First mention of welfare work amongst Jews in Durban seems to be a report in The Natal Mercury in November 1891 which refers to a Ladies Jewish Benevolent Society. Apparently it was short lived. Thereafter the next report is from Jewish sources, recording that Mr Louis Goldberg, who was known for his work for the congregation, had constituted himself a one-man philanthropic institution in 1898.
Very informally in 1898 the Durban Jewish Men’s Benevolent Society made its appearance. The chairman was Mr A Benson. To help him was Rev A Levy as secretary and Mr Hanreck as treasurer. Three years passed before a general meeting formally adopted by-laws and in 1901 appointed Mr Louis Goldberg as president.The Society soon had its hands very full with the advent of the Anglo-Boer War. With a flood of refugees from the Transvaal it was necessary to form the Jewish Relief Committee. In 1903 it persuaded the Jewish women of Durban to form the Jewish Ladies Helping Hand Society.
Not long after the Society was formed, the Holy Vestment Society came into being in order to obtain and care for the holy vestments in the Synagogue and in order to raise funds for the furnishing of the Synagogue which at the time was being built. Subsequently it was incorporated into the Helping Hands Society. Then the name of the original society itself changed. It became the Durban Jewish Ladies Guild and so remained until 1939 when it was renamed the Durban Jewish Woman’s Guild. The Men’s Benevolent Society and the Guild remained as separate entities.
In 1953 the Guild celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a service in the Synagogue and a reception at the Durban Jewish Club. A Senior Welfare Officer of the Witwatersrand Jewish Welfare Council addressed their Annual General Meeting that year and urged that a trained social welfare officer should be employed. A discussion also ensued as to the advisability of amalgamating the men’s and women’s societies and two years later this was achieved. In October 1955 the Durban Jewish Welfare Association was instituted. The first president of this committee was Mr I Geshen.The appointment of Beulah Lange in 1968 ushered in a new approach, the employment of professionally qualified social workers. Psychologists, psycho-therapists, occupational therapists, medical doctors, lawyers and accountants in the community were also generous in volunteering their services.
In time the Durban Jewish Welfare Association became known as Durban Jewish Social Services. Past president Lew Heilbron says “Our mission is to see that no Jewish family is left without a roof over their head, food on the table and an education for their children’.