Jewish Family Services (JFS) was a network of health and social services comprising two major agencies: the private Baron de Hirsch Institute (BdHI) and the public Jewish Family Services Social Service Centre (JFSSSC). Between 1880 and 1920 thousands of Jews arrived in Montreal from Central and Eastern Europe, fleeing socio-political turmoil, economic hardship and persecution. In Montreal at the time, social services were provided by confession- or ethnic-based charities, each serving their own populations. Due to the absence of any public welfare institutions, the small population of established Jews in Montreal formed the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society (1863) and later the Baron de Hirsch Institute (1902) to assist Jewish immigrants and local indigents. In 1917 the Institute officially opened the Family Welfare Department, with Miss Bess Glassman serving as its first supervisor (the Institute’s first documented female employee).
In the early 20th century, sickness, poverty and hardships were rife in the downtown Jewish population. As a result, relationships were often strained and the ability to care for children and loved ones was hampered. The Institute and the Family Welfare Department worked with an array of Jewish self-help organizations including landsmanschaften societies and women’s voluntary organizations to support mothers suffering from tuberculosis, fatherless families, and delinquent children. Over time, staff and volunteers were trained to be sensitive to the complex needs of troubled families. Subsequent waves of Jewish immigration, of Holocaust refugees, of North African, Hungarian, Russian, Israeli, Ethiopian, and Argentinean Jews and others each required JFS to adapt to the specific needs of their populations. JFS was unique in providing Jewish families with religious- and culturally specific services that public agencies could not provide, such as ensuring the availability of kosher food in foster homes and providing subsidies for adopted children to receive a Jewish education. As public social services evolved in Canada and Quebec, JFS worked alongside or together with public institutions to uphold its mandate to support Jewish families.
The Jewish Family Social Service Centre (JFSSSC), 1974–1993
The Jewish Family Services Social Services Centre (JFSSSC) was opened in 1974 at 5250 Décarie as a public-funded agency, alongside the private JFS of the Baron de Hirsch Institute (located at Côte-Sainte-Catherine and Westbury). In 1971, Bill 65 gave the Quebec government control over the fragmented, private social and health services network in the province. After a series of task forces and public meetings, the Castonguay-Nepveu Commission recommended the establishment of three social service centres in Montreal; these became the Montréal Métropolitain serving primarily Francophones, the Ville Marie serving primarily Anglophones, and the JFSSSC serving primarily Jews. In accordance with provincial legislation, the JFSSSC became responsible for youth protection, young offenders, adoption and foster care (including group homes and placements for children, disabled adults and the elderly). The JFSSSC became the local service provider for the Département de santé communautaire (DSC) Ste. Justine, which covered the territory of Côte St. Luc and Hampstead in the 1980s and later included the Centre local de services communautaires (CLSC) Côte St. Luc/Hampstead.
Over the years, JFS adapted to transformations in Quebec society and developments in the field of social work. As mental health, sex education, addiction, care of the elderly and other concerns were recognized as part of the mandate of a social service provider, JFS developed programs to respond to these needs. JFS’s professional work also included the supervision of many volunteer units (for example, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and hospital volunteers).
The public JFSSSC closed in 1993 in response to the Quebec government’s Bill 120 and the cessation of public funding. As a result, Jewish Family Services of the Baron de Hirsch Institute became a full-service, community-based organization. In 2008 Jewish Family Services of the Baron de Hirsch Institute merged with Jewish Immigrant Aid Society and Jewish Employment Montreal to become Ometz.
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Written by Stephanie Tara Schwartz
Baron de Hirsch/Jewish Family Services Collection. Jewish Public Library Archives. Fond 1074.
Baron de Hirsch Institute, 1863–1963. Montreal: Baron de Hirsch Institute, 1963.
Fahrni, Magda. Household Politics: Montreal Families and Postwar Reconstruction. Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Jewish Family Services Organizational Plan. Jewish Family Services Social Service Centre and Baron de Hirsch Institute. 1990.
JewCan Boxes – JFS. Jewish Public Library Archives.
Sancton, Andrew. Governing the Island of Montreal: Language Differences and Metropolitan Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.