Jewish Family Services of Ottawa (JFS) is a full service, non-sectarian agency serving residents of the greater Ottawa area - located at 2255 Carling Avenue, Suite 300. We offer more than 65 programs and services to children, youth, adults and seniors, be they individuals, couples, families or groups.
Through Jewish traditions, values and culture, to build a community where people can learn to care for themselves and each other with dignity, respect and compassion. Our Mission In the spirit of “Tikkun Olam,” our mission is to strengthen Jewish individual, family and communal life, and to strengthen individual, family and communal life in the greater Ottawa community. The mission is accomplished through direct social service, partnership, and advocacy.
In 1979, concerned Jewish community members recognized that our growing population was in need of an organization to coordinate and develop services for our most vulnerable clients. While certain services including immigrant settlement and home support programs already existed, they were run independently, often without professional staff to ensure sustainable funding and to oversee the quality of service delivery.
This group of visionary individuals including Dr.Mark August, Roz Dreskin, Naomi Pearlman, and Elaine Rabin approached the Va’ad HaIr (now the Jewish Federation of Ottawa) for support in establishing a social service agency. The Va’ad agreed to fund a volunteer-based pilot project for one year, which enabled social worker Elaine Rabin to recruit and oversee volunteers to answer a Help Line set up to track requests for service.
As a result of this pilot program, the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) was born, with Elaine Rabin as its first Executive Director. The agency was incorporated and opened its doors on January 9, 1980 with three staff positions: Executive Director Elaine Rabin, a Social Worker, and administrative staff Valerie Terkel. The agency set up a Board of Directors which included many of those who had worked to make the agency a reality.The tiny JSSA staff offered counselling, immigrant settlement, volunteer-based telephone reassurance and friendly visiting for seniors, and financial assistance on an ad hoc basis for Jewish people in need.
Ms. Rabin’s many accomplishments include the establishment of the JSSA as a credible and accepted organization. She secured funding from every level of government. As part of its funding agreements, the JSSA began to serve both Jewish and non-Jewish clients. At the same time, Ms. Rabin forged partnerships with Jewish organizations such as B’Nai Brith and synagogues. Ms. Rabin’s successful efforts resulted in the agency being recognized by both the broader Ottawa Community and the Ottawa Jewish Community.
Over the twenty-seven years since its incorporation, Jewish Social Service Agency has adapted to the needs of the population it serves, adding services as demand and funding permitted. Eventually, the organization adopted the name Jewish Family Services (JFS). During her sixteen years as Executive Director, Elaine built an organization with vision and imagination known to challenge the status quo. JFS established a stable funding base and fostered strong relationships with each funder. The growing staff and many volunteers assisted in settling the large numbers of Russian Jews who came to Ottawa once the former Soviet Union opened its doors, many of whom have made strong contributions to our community. The agency partnered with Hillel Academy to provide social work support to students.
Against all odds, Elaine forged a mentorship with Somali refugees, who, like the Jews, had been a population that was welcomed to Ottawa with mixed feelings. Elaine provided guidance and support to the Somali leadership, their efforts culminating in the establishment of the Somali Centre for Family Service (SCFS). Elaine also oversaw the agency’s accreditation as a centre of excellence by Family Service Ontario.
= Mark Zarecki
Mark Zarecki succeeded Elaine as JFS’s second Executive Director upon Elaine Rabin’s retirement in 1996. He brought a fresh vision to the position, emphasizing the agency’s role in promoting Jewish identity. Quickly recognizing the shortcomings of the agency’s capacity to financially assist poor Jews, Mark established the Tikvah Program which provides financial assistance for low income Ottawa Jews, thus establishing the Jewish Federation’s responsibility to assist this population. The Tikvah Program is based upon the premises that there are costs associated with maintaining the Jewish laws and customs, and that it is the responsibility of the Jewish community to assist those at the margins to be integrated and vital members.
