become self-sufficient, at the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Circle and at the Hebrew Industrial School. Women volunteers also organized and sponsored country summer outings and activities for disadvantaged urban mothers and children.

Volunteers were instrumental in opening medical clinics such as the Jewish Dispensary for Women and Children, which offered free medical care to the poor. They organized everything from Passover distributions to a Prisoner’s Aid Society, orphanages and old age homes to a Hebrew Free Loan Society. Many of the programs we have at JF&CS today originated in the early years of the UHBA and were entirely established, staffed, and run by volunteers – who have remained an important feature of JF&CS throughout our 150-year history.

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