A Century of Caring

A Century of Caring
A Century of Progress

The year 2000 not only leads us into a new century, but also marks the 100th anniversary of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. What follows is an overview of events and responses to human needs leading up to a federated Chicago Jewish community, encapsulating a century of nurturing and growth. Each month throughout 2000, JUF News and Chicago Jewish Community Online will focus on a facet of activity enriched by Federation and its agencies throughout the 1900s.

It was a new century, the 20th, and Chicago's population had swelled to 1.7 million by 1900. That year, as work was completed to reverse the flow of the Chicago river, the flow of new arrivals had increased the city's Jewish population to some 75,000. And that was the year when the forerunner of today's Jewish Federation was established

By 1900, Chicago Jews were well established in society--albeit charitable--societies with free burial societies, aid and benevolent societies, relief societies, and a Ladies' Sewing Society, all dating back to the mid-1800s.

The concepts of community and precepts of tzedakah, of righteousness and charity, have guided and enriched our people through the ages. Since biblical times, Jews have cared for their poor and needy, a tradition that was brought to the New World by the new arrivals from Germany and later Eastern Europe. Often driven by violence and antisemitism, Jews came here with no thought of returning to their homelands.

Old tradition takes root in the New World 

It is likely that a few Jewish peddlers frequented the Chicago area in the 1830s, but the first authenticated permanent Jewish settlers arrived in 1841. They were Benedict Shubart, Philip Newburgh, Isaac Ziegler, and Henry Horner, whose grandson was later to serve as governor of Illinois.

In his "History of the Jews in Chicago," H.L. Meites cites the efforts made in those early days, though mostly without success, to encourage Jewish peddlers to raise their status by farming colonization acreage in Schaumburg, Illinois, on land attainable for $1 to $1.25 per acre.

The small community's first organization was the Jewish Burial Ground Society, formed in 1845. The following year, the society purchased an acre of land for a cemetery, outside of the then city limits, just north of North Avenue, near the lake.

The first High Holy Day service was held on Yom Kippur, October 11, 1845, above a store at Wells and Lake streets. Within two years, a group of Orthodox German Jews formed the first congregation, Kehilath Anshe Maariv, at that same location. Their first rabbi became the community's shochet as well as spiritual leader.

In 1851, the congregation erected a small frame synagogue on Clark Street, south of Adams. Today a plaque stands at that site, now occupied by the Kluczynski Federal Building.

Between 1850 and 1860, as the Chicago Jewish population grew to about 1500, a second congregation was established, with others soon to follow, and a number of lodges, benevolent and relief societies, and fraternal groups were founded.

War and population growth unite community 

Human problems besetting the Jewish community led to a gathering, in 1859, of delegates from those groups; and from that conference emerged the United Hebrew Relief Association (UHRA), predecessor to the Jewish Family and Community Service.

When the Civil War broke out, a volunteer company of Jewish troops, the Concordia Guard, was quickly formed, with support from the Jewish community. They participated in a number of major battles. Among the Jews wounded during the war was Dankmar Adler, who later became a renowned architect.

In the post-Civil War era, one of the UHRA's first acts was to raise funds for construction of a hospital. In 1868 the first Jewish hospital opened on La Salle Street, between Schiller and Goethe Streets, but it was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and was never rebuilt.

The Jewish community was devastated by the fire, with hundreds of Jewish families left homeless, businesses hard hit, and five synagogue buildings destroyed. B'nai B'rth lodges, which had suffered heavy losses, began relief efforts along with the UHRA, to alleviate the suffering of fire victims. There were generous contributions from the Jews of Chicago and other cities.

Then in 1874, another fire, on the Near South Side, further damaged the Jewish community, especially the area where the more recently arrived Russian and Polish Jews lived.

