Jacobs Fund for Human Needs extends help to non-Jews


It was a frustrating situation for the late Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs, who was sitting on a non-Jewish committee and being asked to commit funds for a very worthwhile task. He realized he did not have the authorization to commit Jewish community funds to a non-Jewish agency. Knowing how important it is for the Jewish community to take part in tikkun olam projects with non-Jewish agencies, the St. Louis Rabbinical Association went to the Jewish Federation for funding. The Federation provided a planning grant which helped establish the Jewish Fund for Human Needs (JFHN) in 1985. The fund was renamed the Robert P. Jacobs Jewish Fund for Human Needs in honor of its founder in 2002.

Over 100 different agencies have benefited from the fund over the past 20 years. It has distributed over $500,000 in grants each ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. The recipients are smaller grass-roots agencies who service basic needs in the non-Jewish community. The agencies provide basic living assistance including: heaters, fans, air conditioners, help with utility bills, food, clothing, rental, prescription medication, books, education, neighborhood clean-ups and support for the homeless.

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“The Robert P. Jacobs Jewish Fund for Human Needs is the organized Jewish community’s arm to support gentile agencies and institutions who do good work,” chair Rabbi Ephraim Zimand said. “There is no other arm of the Jewish community which financially supports these agencies. This organization is very important to the Jewish community since we are charged Judaically to not only do good work within the Jewish community but the gentile community as well.”

Money for the JFHN comes from Jewish Federation of St. Louis and its Lubin-Green supporting foundation. Individual donations are an important part of their funding as well. Marilyn Ratkin, director of domestic issues for the Jewish Community Relations Council, said there is also a special fund named in memory of a well-loved member of the original JFHN committee.

“(The late) Bert Rosen served as a community volunteer when he retired,” Ratkin said. “There is an established endowment fund in his name. Interest from that fund is used every grant-giving cycle to give one agency additional money over and above their requested amount.”

Grants are allocated every six months. Some organizations hear about the fund and send in applications. Many times Ratkin seeks out agencies she’s heard about through the media or through other agencies and individuals in the community. Each agency applying for funding is thoroughly investigated by the JFHN committee. Each new applicant receives a site visit as do agencies that haven’t been visited in over one year. Committee members look at many aspects of the agency including: how they work, whom they serve and their administration.

Of course funding is only part of the equation for these agencies. Volunteers are also an important part of their success. One part of Marci Mayer Eisen’s job as coordinator of the Bohm Social Justice Initiative with the JCRC is to create access for volunteers from the Jewish community to assist in these agencies. She is working on creating a database for volunteer opportunities at agencies who receive money from the JFHN. One the of those agencies is the Joint Neighborhood Ministries in the South City. It serves as a food and clothing pantry and provides other basic social services. The JCRC’s Young Adult Social Action Group recently started working with them. The group of 20- and 30-year-olds was looking for a long-term social action project — not a one-time project commitment. They wanted to feel they could fit in and develop a relationship with an agency and help fulfill their needs.

“We want to be helpful for the long haul,” said Carly Kaufman, an active member of the group. “The important thing is to have the manpower on our end to commit and follow through on projects. People were so appreciative we were there. We are especially looking forward to interacting with the community and making connections. There are lots of projects on the horizon.”

Marian Middle School is a JFHN agency that serves at-risk girls in the city of St. Louis. Hazel Sohn has been volunteering there for over a year. Her friend Marilyn Zucker told her about the program. Sohn, who used to teach fourth grade and children with special challenges, now works with a young teacher at the school tutoring sixth-eighth grade math. She says the teacher is gifted and uses her well in classroom. Sohn’s husband, Richard, has helped out at the school as well. He taught French horn to the students one day.

“The children are lovely,” Sohn said. “When they learn their subjects they are so delighted. The school has a wonderful, kind ambiance, and the kids feel very safe. When I was teaching, discipline took up a great part of the day; here it doesn’t.”

“It is about money plus manpower,” Mayer Eisen said. “The experiences are truly motivating.”

For more information on the Robert P. Jacobs Jewish Fund for Human Needs contact Marilyn Ratkin at 314-442-3873. Online contributions and information will be available at their website which is currently under construction: www.jcrcstl.org.