JFS's Seniors Unit was established under Mark's direction by Founding Director Sema Polisuk. The program has grown and expanded over the years, and is presently under the direction of Karen Anne Blakely. Sustainable long- term funding for the seniors department of Jewish Family Services, and professional staff trained to deal with the special needs of seniors are now realities. The program was recently endowed, and renamed the Thelma Steinman Seniors Support Services Unit. Active Jewish Adults (AJA), an independent agency created by JFS, runs popular social programs for active seniors.
Mark continued Elaine’s collaboration with the Somali population, establishing the Somali Centre for Family Services (SCFS) as a stand-alone agency. JFS was awarded the prestigious 2001 Award of Excellence from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
JFS played a leading role in the establishment of Local Agencies Serving Immigrants (LASI)’s World Skills program, the leading employment service for new Canadians.
Building on the success of our mentoring project with the Somali community, JFS is now embarking on a similar initiative with the Rwandan community in Ottawa. Our shared experiences of genocide make this a natural relationship that we expect to be fruitful for both communities.
The settlement unit of JFS has expanded greatly under Mark’s direction, and has played a large role in the growth of the agency. It was recently renamed the Inez and Joseph Zelikovitz Settlement Services Unit.
Jewish Family Services has created a plethora of services to accommodate the needs of its clients. In partnership with the Agudath Israel and Temple Israel synagogues, JFS offers Kosher Food Bank distributions bi-monthly. Mark has worked with generous donors to establish a much-valued monthly fruit and vegetable distribution. The program is called Miriam’s Well, after Miriam Cantor who contributed greatly to establishing the Tikva Program. The Tikvah Program staff developed the Tikvah Discount Card, which attempts to integrate low income Jews into community programs without having to undergo repeated financial scrutiny.
Under Mark’s tireless leadership, JFS has sought to educate the community about its responsibility to be inclusive, to be aware of barriers to participation, and to making all Jews feel welcome. This advocacy work will continue as long as the need exists.
Mark brought a new perspective to JFS - one that envisioned not only the growth of JFS itself, but also the spawning of new independent organizations to serve a variety of various needs, both within the Jewish community and the greater community at large. The mentorship model conceived and executed by JFS has long been showcased as an example of best practice. The agency has played and continues to play a leading role in advocating for ethnic diversity in service delivery in Ottawa.
As part of the Ontario Government’s “Aging at Home” strategy, Jewish Family Services of Ottawa is leading a group of local Ottawa agencies in providing services to Ottawa’s increasingly diverse seniors population in a culturally and linguistically sensitive manner. To date, Jewish Family Services has partnered with Hunt Club/Riverside Community Services Centre, Ottawa Chinese Community Services Centre, Somali Centre for Family Services, the Ottawa Sikh Community Services, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, Home Based Spiritual Care, and Conseil Economique et Social d’Ottawa Carleton which serves Francophone immigrants. Also in 2009, Homewatch Caregivers is offering an innovative program to enhance memory and develop coping skills for dementia and Alzheimer’s clients.
Jewish Family Services of Ottawa has a history of providing ethno-specific and culturally and linguistically sensitive services to Jewish seniors. It is the goal of this project to replicate many of these volunteer based services emphasizing cultural sensitivities and create ethno-specific programs among the local partner agencies.
Seven part-time volunteer coordinators of the ethnic make-up of the partnerships were hired and trained by Jewish Family Services to develop the volunteer base necessary to delivery these services in their communities. By working together to develop service coordination and best practices, this project will support Ottawa’s culturally diverse aging population to live independently in their homes with security and dignity.
In an effort to address issues of prejudices and biases within Canadian society, JFS has established an Against Prejudice program. We offer workshops and training as well as online resources. This program has recently expanded to the entire province of Ontario.
Jewish Family Services’ mission is to strengthen Jewish individuality, family, and communal life, as well as that of the greater Ottawa community. Our efforts now and in the future will continue to focus on finding new and effective ways of achieving this goal.