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 194-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 2012-2013, over $118,700 was distributed to 199 women. Overhead not covered by directed donations was less than 1% of total expenditures.
FHBS LAUNCHES PHARMACY STIPEND PROGRAM
In March of 2013, FHBS launched a pharmacy stipend program with donations from the friends and family of Lillian Tabas, a beloved emerita board member who passed away in fall of 2012. Using $4,700 contributed in Lillian’s memory, FHBS was able to assist 14 women identified by care managers at Jewish Family & Children’s Service who have medical needs that are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or supplementary health insurance policies. This might include co-pays for prescription drugs, over the counter medicine or basic medical/health care supplies. FHBS purchased $50 gift cards at five different pharmacies of choice: CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Acme and Giant. Clients were accommodated to the fullest extent possible making sure they did not have to change providers to participate in the program. Fourteen women received $300 per person for six-months, ending August 1, 2013.
When Suburban Jewish Community Center B’nai Aaron merged with Temple Adath Israel, a Legacy Fund was created to perpetuate the values and good works of the SJCC Bnai Aaron community. The mission of the fund is to nurture the educational, cultural and social values of Philadelphia’s Jewish community and beyond through the distribution of grants to schools, philanthropic foundations, service organizations and other deserving groups. The administrators of the fund found FHBS to be a deserving group and were especially interested in our Pharmacy Stipend Program. They are generously supporting a second round to begin September 1, 2013 and end February 1, 2014. An award of $5,100 will enable us to reach out to 17 women with uncovered, medical needs. Thus, our Jewish community works together to help our fellow Jews.
It may be commonly assumed that this money will go only to senior citizens trying to subsist on Social Security. But life is often more complicated and cruel. One example is Kathy, a 59-year-old, divorced woman living with and devoted to the care of her 83-year-old father, who has suffered two strokes. She has Stage 3 kidney failure for which she has been hospitalized 15 times during the past 12-months and has had five PICC lines inserted. A sister living in the area helps their father when Kathy is in the hospital, but she has five children and will not commit to any other type of assistance, current or future. Kathy has been combining her financial resources with those of her father to cover household bills and to pay off credit card debt accrued when he ordered items advertised on television. Because there is a reverse mortgage on the house, there is no long-range living or financial plan for Kathy. She received one of the monthly gift cards and will be renewed for the second cycle.
Our mission is tzedakah, so we never solicit feedback from our clients. However, many are so appreciative of our assistance that they write heartfelt notes like the ones that follow:
Thank you so much for your generosity for helping me at this time. I’ve just found out that I am ‘breast cancer free’ and though I have other health conditions, this is great news. I am a single mom who is diabetic and struggling to pay for insulin and to put my daughter through college. This gift definitely helps.
To be able to help someone is a gift in itself. As another client explained, There is nothing harder to do than to ask for help or be in need. I hope one day I can give back.
There are many others who feel the same and yearn for their previously independent lives without depending on the help of strangers. Making their burden lighter is a gift every donor can give. In this age of high cost medical care and prescriptions, this may seem a small gesture. But many small gestures have a big impact.