History - JFSSD
Moving Forward Together


Members of the Jolly 16 shown here. Front row: Rose Neumann, Julia Steinman, Mary Kantor, Ida Lipinsky, Julia Neumann, Eve Chenkin, Freda Nestor.
Back row: Julia Kaufman, Glieka Brenner, Bernice Esenoff, Sylvia Bard, Julia Klaskin, Sally Ratner, Rose Glickman, Sadie Berenson, Rose Gordon.

JFS makes a difference in people’s lives.

JFS was founded in 1918 by the “Jolly Sixteen”—a group of sixteen women who were committed to making a difference in people’s lives. They united four Jewish women’s groups—Hebrew Sisterhood, Jolly Sewing Circle, Junior Charity League, and the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society—and established Federated Jewish Charities.

The women didn’t have a staff of professional caseworkers, but they did have Rose Neumann—founder and first volunteer director. And they had drive. And a sense of purpose. They were our first rescue squad.

Early on, the agency’s efforts were dedicated to welcoming new immigrants—those who came from the other side of the country, and those who were seeking refuge in the United States for the first time after World War I. Needs were mostly short-term and specific—a place to sleep, a warm meal, a clean shirt for a job interview.

Over the next two decades, the agency’s work was shaped by the global crises that defined the era – the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust. Resettling Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe required considerable focus, energy, and funds.

The tremendous population growth during this period also led to the establishment of San Diego’s first Jewish senior care facility. Agency volunteers visited the residents, arranged their medical and dental appointments, and transported residents to these and other appointments—services that JFS still provides for seniors across San Diego County today.


“We have worked, stumbled, and despaired because the job just grew too big for us. We’ve recognized our own inadequacies and failings, and our inability to do a big job as it should be done. But now, we are hopeful. We are looking to the future of Jewish Social Service in San Diego with enthusiasm and vigor, and we know that in 1950, all of these yesterdays and todays, will become bright tomorrows.”

In the postwar decades, under the direction of Henrietta H. Rubenstein, our focus shifted from meeting immediate needs to family strengthening and counseling. Beyond casework, we developed a range of services to address everyday challenges, including stress, relationships, financial security, and aging.

The early 1970s marked the establishment of the agency’s first drop-in center, providing seniors with access to healthy lunch as well as social, educational, and enrichment opportunities. Many other programs were developed to extend the agency’s impact in strengthening families.

From 1979 through the early 1990s, under the direction of Maryanne Kaye and Jill Spitzer, JFS helped to resettle hundreds of Soviet Jewish refugees in San Diego. In partnership with the Hebrew International Aid Society (HIAS), the agency also broadened the scope of its resettlement work, extending the possibility of a new home, a new life, and a better future to persecuted people everywhere.

Today, JFS has grown into a premier human services agency in San Diego, touching the lives of more than 70,000 people a year. With a focus on uplifting individuals and families and supporting aging with dignity, we help people of all ages and faith backgrounds build stable, secure, and connected lives.
With more than a century of experience behind us, we remain committed to believing in people. At every age. And every stage of life. We’re committed to meeting people where they are — and providing the compassionate services that have helped generations of people move forward.

Our Beginning

1918: The Jolly Sixteen

The agency is founded by the Jolly Sixteen, a group of 16 women from four Jewish women’s groups — Hebrew Sisterhood, Jolly Sewing Circle, Junior Charity League, and the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society.

1918-1936: Federated Jewish Charities

Operating as Federated Jewish Charities, the agency strives to serve as a safety net and surrogate family to San Diego’s growing Jewish community, providing help to old and young, religious and secular, native and newcomer.


1918-1947: Rose Neumann, Founder

Rose Neumann, founder and president from 1918–1947. Her spirit and determination leads the agency for three decades as the agency’s work is shaped by global crises — World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust.


1922: Immigration Relief Efforts

The agency helps with Jewish immigrant relief efforts in Tijuana by providing food, housing, jobs, and medical care.


1926 Welcoming And Assisting Newcomers

Many people needed help after making the long trip to California in search of a new life and greater opportunity.

1936-1952: The Jewish Welfare Society

The agency operates under a new name: The Jewish Welfare Society, listing its purposes as: “to promote a social welfare program, foster cooperation among social welfare agencies, and to educate the public to adequately support the social welfare work in and throughout the County of San Diego.”

1949: First Full-Time Social Worker Is Hired

The agency begins to evolve into an organization with professional staff and hires its first full-time social worker.


1949: Refugees Discover Haven In San Diego

“Do you remember how comfortable you felt when you first arrived in San Diego reveling in its moderate climate as compared with the icy cold of ‘back east’? Multiply that feeling a million times and you still won’t know the glow of human warmth of a group of war-displaced persons who came to San Diego yesterday.” – Charles G. Hull, 1949


1951-1969: Henrietta Rubenstein, Executive Director

Henrietta Rubenstein serves as Executive Director. She leads JFS to become a professionally staffed, nationally accredited organization. During this time, the agency creates a diverse menu of services for the community, shifting its focus from casework to counseling.


1952-1962: Jewish Social Service Agency

The agency adopts a new name, Jewish Social Service Agency, and expands the sense of the agency’s mission as one of service. It continues to help with refugees and the elderly, while also offering counseling to support the day-to-day problems of living.

