The Melbourne Jewish Orphan and Neglected Children’s Aid Society was established in 1882 with its focus on children 16 years of age and younger. It was well ahead of its time, truly visionary, and yet despite over 135 years of giving, the Society has maintained such a low profile that many are unaware of its existence.
In the early days a number of family trusts and bequests provided welfare relief for these disadvantaged youngsters. Children were provided with food, clothing and in some cases, where needed, a family.
Through the careful management and investment of funds and trusts over the years, the kitty grew and a portfolio of real estate was gradually assembled. These properties along with the continued generosity of donors provided the funding which served the community’s poor and disadvantaged children during the first three quarters of the 20th century.
As time passed, life expectancy grew and the number of orphans slowly diminished and so the one hundred year old Society began to look for its next challenge.
Laurence Joseph, Secretary of the Society nearly 30 years ago identified a very worthwhile project. There was a group of Jewish children who were still excluded and in need of community support - children with a disability.
It was decided that funds should be used to help the Jewish Day Schools to include students with a disability into their classrooms. Teachers could be specially trained, extra support staff employed and lessons altered to allow these children to become part of the classroom. More importantly a whole generation of school children would be educated to embrace difference and understand that all children had a right to be a part of the Jewish Community.
The committee, then presided over by Godfrey Cohen, accepted the proposal in 1989. Other committee members at the time included Keith Southwick, Jack Joel, Trevor Cohen, Adele Southwick, Dr Louis Joel, Dr Julian Basser, Heinz Ziffer, Eric Cohen, Daryl Cohen, Norman Kotzman and Lionel Sharpe.
It became clear that more money was needed to properly embrace the integration program so in March 1999, new committee member, Rosalie Silverstein offered to run an Opp Shoppe to raise extra funds. As a result, a small shop was subsequently purchased in Glenhuntly Rd Carnegie.
The Opp Shoppe project was a great success and the initial shop was soon replaced by a larger shop at 1226 Glenhuntly Rd Carnegie which was purchased and refitted by the Society partly utilising substantial funds obtained from the sale of a city property in 2004 which had been endowed to the Society in the 19th century with the ANZ as Trustee.
This shop had been returning a pitiful sum after expenses, and its sale was only achieved after a prolonged legal battle run by long time Honorary Solicitors, Frenkel and Associates and driven by committee member Trevor Cohen (who has served on the committee for over 40 years). The interest from the balance of the proceeds of this sale provided a steady ongoing income to finance the integration program.
With the retirement of longstanding President Godfrey Cohen in 2003, Daryl Cohen took on the role, but sadly ill health meant that he gradually allowed Trevor Cohen to take over. Daryl’s involvement had been over many decades, largely as Honorary Solicitor, and together with Trevor, through careful management of assets, was PRIMARILY responsible for the healthy financial position of the Society.
In 2013, a second shop, at 484 Glenhuntly Rd Elsternwick, was purchased in order to augment revenues to be able to fund the growing school program. We are proud to say that the Society is now contributing towards 250 students from 10 Jewish day schools all coordinated by MJCAS co-ordinator Sharon Goodhardt.
The Posh Opp Shoppes are well known for the quality and variety of goods. Many businesses donate surplus stock and community members generously donate their no longer needed items. The shops attract many volunteers both Jewish and non-Jewish and provide a safe, warm place to get work experience for teenagers with disabilities. Rosalie’s great work has been recognised with an OAM in recent years.
To better reflect today’s emphasis, in 2014 the word “orphan” was dropped and today’s name was adopted - Melbourne Jewish Children’s Aid Society. The Society is today ultimately responsible for the ongoing management of its shops, organising the program for the integration of the children and the distribution of the funds. MJCAS plays a crucial role in the Melbourne Jewish community.
In October 2018 the Society officially changed its name to Jewish Children's Aid Society (JCAS).
In June 2019, Trevor Cohen's work with JCAS and numerous other community activities was recognised with a Queen's Birthday Australian Honour.... Member of the Order of Australia (AM).