Founded in 1905, the Jewish Federation of Indianapolis was one of the earliest examples of the new Jewish federated giving movement originating in Boston in 1895. Committed to taking care of their own, the federations operated a single fundraising campaign annually to coordinate and support Jewish needs in the local community. The Jewish federations served as the model for local community chests that became United Way. As congregations in smaller Jewish communities around Indiana have dissolved, JFGI has assumed responsibility for caring for their cemeteries.

A woman lights a Menorah for the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, ca. 1970s
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

The Jewish Federation in Indianapolis was founded and initially led by German Jews who had emigrated to the United States beginning in the 1850s. It primarily served the new Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe who were fleeing virulent antisemitism and pogroms. Gustave A. Efroymson, a leading merchant, was the Federation’s first president. He served a total of 23 years in that role. Descendants of the early leaders continue to be active in the Indianapolis Jewish Community.

As the Jewish community of Indianapolis migrated north from its hub on the southside of Indianapolis, JFGI leaders purchased 60 acres of land on Hoover Road for a new campus, which is the heart of the Jewish community. The first building, the Jewish Community Center, opened in 1958.

Activities of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, n.d.
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

In Indianapolis, JFGI supports the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Community Relations Council, Hooverwood (assisted living and skilled nursing care), Jewish Family Services (social services), and The Hasten Hebrew Academy of Indianapolis. JFGI also encourages Jewish life on campuses by supporting Hillels at Indiana University, Ball State University, Purdue University, Marian University, and IUPUI. A 2017 study commissioned by JFGI identified 23,500 individuals living in Jewish homes in central Indiana. The prior census, conducted in 1937, identified 10,000 Jews in Indianapolis.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis is the central philanthropic, planning, community engagement, and unifying partner for the Jewish community across central Indiana. Guided by Jewish values, JFGI focuses on six strategic areas: engagement and community building; Jewish learning and experience; resource development and capacity building; communication and collaboration; leadership development; and supporting the needs of Israel and Jews around the world. As the fundraising agency for Jewish community needs, JFGI allocates 75 percent to local community agencies and projects; 21 percent to global Jewish causes, and 4 percent to national Jewish organizations.

Revised March 2021
 

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