30 YEARS OF LISTENING AND LINKING … Jewish Federation Connects Community Members to Vital Resources

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Philadelphia’s Jewish Information and Referral Service (JIRS) helps families  with basic daily tasks like driving and shopping.

Linda was a new mother and a transplant to suburban Philadelphia. In an area where so many people spend their lives in the same tight-knit neighborhoods, she wanted a way as a newcomer to become involved in the Jewish community.
Seth was a recent college graduate from the West Coast, just starting a new job in Center City. He was committed to Judaism but unable to travel home for the High Holidays. He wanted to find a place to attend services and perhaps a community of fellow Jewish young people.
Ellen was worried about her grandmother, who lived alone in the Northeast Philadelphia home in which she’d raised her family. She had always had an active social life in her neighborhood, full of friends and activities…but she was starting to have trouble with basic daily tasks like driving and shopping.
Joe was researching his family history and wanted to know about a now-vanished West Philadelphia synagogue his grandfather had belonged to….
Since 1985, people from the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community and beyond, of nearly every age and all walks of life (roughly 3,000 a year currently), have turned to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Information and Referral Service (JIRS) with questions and concerns like these, ranging from basic facts to help with life’s greatest challenges.
Linda Roth was that young mother. She reached out to JIRS to volunteer 28 years ago, joined its staff a decade later and eventually became Director. More than a quarter of the callers and emailers are older adults, she says, and many are people experiencing stressful times. “Yes, people can get information on the computer,” she adds, “but we’re a more personal service. We provide a human touch, we listen. And through our interactions with callers, we can often identify needs someone sitting alone in front of their computer may not even know they have.”
In addition to responding to inquiries from people needing help or information and their loved ones, JIRS:maintains a comprehensive directory of Greater Philadelphia synagogues and Jewish services that is published every fall by the Jewish Exponent in its Guide to Jewish Greater Philadelphia and continuously updated on the Jewish Federation’s website, jewishphilly.org;
produces a resource guide for older adults, in print and on line, known as the Senior Sourcebook – which has just recently been updated;keeps up to date a Resources for Stressful Times guide with information ranging from services for older adults and the disabled to debt counseling, preventing utility shut-off and free or low-cost legal services; and welcomes new members to the community by sending out “Shalom Neighbor” packets that include a copy of The Guide to Jewish Greater Philadelphia and information such as a holiday calendar.
Roth and her volunteers know the community inside and out. They can point Seth to a free or low-cost High Holiday service and to the Jewish Federation’s Renaissance Group for young people. They can take the time to talk to Ellen and her grandmother and help them get a handle on her needs and the many options for addressing them. They can even do some digging and find Joe’s grandfather’s old synagogue. Roth is thankful for these volunteers’ help, “but we need more!” She welcomes “people who like working with computers and are willing to give of their time” to get in touch with her.
JIRS is a program of the Jewish Federation’s Center for Social Responsibility, whose mission is to make sure every member of the Jewish community in Greater Philadelphia who needs help can get it. By linking those in need with resources, JIRS plays a pivotal role in this mission, says Center Director Brian Gralnick. He adds: “Providing accurate and updated information about social services and Jewish life is a critical function for the Jewish Federation and the Center for Social Responsibility. We are uniquely positioned in the community to have JIRS be a trusted source for those with a need or question.”
To learn more about JIRS, to volunteer or for information, please contact Linda Roth at 215.832.0821 or [email protected] For more information about how the Jewish Federation connects community members to the resources that help them, contact Brian Gralnick at 215.832.0850 or [email protected]

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