Rising prosperity and public philanthropy 

Despite such calamities, the economic status of the Jewish community improved, and as it did, Jews built institutions to take care of Jewish needy, the ill, the orphaned, and the aged. They also contributed generously in time and money to the development of museums, universities, and a variety of philanthropic undertakings to benefit the general public, establishing a pattern that continues to this day.

In 1878, Michael Reese, a bachelor living in San Francisco, died on shipboard, while en route to Europe. In his will, he bequeathed to his nephews, Henry and Joseph Frank, funds to be used for charitable purposes in Chicago. They offered the money to the UHRA for building a new hospital; while other bequests Reese left to his sister and his brother-in-law were set aside as an endowment for the hospital. Additional funds were raised within the community and the hospital was opened in October 1881, at a final cost of over $70,000, including furnishings and instruments imported from Europe.

From its beginning, Michael Reese Hospital served all people, regardless of race, religion, or national origin; and its physicians brought state-of-the-art techniques and research procedures into the field of medicine. Reese was joined as a Jewish-sponsored hospital by Maimonides Hospital in 1911 and Mount Sinai Hospital in 1919. With the sale in recent years of Michael Reese, Mount Sinai remains as the only Jewish community-supported hospital and medical center in Chicago.

In 1888, the United Hebrew Relief Association became United Hebrew Charities. Meanwhile, many new charitable organizations were emerging, often competing both in service and in campaigning for community support.

20th century: unity renewed 

The sense of unity which at mid-century had led community leaders to establish the United Hebrew Relief Association once again sparked efforts in 1900 to form a central body that would efficiently and effectively raise and allocate funds for philanthropic purposes.

A planning meeting was held on January 7, 1900, at Temple Sinai, whose spiritual leader, Rabbi Emil Hirsch, was a leading proponent of a federated community. It was determined that if the community would contribute $100,000 toward the proposed new organization, it would be feasible to proceed. A subscription drive was held: within weeks, $115,940 was raised from 835 subscribers, with an additional $20,000 raised during the following months.

On the eve of Passover, on April 12, 1900, a community meeting was convened in the vestry hall of Sinai Temple and the new philanthropy emerged, chartered as the Associated Jewish Charities. A report in the Chicago Tribune the next day announced the election of Edwin G. Foreman as president; Harry Hart, vice president; Isidore Baumgarth, treasurer; Julian W. Mack, secretary; and as directors, Edwin F. Meyer, Leon Mandel, A.W. Straus, A.G. Becker, L.B. Kuppenheimer, and Mrs. Hannah G. Solomon.

Agencies under the umbrella of the new organization were United Hebrew Charities, which included a relief department and bureaus of personal service and employment; Michael Reese Hospital and Lying-In Hospital and Dispensary on Maxwell Street; the Chicago Home for Jewish Orphans, the Home for Aged Jews, and the Jewish Training School, which had opened in 1890 to provide instruction in useful trades as well as academic subjects. As one of its first projects, the new organization established the Home for Jewish Friendless and Working Girls.

Hard times breed new needs, new challenges 

Times were difficult at the turn of the century. Life expectancy for men was about 50 years, and there were many orphans who had to be cared for by the Jewish community. A wave of strikes had led to mass unemployment, and the scourge of unemployment was to afflict one or more members of virtually every family in the West Side Jewish ghetto. These were the challenges facing the newly launched Associated Jewish Charities.

One imperative challenge was for the new organization to keep attuned to the times, to adapt to societal changes and needs throughout the years. As the community was to experience dramatic changes throughout the century, so, too, did the nature of Federation and its agencies evolve. Many names have changed, the numbers have fluctuated, and the needs that arose would be totally unrecognizable to the organization's founders. But what has remained constant is the nurturing, the commitment, and the dedication to helping the less fortunate.

