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is its middle name Family

For more than a century, Jewish Family Service has helped those in need

Bill Finkelstein and his granddaughter Miriam deliver kosher meals on Monday mornings during summers and school breaks to local families through Jewish Family Service of Greater Wilkes-Barre.

AIMEE DILGER/THE TIMES LEADER

Miriam Finkelstein may be an active preteen, but she always makes time to spend with grandfather Bill. The apple of Bill’s eye, Miriam lives with him in Swoyersville and attends Dana Elementary Center in Forty Fort.

AIMEE DILGER photos/THE TIMES LEADER

Bill Finkelstein, a 61-year-old volunteer at Jewish Family Service, has a close relationship with executive director Howard Grossman. Since Finkelstein began volunteering at JFS, he said, he’s gained a strong network of support for himself and his granddaughter Miriam.

When Bill Finkelstein and his wife moved to Swoyersville nine years ago, they needed help raising their granddaughter, Miriam.

Bill hadn’t attended temple in many years but wanted Miriam to know about the Jewish heritage.

So he turned to Jewish Family Service on West Northampton Street in Wilkes-Barre for help.

A social worker met with the family, offering them guidance and support during the transitional time between their move from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

After the death of his wife at age 53, he looked to the JFS even more.

“When it was my wife and I, it was a lot easier,” said Finkelstein, 61, who involved now 12-year-old Miriam in the Jewish Community Center’s day camp and in going to synagogue while he began delivering meals to Jewish and non-Jewish households and volunteering at the day camp, thanks to guidance from JFS.

“I probably worked as hard as eight kids,” he explained.

The Finkelsteins are just one of thousands of Wyoming Valley families that JFS, which is celebrating its 120th year this year, has assisted.

Beginning in 1888, when a group of Jewish women met in one of their homes, Jewish Family Service began as an outlet to help the needy in the Wyoming Valley.

Today, JFS, which employs five staffers and is supported by an army of volunteers, offers more than a dozen programs that better the lives of Jewish and non-Jewish Wyoming Valley residents.

“When someone comes in and says ‘We got our heat turned off,’ we can help,” said Lisa Morgan, administrative assistant and the only full-time employee.

“Last fiscal year, we served more people with emergency services than we have since (Tropical Storm Agnes) 1972,” said Howard Grossman, JFS’s executive director.

The organization will provide immediate help to those in crisis who need food, shelter, utilities and transportation. People also can find assistance through agencies such as the Commission on Economic Opportunity, the United Way of Wyoming Valley or other local Jewish agencies, which, Grossman said, mostly all work together now thanks to the new director of the Jewish Federation, who has actively sought to unite Jewish men and women in the area.

“We’re collaborating now with more agencies,” Grossman said.

The organization is funded by the United Way of Wyoming Valley, the Jewish Federation, the Area Agency on Aging for Luzerne County, the Queen Esther Hebrew Ladies Aid Society and through private donations and fundraisers.

Volunteers have a variety of tasks in which to involve themselves: delivering kosher meals to the homebound, visiting nursing homes, providing transportation, visiting the elderly, serving on welcoming committees for new American residents and working on other special projects.

Staff and volunteers also help Holocaust survivors with various needs, assist seniors through a health and wellness program and involve area children in community-service projects. The JFS also has provided student loans and grants.

All the activities help volunteers and staff form bonds, said Finkelstein, who regards Morgan and Grossman as family.

So much so that Morgan, when asked to visit an elderly woman in a Scranton hospital, even went to her Edwardsville home to pick up her toiletries and other necessities.

Both Morgan and Grossman attended Miriam’s Bas Mitzvah celebration, as did dozens of other friends Bill and Miriam have made through Jewish Family Service.

“People I never thought would come were there,” Finkelstein said. “If I had a problem or needed something, they would be there for me.”

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