Is the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society one of Philadelphia's best-kept secrets? Although the organization has helped countless struggling women, it doesn't advertise, choosing instead to quietly send personal letters to potential donors.
Now, more than 19 decades after the organization was founded, a new generation of parents and children throughout the country are being exposed to the group's work through a recent volume issued by the PJ Library.
The PJ Library mails free Jewish-themed children's books to families across the United States and Canada in an effort to engage families with young children.
On the jacket of one of the most recent books distributed, Emma's Poem, children are urged to learn more about social-action organizations like the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society and HIAS, which helps new immigrants.
It compares Rebecca Gratz, the founder of the Benevolent Society, with the book's central figure, Emma Lazarus, who was an activist for the poor at the turn of the century and whose lines of poetry appear on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
The benevolent organization, which assists Jewish women in need in Philadelphia, continues to adhere to the mission it began back in 1819, but faces new challenges these days, according to its president, Eileen Sklaroff.
In the last fiscal year, the organization distributed $103,641 to 161 clients through gifts from individual donors, small organizations and funds like the Gloria Moldoff Memorial Fund, established in 2007 through the Federation Endowments Corporation.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia also provides a significant chunk of its funds. But Federation cut funding to the group for the next fiscal year — as it did to most of its grantees — from $26,800 to $21,800.
Sklaroff said her group would persist in its mission despite the challenges.
With 192 years running, said Sklaroff, "you don't turn your back on something like that. Today, our work is still so integral to the community."