Several new Jewish agencies were founded in the early years of this century, some within the umbrella of the Associated Jewish Charities; while others were to form, in 1911, the Federated Orthodox Jewish Charities of Chicago. Its affiliates included the Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged (BMZ), Marks Nathan Jewish Orphan Home, Maimonides Hospital, Jewish Consumptive Relief Society, Hebrew Sheltering Home, four Hebrew schools, and two burial societies. Within three years, financial crises precipitated the closing of Maimonides Hospital, and Mount Sinai Hospital later opened on that site in 1919. In 1917, the Aid Association for Incurable Orthodox Jews at Oak Forest was chartered.

Chicago's Jewish community again had competing appeals for the philanthropic dollar, although each of the two major groups had their own constituencies. The Associated beneficiaries were dominated largely by German Jews while the Orthodox institutions were largely supported by immigrants from Eastern Europe.

The '20s: community solidarity embraced 

The financial plight of the Federated Orthodox Charities led to calls for a merger with the Associated Jewish Charities. In 1922, a major step toward community solidarity took place at the Morrison Hotel, when representatives of the two groups met to explore the possibility of consolidation. Their deliberations resulted in the creation of a new organization, the Jewish Charities of Chicago. Julius Rosenwald, who had strongly advocated the merger for a decade, was elected as the first president of the Jewish Charities.

In 1949, the organization had a further name change to the Jewish Federation.

This pattern of reorganizations, consolidations, and name changes for constituent agencies continued through the years, as new services were added and others discontinued. Many of today's Federation affiliates and beneficiaries are linked directly to early founding agencies. For example, early in the century, there were five child-care agencies in the Jewish community, all operating independently. With the changing needs and philosophy of child care dictating new approaches, the Jewish Children's Bureau, with its various departments, emerged as the single affiliated agency in the Jewish community. Similarly, the Jewish Family and Community Service and Jewish Vocational Service were formed through consolidation and name changes.

The Chicago Hebrew Institute, created in 1903, became the Jewish People's Institute, which affiliated with the Jewish Charities in 1939, and became the Jewish Community Centers in 1946.

In the 1920s, concern for the quality of Jewish education gave impetus to the founding of the Board of Jewish Education, the College of Jewish Studies (now Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies) and the Hebrew Theological College. Several years later, the Associated Talmud Torahs was established.

Impact of world events 

Throughout the century, national and international events and crises were to have a heavy impact on the Chicago Jewish community.

During World War 1, thousands of Chicago Jews served in the U.S. armed forces, and many joined the Jewish Legion organized by the British. Meanwhile, the Chicago Jewish community was actively supporting the war effort through a variety of patriotic and relief efforts.

In Irving Cutler's "The Jews of Chicago," he details how the Jewish community raised millions of dollars for overseas war relief, especially for the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe who were caught in the war zone or suffered in its aftermath. Part of the relief money was distributed in Europe by the Joint Distribution Committee. Bernard Horwich and Judge Henry Fisher traveled to Europe to help organize JDC efforts, and Judge Hugo Pam went there as a representative of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

There was a respite, a period of progress and relative prosperity for the Jewish community during most of the 1920s. But then came the crash of 1929 and the years of the Depression that followed. Once again, a heavy burden was put upon the Jewish Charities and its agencies, particularly the Jewish Family and Community Service, then known as the Jewish Social Service Bureau.

Overwhelmed by demands for basic human needs, the Jewish Charities joined with other social agencies in securing aid from state funds and later in organizing a "Joint Emergency Fund." This experience helped Jewish Charities leadership play a major role in establishing the Community Fund of Chicago, now the United Way.

World War II and after 

As the American economy brightened, growing oppression in Europe presented new challenges. In 1935, Chicago Jewry conducted its first fund-raising drive to benefit endangered European Jews. A year later, the Jewish Welfare Fund of Chicago was organized as the community's conduit for overseas relief and rescue operations, and for the funding of Jewish education.

During World War II, some 45,000 Chicago-area Jews served in the U.S. armed forces, and nearly a thousand were killed in service. Many were awarded medals for their bravery and outstanding service.