1962-Present: Jewish Family Service (JFS)

The agency assumes a new name, Jewish Family Service. The name signifies three core elements of its work: (1) Informed by Jewish history and values, (2) putting family at the center of its work, and (3) valuing the service of volunteers, as well as professional staff.

1968-1986: Maryanne Kaye, Executive Director

Maryanne Kaye increases the number of professional caseworkers and opens a branch in North County.


1973: Drop-In Center For Seniors Opens

The agency opens a “Drop-in Center for Senior Adults” at Beth Jacob Educational Center in North Park, as a means of combatting loneliness and enriching lives.


1986-2012: Jill Spitzer, Executive Director & CEO

Jill Spitzer transforms the agency during her tenure as Executive Director and CEO. She helps JFS grow from an agency with a $500,000 budget into a $20M enterprise with more than 50 programs that address the needs of the community at every stage of their lives.

“I feel privileged to have led JFS for 26 years, during which time we helped thousands of people lead happier and healthier lives. Together, we moved JFS from a small counseling agency to a multi-faceted social service organization with a comprehensive array of programs and services.” – Jill Spitzer


2006: JFS Moves From Hillcrest To Turk Family Building In Kearny Mesa

JFS quadruples its space by moving from the 6,000-square-foot Leichtag Family Building in the Hillcrest area to the 25,000-square-foot Turk Family Center on Balboa Avenue in Kearny Mesa.


2006: The Hand Up Food Pantry Is Created

Marsha Berkson creates “The Hand Up Food Pantry” in an 800-square-foot space within the Turk Family Center.

“I wanted to provide a hands-on learning experience for our next generation — one where they could make a meaningful impact and truly understand the value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.” – Marsha Berkson


2008: On The Go Transportation Solutions For Older Adults Is Created

The Jewish Senior Services Council, along with a group of donors, support an innovative transportation program that enables older adults to get to doctor appointments, religious services, grocery stores, or other personal appointments.


2012-Present: Michael Hopkins, CEO

“Jewish Family Service has a long history of delivering vital programs to the community with integrity, transparency, and compassion. I am honored to lead the agency in its mission to strengthen the individual, enhance the family and protect the vulnerable with human services based on Jewish values.” – CEO Michael Hopkins

JFS Campus Grand Opening

2016: JFS Opens The Joan & Irwin Jacobs Campus

In January, the agency opens its new campus named in honor of Joan and Irwin Jacobs. It includes a 1,800-square-foot industrial kitchen and The Corner Market, a client-choice food pantry.

“The Joan & Irwin Jacobs campus is intentionally designed as a reflection of our principles of being client-centered, promoting collaboration, and improving our ability to deliver life-changing services.” – CEO Michael Hopkins.


2016: First Safe Parking Lot Opens At Joan & Irwin Jacobs Campus

In October, JFS opens its main campus to individuals and families living out of their vehicles — providing a safe place to park overnight, as well as supportive services to help them transition back into stable housing.


2017: San Diego Rapid Response Network (SDRRN)

In December 2017, the ACLU partners with JFS to launch the San Diego Rapid Response Network (SDRRN), a coalition of human rights, service and faith-based organizations, and attorneys determined to help immigrants- including refugees and asylum-seekers. The SDRRN operates a 24-hour hotline and trains volunteers to document dehumanizing enforcement activities, provide emergency assistance and legal aid, and connect affected people with resources. In late October 2018, federal immigration authorities begin releasing asylum-seeking families onto San Diego streets without food, clothing, transportation, or shelter.


2018: 100 Years Of Service

With each generation, we have adapted to new situations, challenges, and advancements. We’ve lived through periods of war, scarcity, and crisis. Our dedication to changing lives has never wavered.” – CEO Michael Hopkins


2018: The Centennial Countdown Campaign

Our Centennial Celebration Year includes a Kick-Off event, a Gala, and a campaign to create a $50M endowment with a generous matching gift from Evelyn and Ernest Rady and the Rady Family Foundation.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of the Radys and our donors. This campaign will sustain JFS long into the future, ensuring our ability to help our neighbors facing hunger, hopelessness, and significant challenges that we can’t even imagine today.” – CEO Michael Hopkins

JFS volunteer delivering food to an older adult

2020: COVID-19 Pandemic

As the pandemic progresses, many more individuals and families turn to the agency to ask for help for the very first time. JFS adapts to meet our community’s changing needs and helps thousands of people make it through a challenging time by expanding our food distribution efforts and home meal deliveries for older adults isolated by the pandemic.


2020: Blueprint For Impact

The agency releases a new Strategic Plan, recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted racial disparities compounded by widespread social unrest. The plan recognizes that past actions as an agency to address equity, diversity, and inclusion have not been enough, and charts a course to guide our evolution and make JFS’s impact even more profound.

2022: 100,000th Asylum Seeker Welcomed At SDRRN

In October, the San Diego Rapid Response Network (SDRRN) Migrant Shelter Service, operated by JFS, marks its four-year anniversary and welcomes its 100,000th guest. The shelter continues to provide healthy meals, shelter, clothing legal, medical, and transportation to help asylum seekers reach their family and friends around the country.

“They are the gold standard. They have really shown organizations around the country about how it can be done and how it should be done.” – Naomi Steinberg, HIAS