Jewish Family Service of St. Paul at 100


Jewish Family Service of St. Paul (JFS) will celebrate 100 years of accomplishments during a May 8 celebration at the historic James. J. Hill House in St. Paul. The celebration will feature music performed by members of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, wine and docent-led tours of the Hill House.

Judy Brier, a JFS board member and co-chair, with Amy Alch, of the anniversary event, told the Jewish World that the centennial anniversary event also will include three short presentations about people who were helped by JFS — a man from Puerto Rico who received employment counseling, a Jewish woman from the former Soviet Union who was resettled here, and the late G. Theodore Mitau, who came to the United States as a refugee from Berlin and became a professor of political science at Macalester College (where he taught Walter Mondale) and chancellor of the Minnesota state college system.

Franklin Adler, the G. Theodore Mitau Professor at Macalester, will talk about Mitau.

Harvey Mackay, St. Paul businessman and best-selling author, is the honorary chair of the JFS event.

Howard Orenstein (second from left) was the guest speaker at the Jewish Family Service annual meeting in June 1987. Also pictured are (l to r): George Winter, JFS president; Joan Bream, JFS supervisor of services to the elderly; Joyce Selg, office manager; and Peter Glick, JFS executive director. (Photo: AJW Archive)

Brier, who has been researching JFS history, said that the agency “mirrors the changes that have taken place in social service.”

When a group of wealthy Jewish businessman founded JFS — which was originally called Jewish Charities of St. Paul — they envisioned an organization staffed with social service professionals, rather than the traditional religious, volunteer-staffed agency. A social worker was brought in from New York City to direct the agency; after two years, she was replaced by Helen Grodinsky, who served as the supervisor of what she renamed as the Jewish Welfare Association, from 1913 to 1945 — 31 years.

“Miss Grodinsky has contributed in many important ways to the development of social service in the St. Paul Jewish community and was instrumental in launching a number of new social agencies and institutions,” the Jewish World reported, in its March 16, 1945, edition. The short article announced the testimonial dinner for Grodinsky, which was held at the Lowry Hotel.

Following World War II, in 1946, the organization became known as Jewish Family Service. It is an affiliate agency of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and the United Jewish Fund and Council of St. Paul. Rena Waxman is the group’s current executive director.

“Now we are fully a part of the social network and we help people regardless of religion or ethnicity or ability to pay,” explained Brier, who noted that the West Seventh Street community, where JFS’ offices are located, is the proverbial Twin Cities melting pot, peopled by Somalis, Latinos, Hmong, Russians and others.

Regarding the possible perception that Jewish Family Service is only for Jews in need, Brier said, “Our Jewish values underlie everything we do…. And we don’t turn people away, there’s no religious test here; especially, in our employment services, where we work with all people. And in the recent [economic downturn], we see more and more middle class people from West Seventh, Highland Park, Mendota Heights come to us to sharpen their skills, to enhance their résumé, and to use our network to see if they can find jobs. So it’s not just for the poor either.”

Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, with its staff of dedicated professional social workers, still provides a lifeline to people in need. As a recent annual report stated: “While our programs respond to changing conditions, our mission remains constant: to help individuals and families create the lives they want.”

Jewish Family Service of St. Paul will celebrate its 100 years of service to the community 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 8 at the James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Ave., St. Paul. The cost for the event is $36, and reservations can be made online at: For information, call 651-698-0767.