Following the war, it was apparent that massive assistance would be needed to rehabilitate survivors of the death camps. The Jewish Welfare Fund conducted a major campaign to provide aid for Jews in Europe and for those in what was then Palestine. On the local front, a United Jewish Building Fund provided millions of dollars to help construct new buildings for Jewish Charities affiliate agencies.

In 1948, the fund-raising efforts of the Jewish Charities and Jewish Welfare Fund were merged into the Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA). The Charities (Federation) later conducted year-end deficit drives to help meet the costs of agency services.

That same year, the establishment of the State of Israel had profound impact on world Jewry. Chicago Jews shared in the joy of rebirth and began an unabated kinship with the people of Israel. Kin can have disagreements on divisive issues, but nevertheless, the "We Are One" concept has prevailed--through important financial support, political advocacy, Project Renewal efforts in underdeveloped areas, and the more recent Partnership 2000 project.

Federation growth and consolidation 

In the second half of this century, a number of new agencies came under Federation aegis, and other agencies launched innovative new programming, often jointly.

Prior to 1968, Federation affiliates emerged from early community organizations, which probably had seen name changes and philosophic revisions over the years. That year, however, Federation laid the groundwork for a new agency with the creation of the Gerontological Council, whose planning deliberations led to the creation of the Council for Jewish Elderly (CJE) in 1971. As the coordinating body for Federation programs for the aged, CJE has developed pioneering approaches to serving the needs of the growing elderly population.

Two significant consolidations were to affect the way funds are raised and allocated. In 1968, the separate campaigns of the CJA and Federation were replaced by the single annual campaign of the Jewish United Fund (JUF). Then, as JUF began raising more funds, at lower costs, the Federation and Welfare Fund began discussing a merger, which took place in 1974.

In addition to a broad array of new programs launched in the '70s and '80s, an important innovation was the combining of efforts and resources by several Federation agencies confronting new challenges. Three examples are the Response Center, serving teenagers; the Ezra program, responding to the needs of poor and near-poor Jews in Chicago; and Federation's Russian resettlement efforts. Federation's expertise in resettlement has led to its lead position in the Illinois Refugee Services Consortium. Two Federation overseas agencies, JDC and HIAS, have responded to vast needs involving the rescue and resettlement of Russian Jews as well as Ethiopians, Bosnians, and, more recently, Kosovar refugees.

Into the '90s: new strategies and programs 

Such changes in needs and services, so evident throughout the decades, have continued into the '90s. In the light of issues raised by the national Jewish Population Survey of 1990, Federation formed a task force to develop strategies for enhancing Jewish identity and continuity. With quality Jewish education so central to this issue, the Community Foundation for Jewish Education was established, with the support of area synagogue movements. And a number of programs have been launched to aid and encourage young people's trips to Israel. A century ago, the Jewish community was concerned with issues of physical survival. Today, its quest for spiritual survival is equally compelling.

Federation has been serving community needs in other new ways as well. These include priority grants to agencies, to encourage programming creativity; and establishment of a community service volunteer program, TOV. Community programming is also very much on the agenda of the JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council.

This remarkable array of services provided by Federation and its agencies has been made possible by the synergism of volunteers and staff and by the generosity of tens of thousands of community members. Federation has grown in this century from an initial subscription campaign of $136,000 to a 1998 achievement of $61.3 million, making Chicago only the second U.S. city to surpass $60 million in an annual campaign. In addition, government grants, a rapidly growing endowment (Continuity) fund, and the Continuum program will help ensure the vitality and service capability of the Federation and Jewish community as we move into the next century.

What's a hundredth birthday without a celebration? In January 2000, a centennial-year exhibit, "Shaping of a Jewish Community: The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago," will open at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. And throughout the year 2000 there will be many celebratory activities and events reaching and involving hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans. You're invited!

Harold Rosen served as Director of Communications and Associate Executive Director of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago from 1968-1992. Since then he has served as a consultant on special projects. 


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