A Look Back at JF&CS History

May 23, 2023

A Look Back at JF&CS History

Jewish American Heritage Month is recognized every May. The acknowledgement of Jewish American Heritage began with congressional proclamations in 1980 before being formally recognized in 2006. Then-President George W. Bush declared May “a month specifically recognizing Jews in America and their contributions to the United States,” according to the National Archives of North America (NARA). The month recognizes Jewish contributions “to American culture, history, military, science, government, and more.”

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we look back at our own history: the history of Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) in Atlanta.

The agency we know today as JF&CS was officially established on January 1, 1997, but to truly grasp the scope of JF&CS we must look back more than a century before. It was then that large numbers of Jewish people began migrating to the Atlanta area from Eastern Europe. Relief agencies were founded to support the dynamic and evolving needs of the community.

The first of these was founded in 1891: The Montefiore Relief Association (MRA). At the time, the two main Atlanta synagogues – The Temple & Ahavath Achim Synagogue – were not able to meet the influx of needs for the rapidly growing population. Morris Lichenstein was instrumental in founding the MRA with the purpose of providing direct relief and loans geared towards helping individuals become self-sufficient. To this day, this remains central to the mission of JF&CS.

In 1911, Morris Hirsch, one of the original founders of The Temple, established a clinic to provide outpatient medical services to those in need. Dental care was added four years later, and the Morris Hirsch Clinic (MHC) transitioned to solely provide dental services in 1929. In 1956, Dr. Irving M. Goldstein, a dentist and former Chief of Staff at the MHC, and Dr. Marvin Goldstein, his brother and successor, needed to move the building to a new location. They enlisted the help of one of Atlanta’s premier builders and developers, Ben Massell. He was successful, but 3 years later, imminent domain laws made it necessary for the clinic to move. Once again, Massell helped secure a new home for the clinic in midtown, with the help of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta (JFGA). In honor of his involvement and financial generosity, the clinic was renamed the Ben Massell Dental Clinic (BMDC).

In 1961, Leonard L. Cohen joined the staff of the Jewish Family and Children's Bureau, part of JFGA, as its Director of Casework Services and Planning. The Bureau provided counseling services, adoption services, help for older adults, resettlement assistance, help in locating scholarship resources and more.

Under the lay leadership of Phyllis B. Friedman z"l, in 1982 Jewish Family Services (JFS), until then part of JFGA, became an independent organization. JFS consisted of the Jewish Family & Children’s Bureau and Ben Massell Dental Clinic, and Herbert Kohn was named President. Cohen stayed on, eventually retiring as Executive Director of JFS in 1988 following 27 years of service between JFS and the Bureau.

Another program of the JFGA, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), was established in 1975. Initially called the Gate City B'nai B'rith Federation Employment Service of the Atlanta Jewish Welfare Federation, Dr. Mark Fisher served as its Executive Director. JVS focused on providing counseling to those seeking employment and aided in vocational placement.

Gary Miller was hired as CEO of Jewish Family Services in 1991. In 1995, JFS and JVS offices moved from their respective midtown locations to our present location on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. The two entities continued to operate independently, but close in proximity and serving the same community. The decision was made to merge, and in 1997, we became Jewish Family & Career Services.

Miller continued as CEO after the merger and would go on to serve for two decades. In 2005, he took on the task of bringing the Ben Massell Dental Clinic into a new era with a facility that would better serve its clients. He tirelessly championed the cause to the dental world and some of the community’s biggest leaders, and construction was completed in 2008 when the clinic reopened on 14th Street. Prior to Miller’s retirement, JF&CS won the prestigious 'Managing for Excellence' Award from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta in 2011.

In 2017, JF&CS completed an expansion of its Atlanta campus. The expanded campus now includes a clinical services wing, a disabilities services building (IndependenceWORKS), a new lobby, and a complete upgrade to all furnishings and fixtures. It is a warm and welcoming environment for clients, staff and visitors.

In 2019, Terri Bonoff became CEO. She led the agency faithfully throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and under her guidance the Horwitz-Zusman Child & Family Center was established in 2022. She leads JF&CS today with conviction, empathy and grace.

JF&CS is comprised of a dedicated board of directors, engaged and passionate employees, and a mission to transform lives. The agency is both continually moving forward to meet the changing needs of the community alongside our sister agencies, while being deeply rooted in its history. The desire to help people thrive and live the fullest lives possible is a touchstone for JF&CS, as it was when the momentum started over 130 years ago.

To learn more about the many programs we offer, click here.

For more information on the history of JF&CS, visit our History Page.