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.
With the cold comes some good news: The Legacy Fund of the SJCC Bnai Aaron has generously agreed to support our Pharmacy Pharmacy Stipend Program for another six-months. Beginning March 1, twenty-seven women will receive a $50 gift card to the pharmacy of her choice. Eleven will be continued for a second round; sixteen are new.
The requests for emergency aid continue to pour in from social workers throughout the Jewish community, illuminating the economic crunch that puts hard working neighbors in economic jeopardy.
Esther is a married 27-year-old woman with a 3 -year-old and a 10-year-old. Both she and her husband are teachers with a combined yearly income of $58,000. Credit card debt of $20,000 and student loans totaling $150,000 add to the stress of providing for their young family. They live frugally in a home they own while driving a 1999 Mercury. Esther recently returned to work after being on maternity leave, and her husband stays at a job he doesn’t enjoy to provide for his family. Having taken steps to refinance their mortgage and to consolidate their credit card debt, Esther and her husband are still in a financial bind. FHBS paid a $120 PECO bill and $288 for car repairs.
Betty, a recent widow with serious health issues, moved into Federation housing after losing her apartment in a fire. While adjusting to widowhood, she has had to deal with a financial crisis and deteriorating health. Her osteoporosis has led to three severe falls in the last year, requiring surgery and hospitalization and creating medical debt of $8,000. This, coupled with severe allergies effecting her breathing, necessitates a health aide coming to her home four-hours per week. Though she will get more Social Security as a widow, she still has $40,000 in debt and has filed for personal bankruptcy. To help Betty immediately and directly, FHBS is providing her with an Emergency Response System so she can access assistance should she fall or experience a breathing complication. With frail health and a precarious financial situation, Betty will need even more.
Again, there is a dramatic call for help from those in our community who have led productive, hard-working lives but are caught in an unfathomable situation beyond their capabilities. Let’s all pitch in to help ease their lives and give them some peace of mind.