The Milwaukee Jewish Federation: 1902-2002

A Century of Service

For one hundred years, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation has worked to build a strong Jewish community in Milwaukee, as well as to strengthen the bond among Jewish people throughout the world.

By 1900 there were one million Jews in the United States. Organizations to help the immigrants multiplied, as did competition for funds. Such competition gave birth to the idea that it would be sensible to raise money collectively rather than competitively. Jewish Federations were established throughout the country, including Milwaukee in 1902.

New organizations were established, joining Milwaukee's first social service agency, the Hebrew Relief Society, known today as Jewish Family Services. Mount Sinai Hospital came into being in 1902. The 1900s saw creation of The Settlement, which became the Abraham Lincoln house. It was renamed the Jewish Community Center in 1931 (now Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center). The Hebrew Free School for Jewish Education was started in 1904 and the Hebrew Sheltering Home opened in 1909. The Federated Jewish Charities raised money to support these and other organizations, developing methods to coordinate resources.

During the Great Depression, the Federated Jewish Charities foundered and discontinued operations in 1937. Problems facing Jews in Europe and the need to absorb refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany impelled our leaders to reorganize a central fund-raising instrument, the Jewish Welfare Fund. The Welfare Fund took the initiative in creating agencies. Burgeoning anti-Semitism both in Europe and here at home resulted in creation of the Milwaukee Jewish Council in 1938 (now Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations). The need to locate jobs for refugees resulted in creation of the Jewish Vocational Service (now the Milwaukee Center for Independence) also in 1938.

In 1944, the Welfare Fund created a committee to coordinate educational services that became the Bureau of Jewish Education, now the Coalition for Jewish Learning. During 1946, the Welfare Fund joined the United Jewish Appeal to raise $100 million to help the remnants of our people in Europe, aid those making their way to Palestine and help Holocaust survivors come to America and Milwaukee.

The Welfare Fund changed its name to the Milwaukee Jewish Federation in 1972. Through the decades, the Federation adapted to meet the growing needs of the community through social planning, leadership development for young men and women, and a Women's Division that expanded beyond its initial role of fundraising to educate women about human services and Israel.

Money to meet community emergency needs often was provided by the Federation. This gave rise to the creation of the Federation's endowment development program, the Jewish Community Foundation in 1972. The Federation purchased and remodeled Camp Interlaken and Camp JCC operated by the Jewish Community Center. It built the Golda Meir House, the Maurice S. Surlow Senior Residences, the Helfaer Community Service Building and obtained property that made possible the building of the Milwaukee Jewish Home at its present location.

Thanks to the vision of our community leadership, the Karl Campus provides a home for the Jewish Community Center, The Academy (Hillel Academy), Milwaukee Jewish Day School, B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, the Coalition for Jewish Learning,and Jewish Beginnings (Lubavitch Preschool).

Building on its success during the past one hundred years, the Federation began its next one hundred years with a compelling vision and excellent leadership, ensuring its continued success.


Melvin S. Zaret, Chair; Elaine Appel, Audrey Keyes, Helga Levings, Beverly Schuminsky and Sarah Siegel

This exhibition was sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation's Aaron & Gertrude Weiss Philanthropic Fund. It was developed to celebrate the Federation’s centenial.

For more information about how the Milwaukee Jewish Federation continues supporting the Milwaukee Jewish community today, click here.

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