Agencies  /  Jewish Family Service

Jewish Family Services of Western New York grew out of a number of different organizations but it traces its beginnings back to July 15, 1863 and the formation of the Hebrew Union Benevolent Society. In 1903, that organization merged into Federated Jewish Charities, later renamed as the Jewish Federation for Social Service. In 1936 this agency reformulated as the Jewish Welfare Society only to change its name to Jewish Community Service Society in 1946. In November 1960 it became Jewish Family Service of Erie County, then added Buffalo into its name in 1981. In 2020, it renamed once more as Jewish Family Services of Western New York.


Jewish Family Services of Western New York grew out of a number of different organizations but it traces its beginnings back to July 15, 1863 and the formation of the Hebrew Union Benevolent Society that gave aid to the sick and needy. From that begining it evolved into an organization which provides medical and counseling services, job guidance, and a range of child related services, functions that are familiar to its current work.

In the organization’s second form in 1903, it was absorbed into Federated Jewish Charities that had both a fundraising and planning role alongside a relief wing to aid with medical and employment needs. One of the first coordinated actions was to survey dental hygiene in Jewish school children in 1911 and provide free dental services made available by volunteer professionals. By 1917, the Federated Jewish Charities hired a medical professional to augment the other health services provided by volunteers.

In 1914, a special committee of the Federated Jewish Charities on unemployment brought together a group of volunteer businessmen and professionals who could offer employment directly or secure placements through their contacts. Renamed as the Jewish Federation for Social Service in 1919, “relief” or service to individuals and families became a separate autonomous division led by Cecil Wiener. From 1919, the Jewish Federation for Social Service ran an increasing range of medical and counseling clinics for children and adults. For children, a Nutrition Clinic was established in 1921, a visiting nurse service the year after, and a Roof Garden Clinic for under-nourished children opened in 1925. A child case worker was also engaged. In late 1927, rather than use paid or volunteer professional services in community settings, the Jewish Federation for Social Service opened its own dental clinic and a pre-natal clinic in 1929. In 1930, the function of relief became its own organization: The Jewish Welfare Society that freed the Federation for Social Services of its social service responsibility so that it could expand on its fundraising, coordinating and planning. The Jewish Welfare Society was able to hire its first professional social worker. This coincided with the loss of Cecil Wiener on her appointment as Judge of the Children’s Court, although she returned to lead the agency once more in 1938.

Opening a Salvage Shop in 1930, the Society was able to offer a work training center for clients that eventually led to the creation of an expanded vocational service department. In the postwar era, Arthur S. Rosichan, the organization’s first professional executive director, changed the name of the agency to Jewish Community Service Society (JCSS), instituting a change in thinking about the organization as a service organization. Service to the Jewish community was to be offered without regard to economic status, with fee charging for counseling. Medical and dental clinics were closed.

Locations over time

A note about agency organizational names

During the early twentieth century the distinctions between function of the forerunner to our modern forms of Jewish Family Services, The Buffalo Jewish Federation and the Foundation for Philanthropies was less circumscribed, especially as they shared lay leadership, and even paid staff at times, but themselves viewed their functions as separate even if they worked on a distinct part of the same issue or were interconnected in the larger picture. In addition in some periods there were times when organizations had similar names to each other, swapped names, or lived under one organization and then switched to another in a different time period.

By 1950, the agency had three major divisions: Family service, vocational services and child care. It affiliated with professional service bodies including the Child Welfare League of America in 1952 and the Family Service Association of America in 1955. The agency expanded its marriage counseling and adoption services. The JCSS hired its first professional psychiatrist in 1953, a psychologist joined in 1954 and a Mental Health Clinic opened in 1958. The Society extended its services to the elderly through its Homemaker Service and Meals on Wheels. The vocational services wing expanded into high school and college advisement, job placement, vocational reference library resources and scholarship guidance. In 1905, the JCSS forerunner had served 62 families. In 1955 that figure had risen to over 1,000 individuals and families. A significant number of those aided in the post-WWII era included DP’s and survivors of the Holocaust.

The arrival of Albert Deemer in 1953 turned the agency into a modern multifaceted casework organization hiring professional staff and gaining accreditations. In 1960, and the spread of services to a suburban clientele the JCSS changed its name once more to reflect it geographic scope: Jewish Family Service of Erie County. It revived its refugee resettlement work in the 1970s through the 1990s as it aided families from the Soviet Union and FSU, in the meantime adding “Buffalo” into its name in 1981. It’s adolescents and adult career counseling for Jewish and non-Jewish clients continued, offering a significant resource library for the region.

In 2020, it renamed once more as Jewish Family Services of Western New York. It’s present range of services include counseling, care coordination career services, Jewish Community Care, he WNY Center for Survivors of Torture, Immigrant and Refugee Services and connections to its historical roots.


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Jewish Family Services Past Presidents, 1952-1979

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Collections and Materials at the University Archives, University at Buffalo.

Unpublished thesis

  • Annette Fox Arywitz, A short history of the Jewish Community Service of Buffalo Special Collections University Archives Thesis Collection. Thesis S67 1948 A79.

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