OUR PAST, OUR PRESENT
Preamble to the Constitution of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society: In all communities the means of alleviating the sufferings of the poor are considered of high importance by the benevolent and the humane. The original subscribers, members of the Hebrew Congregation of Philadelphia, and citizens of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, sensible to the calls of their small society, and desirous of rendering themselves useful to their indigent Sisters of the House of Israel, associated themselves together for the purposes of charity; and in order to make the benefit permanent, adopted this Constitution.
Founded 193-years ago by the women of Congregation Mikveh Israel and guided by Rebecca Gratz, the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society remains the oldest Jewish charity in continuous existence in the United States. It is also the first independent organization established by Jews to serve Jews in the City of Philadelphia. Philly Firsts by Janice L. Booker, credits Gratz’s pivotal role in organizing FHBS as the start of Jewish charitable organizations in Philadelphia today.
The Society is overseen by a board of 13-managers who act in a volunteer capacity, assuming responsibility for administration and almost all overhead. There are no paid employees. Future board members serve as observers at semiannual meetings and gradually take on tasks as their knowledge of and commitment to our mission increases.
FHBS concentrates on three specific areas of assistance: emergency aid, including a small number of monthly stipends, personal emergency response systems for frail, elderly women and camp scholarships. All cases are considered individually, taking into account any extenuating circumstances. Requests are filled as the treasury permits, often within a 24-hour period. Referrals come from communal professionals at Jewish agencies who must screen the client to verify and prioritize her needs before making a recommendation to FHBS.
During the fiscal year 2011-2012 over $116,063 was distributed to 156 unduplicated clients. Overhead not covered by directed donations was less than 1% of total expenditures.
A MESSAGE FOR THE HIGH HOLIDAYS AND BEYOND
Over the years that I have been privileged to serve as president of FHBS, there have been many rewarding experiences. Outstanding among them are the relationships I have established with our donors, two of whom will always remain special in my mind and heart. Both died during 2011, having lived long, productive and quintessentially Jewish lives. I met the younger, an octogenarian, only by chance on a singular occasion. When we embraced, we cried. Our relationship grew through the content of our written exchanges. I came to know the elder, a nonagenarian, through our telephone conversations. We never had the opportunity to meet in person.
These women were granted over 180-years between them, years that were shaped and guided by Jewish study, values and practice. When we communicated, those attributes came across with clarity in their written and spoken words. They understood the essence of FHBS, the foundation upon which we were established and which has sustained our all-volunteer organization for the past 193-years. Their support strengthened our work and encouraged me to push harder toward attaining our goals. They were truly tzidkaniot, and I will miss them.
I invite you to follow in the footsteps of these exemplary women. By making or renewing a commitment to our unique organization, you will insure that we have the funds to assist women for whom there is no other place to turn. Please use the “Donate” button on the menu bar to support our outreach to local, Jewish women in need.
With 5773 rapidly approaching, I wish you a year of blessing and sustenance and the will to strengthen our community through dedication to tikkun olam.
Eileen S. Sklaroff