IN THE NEWS: Seven synagogues get social workers

Lois K. Solomon


Mar 3, 2014

Congregants at seven south Palm Beach County synagogues can brag about a new perk of membership: a social worker on the premises.

The Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services has asked three newly hired, licensed social workers to split their time among the congregations in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, and hopes to move even more into other locations, such as Jewish private schools and the Levis Jewish Community Center. The family service, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, wants to make it easier for congregants to access its offerings, such as family counseling, Meals on Wheels for seniors, Holocaust survivor support, a food pantry and divorce mediation.

"We found we were missing opportunities because we had programs the rabbis weren't knowledgeable about," said Danielle Hartman, the agency's president. "People were being referred to us but they didn't follow through. So we decided to go directly to them."

The agency had a similar program from 1998 to 2008 but had to eliminate it due to the recession, Hartman said.

The new program pays the social workers through a $2.4-million grant from the sons of Ruth and Norman Rales announced in December. The gift allows the agency to expand its budget by 20 percent and creates 10 new positions, including the social workers, a job placement director and a liaison to local businesses.

Rabbis say the social workers are desperately needed. They say rabbis are trained to provide emotional support but often need additional expertise. The synagogues have offered the workers office space, email addresses and direct phone lines.

"At the time they reached out to me, I knew we would need a grief support group," said Rabbi Greg Kanter of Temple Sinai in Delray Beach. "The group started a few weeks ago with one person, and there are already five."

Kanter said he placed the social worker's desk in the lobby to publicize the new service.

"Some people are reluctant to reach out because they think there is a stigma," he said. "They may need to pass her five times or 100 times before they get the message there's nothing to be ashamed about."

Although the social worker will be at Temple Sinai one day a week, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh west of Boca Raton lacked office space for her, so congregants will see her by appointment, Rabbi David Baum said.

He expects members to talk to the social worker about problems such as financial challenges and taking care of aging parents.

"These are big issues in south Palm Beach County," he said.

Diane Matthew, supervisor of the social workers at the family service, said she expects financial issues and family counseling to be the main focus.

"There are people who are shy to come to the agency and ask us about the food pantry, or Meals on Wheels, or helping them pay an FPL bill," Matthew said. "Now they can talk at a place they may feel more comfortable." or 561-243-6536.

Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS) provides help, hope and humanity through a comprehensive range of programs and services which support people of all ages and beliefs. With locations in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, JFS programs and services include food and financial assistance, senior services, vocational training, counseling and mental health services and many volunteer opportunities. Funding is provided by private and corporate support, grants, special events and individuals who reach thousands in need each year. For more information about JFS volunteer opportunities and services for seniors, contact 561-852-3333. Learn more at

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