Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia is mourning the loss of two former leaders.
Samuel Frieder, a former co-president and longtime supporter of JFCS, died on June 28 at 86. Shirley Sagin, supervisor of adoption services for the Association for Jewish Children, which later merged with the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, died on June 12 at 97.
“They are the foundation of our organization, people like them,” JFCS of Greater Philadelphia CEO Paula Goldstein said. “And what they did for the organization is why we are here today.”
Frieder served as co-president of JFCS in 1983 and helped the organization undergo the merger between the Association for Jewish Children of Philadelphia and Jewish Family Service of Philadelphia.
“He was known really as a great diplomat, someone who could find amicable solutions to communal problems and challenges,” said Susanna Lachs Adler, a family friend and past chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Born in Cincinnati in 1937, Frieder and his family relocated to suburban Philadelphia where they were involved in Reform Jewish life. Frieder’s family was heavily involved in Jewish causes.
Running a family cigar business, the Frieders lived in the Philippines in the late 1930s to source tobacco. During the Holocaust, Frieder’s parents Herbert and Selda Frieder helped 1,200 Jewish refugees escape from Germany and Austria, get visas and find jobs to resettle in the United States as part of the Jewish Refugee Committee in Manila, an organization founded by the family.
“It was clearly important to them to do the right thing,” daughter Cathy Frieder Straus said.
The family’s legacy of Jewish community involvement extended to their children, and Frieder’s commitment to Jewish causes continued beyond his support of JFCS. He was the vice president of Rodeph Shalom Congregation and from 1999-2002 was the chair of Einstein Hospital, founded in 1865 as “the Jewish Hospital.”
Like Frieder, Sagin was active at the Association for Jewish Children, and later JFCS, during the organization’s transitional period. She served as supervisor of adoption for more than 20 years, from the 1970s to the ‘90s, retiring in 1991.
At a time when adoption was less bureaucratic but more stigmatized in some cases, Sagin worked to provide adoptive homes to children who often experienced difficulty getting adopted, including teenagers and disabled children. Sagin also worked overseas, including placing dozens of children in Bogota, Colombia, in homes in Philadelphia in the early 1980s.
She worked with Stars of David, an organization assisting Jewish adoptive families.
Sagin wrote up features about each child to be published in the “Friday’s Child” section of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“There are so many families that were created by her work,” said son Todd Sagin.
In one instance, Sagin assisted in the adoption of a girl with Down syndrome named Alison. In 1992, Sagin was honored with the Alison Award, named for the child who then presented Sagin with the award for “extraordinary commitment to children growing
up in families.”
The National Museum of Jewish History honored Sagin for her work a year later.
Sagin often kept in touch with the adoptive families with whom she worked. In a time when open adoption was uncommon and not widely acceptable, adoptees would reach out to Sagin to connect with their biological families. Sagin was willing to make those connections.
“That was a kind of form of healing and made those children stronger, families stronger,” Todd Sagin said.
Outside of her professional work, Sagin was involved in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War and was active in the League of Women Voters and the Sholem Aleichem Club.
Though she was born in Philadelphia, Sagin’s parents moved the family around, including to Detroit and Pittsburgh where they had relatives. Her father had trouble keeping a job due to the Great Depression, but a local organization assisting needy Jewish families helped Sagin’s father start a hardware store in South Philadelphia, where Sagin grew up.
Sagin became a social worker in 1949 after receiving her master’s degree from Bryn Mawr College. She was always interested in finding good homes for children, according to Todd Sagin.
“Children who didn’t have good homes was what made her passionate about finding good homes,” he said. “Adoption was the outlet to which she was best able to do that.”
Though both Frieder and Sagin served JFCS decades ago, Goldstein and others at JFCS make it a point to mention their names frequently, ensuring their legacy is remembered at the organization.
“We don’t want to ever minimize them,” Goldstein said. “They were
critically important to our history.”