We began in 1855 as The Association for the Relief of Widows and Orphans in New Orleans, Louisiana. The institution, created to care for children, carried several names and by the early 20th century, it eventually became known as The Jewish Children’s Home.
The Home originally was opened for Jewish children orphaned as a result of a yellow fever epidemic which had left many children without parents. At first, only local children were accepted but, by 1875, it was clear that Jewish children in other areas also needed care. In that year, an agreement was reached with B’nai B’rith to extend services to the same area encompassed by what was then, their District Seven; namely, the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
Always pioneering new ways of helping children, in 1902 the Board of Trustees of the Home decided to establish a manual training school to provide vocational education for children of the Home. The Isidore Newman Manual Training School was opened, with agreement to serve other children but only after, as stated by the resolution, “… our own wards are provided for.”
In the Jewish community in the United States, there were many orphanages and receiving homes through the mid-1900s. Most children in those child-care institutions had at least one parent, but that parent had to work and could not provide enough care. However, by the end of World War II, orphanages were closing their doors. Some became residential treatment centers; still others disappeared entirely; and a few, mainly in the larger cities, became Jewish Children’s Bureaus and/or residential treatment centers. Many combined with their local Jewish Family Service organizations.
The closure trend continued mainly as a result of the Social Security Act of the 1930s, which eventually provided financial aid to single parents. Because of this help, parents did not feel the urgency of need to place their children in institutions for care. The few institutions that did remain gradually began to care exclusively for children with no responsible parent, or to care for children who experienced behavioral or educational problems.
In 1946, The Jewish Children’ s Home closed its doors. By then, almost 2,000 Jewish youths had been housed since the opening in 1855. With the closing of the Home, the agency now known as The Jewish Children’s Regional Service began as a program for serving children who remained with their parents and for those who needed out-of-home care in the institutions that did remain.
Sanford Weiss, of the Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau of Cleveland, Ohio, became the first director of the JCRS. He and his wife, Viola Weiss, led the agency for over four decades, creating, during that time, programs for camp scholarships and college aid. They also created an out-of-home care program which has been expanded and recently has become our present program for providing scholarships for special needs care.
In 1988, Ned Goldberg was named as the current executive director and, under his leadership, the agency has continued to grow and enhance its services to Jewish youths in the seven-state, mid-South region. In 2018, over 550 Jewish youths were funded in the three major JCRS scholarship programs on a financial needs basis. Another 1200 received PJ Library funding, and 150 additional Jewish youth received case management services.
B’nai B’rith is no longer a major sponsor of the agency. B’nai B’rith District Seven, which created the region we serve, has been dissolved, but the national B’nai B’rith organization provided significant support to JCRS and its clients during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While currently there are no immediate plans to expand our services beyond the seven-state region, should opportunities be created through major funding by a national sponsor or sponsors, the JCRS is prepared to meet the challenge.
The Jewish Children’s Regional Service has survived major upheavals — the Civil War; at least three yellow fever epidemics; major hurricanes; countless changes in our society – and has adapted to the times. As the world changes, we change too. Yet, one thing has always been and will always remain a constant:
… our commitment to care for Jewish children in need!