Our History

In 1853, Issac Garritson wrote that “we have established a Hebrew Benevolent Society, numbering only five families and about eight young men.” This charitable organization, which evolved over the years laid the groundwork for today’s Jewish Family Service, a comprehensive provider of social services.

Their concerns were mainly to care for the sick, to support and provide for the maintenance and protection of orphans and widows, the afflicted and destitute.  In all their wisdom, they never envisioned dealing with the myriad of other social service issues that are front and center today:  homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, parents being isolated, marriages maybe not so happily-ever-after.

When you look through the volumes written about Nashville’s Jewish history, on nearly every page you’ll find Jewish Family Service or one of our predecessors:

  • Hebrew Benevolent Society est. 1853
  • Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society est. 1860
  • Nashville Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society est. 1870
  • Hungarian Benevolent Society est. 1871
  • Hebrew Relief Society, which is a collaboration of all Benevolent societies is established to “make the deeds of charity more effective” est. 1879
  • Federation of Jewish Charities 1914
  • Jewish Welfare Federation 1937
  • Jewish Social Service 1952
  • Jewish Family Service 1976 – present


For over 160 years, Jewish Family Service has been the thread of continuity in our ever-changing community. From the birth of a baby to the passing of an elder, an enormously complex and challenging variety of issues are met with compassion, professionalism and sensitivity by the staff and volunteers of JFS.

Today, people from a variety of backgrounds walk through our doors.  Last year alone, JFS served nearly 1,800 people. The young, the old, parents and grandparents, people with disabilities, the poor, the privileged, the young and the young at heart — they all come to JFS for assistance in meeting their needs or the chance to help others.