From the Midwest to the Mid-East

A recollection of JDC and The Paul Baerwald School of Social Work

In October 2021, Ellen Samuels Tuyahov sent a check to JDC. In her accompanying letter, Ellen wrote:

In 1959 when I was 15 years old our family moved to Jerusalem for two years.
My father was Julius Samuels, who was part of a small team to start the School of Social Work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem…The entire project was funded by the Joint Distribution Committee in New York City. Anyone who works in your organization probably has no knowledge of this highly successful and meaningful project. It is something your organization should be proud of and so I thought I would let you know if you wanted to share it with your staff.

Indeed, a lesser-known chapter in JDC’s history is the organization’s role in developing the field of social work in post-WWII Europe, North Africa, and Israel. Realizing the need for social workers to tend Jewish populations in multiple continents, JDC endeavored to bring modern American-style social work to train Jewish social workers abroad. The Paul Baerwald School of Social Work was founded in a chateau in Versailles, France, in 1949. Named in tribute to the honorary chair of the JDC Board, the school brought together aspiring social workers from Eastern and Western Europe, North Africa, and Israel, a microcosm of the Jewish world at the time, to learn from American social work experts. Dr. Henry Selver, a German-born, American-trained social worker, was the Director of the school.

Footage from Paul Baerwald’s visit in 1950 includes Director Henry Selver, Paul and Edith Baerwald, their daughter Pauline Falk, and JDC officials Laura Margolis and Joseph Schwartz.

After a few years it became less practical to bring students to this locale, and the school in Versailles was closed in 1953. Instead, JDC Paris Headquarters established a department that sent consultants to the field to work directly with social workers, rather than incur the students’ housing and travel costs.

Graduation of the last class of The Paul Baerwald School of Social Work in Versailles. France, 1953. JDC Archives

Teaching milk distribution in Tunisia as part of the Paul Baerwald Department of Social Service, c.1955. JDC Archives

With the massive aliya after Israel’s founding, the state’s need for social workers became urgent, including in JDC’s own Malben (a Hebrew acronym for Organization for the Care of Handicapped Immigrants) network of institutions. In 1955, JDC signed an agreement with the Hebrew University, the Israeli Ministry of Welfare, and the Tel Aviv Municipality to establish a school of social work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. JDC provided staff and full funding for the school, the only social work school in the country at that time. The renowned Dr. Eileen Blackey was founding dean of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Blackey set up offices at 8 Hovevei Zion Street, and classes were held in the Northern annex of the King David Hotel. Eventually a JDC-funded building was erected on the Givat Ram campus, and Executive Vice-Chairman Charles Jordan attended the April 1967 opening. Today the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work is on the Mount Scopus campus.

Left:Third year students at the Paul Baerwald School, Northern annex of the King David Hotel c.1960; right: Paul Baerwald School of Social Work building on Givat Ram Campus, dedicated 1967. JDC funded the construction of the building. Jerusalem, Israel. JDC Archives

This institutional history brings with it a personal story. When Ellen Samuels Tuyahov received a fundraising letter from JDC, something sparked within her. She was transported back to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1959, when her father Julius Samuels announced that the family would be moving to Jerusalem for two years. Samuels, a professor of social work at the University of Nebraska, brought his wife and two teenage daughters to Israel. He developed the curriculum and taught group work.

Ellen’s parents Julius and Evelyn Schiff Samuels both grew up in New York City. Julius, born in 1912, obtained an MSW from Columbia University.

Before departure, Ellen’s mother tried to arrange Ellen’s schooling in Israel. Representatives of Jerusalem public schools said they would ask Ellen to repeat ninth grade and that she would probably fail. Instead, Ellen was enrolled with the order of French nuns at Les Soeurs de (Sisters of) Saint Joseph and took the public bus every day to the school on the Street of the Prophets. Sometimes her fellow passengers held live chickens by their feet. Sometimes, if the bus was too crowded, they found space to ride on the roof. She gave up wearing the prescribed blue and white checked uniform without asking permission.

Ellen was the only Jew in her small, English-speaking class; her classmates were Christian Arabs. Her teachers respected and accommodated her, saying God Our Father in their prayers (rather than Jesus). From her French lessons, given one-on-one in her Armenian teacher’s home, she learned Armenian history (and of course French).

Ellen also attended ulpan with American medical students, who gave her rides home on their motorcycles. Alas she learned only about five words of Hebrew. She acknowledges that because of this two-year adventure, she had gaps in her high school education, but that “the other learning and my knowledge and experiences were priceless.”

During their first year in Jerusalem the family lived on Salome Square (today Wingate Square), around the corner from the social work school’s offices (the following year they moved to Alharazi Street in Rechavia). Julius taught in English, while a parallel class was taught in Hebrew.

Julius Samuels at his desk. At the top of the photograph, the tower of the YMCA building across the from the King David Hotel is visible in the distance. Jerusalem, c.1960 [courtesy Samuels family]

Ellen’s older sister Irene attended Hebrew University and met a South African man who had joined Israeli forces in the 1956 Sinai Campaign. They married in the mushroom-shaped synagogue on the Hebrew University Givat Ram campus. Left to right: Julius Samuels, Mervyn Senick, Irene Senick, Evelyn Samuels, and Ellen Samuels at Mervyn and Irene’s wedding, Givat Ram Synagogue. Jerusalem, Israel, February 1961 [courtesy Samuels family]

The legacy left for Ellen from her parents is clear from her story. She knows that she was heavily influenced by her parents’ values, motivation, and common sense. Having worked in early childhood education, as both a teacher and principal, and in social work, Ellen spent many years managing social services and community building in the Virginia county where she lived. She says that she grew up in a family with “a strong commitment to social justice, and a strong sense of justice in the Jewish tradition.” She was very active in the American Civil Rights movement and when President Lyndon Johnson said, “The conscience of America is outside my window,” she was there.

Like her parents who left Lincoln, Nebraska, to contribute to the Jewish state, Ellen says that she is not religious, but identifies strongly as a Jew, and that she cares very much about the Jewish people worldwide and about Israel. “With the world as it is, all the hate and division, and the rise in Antisemitism, not only in the US but all over the place, I really stepped up my giving.”

Ellen and Alex Tuyahov [courtesy Alex Tuyahov]

In a sense Ellen has come full circle, living a life dedicated to education and helping others. The Paul Baerwald School was the backdrop to her life in Israel and instilled a love of giving in the form of education and social services. Now retired, Ellen’s instincts to help and to give have brought her back to JDC.

This story was shared with Ellen Samuel Tuyahov’s permission. Ellen and her husband Alex raised two daughters and have six grandchildren aged 10-18, all of whom live nearby.