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Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay records, 1881-1999

The Oakland Jewish Relief Federation was founded in 1918 in an attempt to centralize Jewish relief work in the East Bay. The organization later became the Jewish Welfare Federation (JWF) of Alameda County, the Jewish Welfare Federation of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, and finally the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

The roots of the JWF go back to the East Bay’s first Jewish relief effort, the Oakland Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded in 1862. In 1879, the Hebrew Benevolent Society merged with Oakland’s first synagogue, the First Hebrew Congregation. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, relief to needy Jews in the East Bay was primarily offered by the Daughters of Israel Relief Society, a group composed mainly of the wives of prominent First Hebrew Congregation members. In 1912, the growing needs of the immigrant Jewish community prompted the Daughters of Israel to establish the Fruit and Flower Mission to visit the sick and bring food baskets to the poor. These early relief efforts were relatively small in scope and had small annual budgets. Funds were raised from local balls, fairs and rummage sales. The Daughters of Israel destroyed its old records in order to avoid embarrassing Oakland families who had sought relief.

Other early Jewish relief organizations in the East Bay included the Free Loan Society, founded in 1900 to provide loans to immigrant Jews, and the Chevra Kadisha, established in 1883 to arrange free burials for indigent Jews.

As early as the turn of the twentieth century and especially after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, some Oakland Jews wondered about the ability of these small relief efforts to deal with the increasingly complex social welfare programs created by an influx of homeless Jews from the devastated city across the bay as well as immigrants from Eastern Europe. After World War I, leaders in the community decided to bring relief efforts under the central control of a professionally-run organization, the Jewish Welfare Federation. Its first meeting was held in April of 1919 at Temple Sinai (the recently constructed building of the First Hebrew Congregation). The first president of the Federation was Frederick Kahn, a prominent Oakland clothier. The Daughters of Israel and the Fruit and Flower Mission continued to provide their services, but now did so as divisions or constituent agencies of the Federation. These agencies were compelled to provide the Federation with regular reports, financial statements, and budget requests.

The establishment of the JWF in Oakland was part of a national trend to rationalize and centralize Jewish relief work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The earliest Federations were founded in Boston (1895) and Cleveland (1896). By 1945, more than 90% of Jewish communities had federations organizing social welfare work. Today, there are more than 200 federations across the United States.

In the early 1920s, funds for the JWF were provided by the Oakland Community Chest and donations from local families. The federation redistributed these funds to its divisions or constituent agencies, including a new Oakland Jewish Community Center (1924). Each division received about one-fifth of its annual budget from the JWF. Funds also went to national Jewish organizations, such as the Denver hospital for TB patients.

By the mid-1920s, however, restrictions on fund usage by the Oakland Community Chest and the proliferation of separate appeals for funds by individual Jewish organizations, prompted the federation to create on of the first Jewish Welfare Funds in the country. The Jewish Welfare Fund Board, established in 1926, was a constituent agency of the federation and charged with fundraising for local, national, and international Jewish social welfare needs. Starting in 1926, annual campaigns raised funds for the federation’s own agencies, as well as for the Jewish National Welfare Fund and eventually for the United Jewish Appeal (founded in 1939), an organization dedicated to providing relief for increasingly beleaguered Jews overseas.

By the 1930s, the JWF was dealing with a new influx of European refugees, who were fleeing the increasingly hostile environment produced by Hitler’s rise to power. To better provide help to these new families in finding jobs and homes, the federation created the Family Welfare Committee, a successor to the Daughters of Israel. In response to the threat of increasingly anti-semitism at home, the federation established the Jewish Community Relations Council to mediate relations between East Bay Jews and the non-Jewish community.

After World War II, the federation’s fundraising efforts kicked into high gear in an effort to provide relief for Jewish refugees in Europe and Palestine. Jewish fundraising reached new heights and the United Jewish Appeal became the preeminent Jewish organization in the country. More locally, the JWF entered into a period of new building in the early 1950s with the opening of the Home for Jewish Parents (1951) and plans for a new Jewish Community Center facility (which would open in 1958). In 1952, a new Jewish Family Service assumed the duties of the Family Welfare Committee in order to provide professional services to refugees in need of resettlement.

The 1960s witnessed the expansion of JWF services to the burgeoning suburbs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Jewish Family Service opened offices in Walnut Creek and Hayward in 1964 and 1965 respectively. By 1975, the JWF had located and purchased a facility for a new Contra Costa Jewish Community Center.

In the 1980s, the JWF of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties was renamed the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay. In 1996, the Jewish Family and Children’s Service (formerly Jewish Family Service) severed its links to the Jewish Federation and became a separately functioning entity dedicated to providing counseling, senior services and refugee resettlement.

The collection consists of the records of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay and its predecessor organizations. Included are administrative records, records of Special Projects, records of the various divisions of the Federation, and photographs. Among the administrative records are historical materials on the Federation, including an 1881 history of the Oakland Hebrew Benevolent Society; by-laws; files on anniversary celebrations; president and executive director speeches and reports; president and executive director correspondence; annual reports from 1927 to 1994; and minutes and proceedings of Federation meetings from 1925 to 1982. Special Projects documented in the collection include the following: the Jewish Population Census, Project Renewal, the Americanism Commission, Operation Exodus, the Judah L. Magnes Museum, and the Federation’s response to the Oakland Firestorm of 1991. Federation divisions represented in the collection include: the Jewish Welfare Fund; the Oakland Jewish Community Center; the Jewish Community Relations Council; the Jewish Education Council; the Women’s Division; the East Bay Armed Forces Committee; the Rummage Shop; Area Councils; the Jewish Family Service; the Jewish Observer; the Home for Jewish Parents, and the Endowment Foundation. The records of the Jewish Observer include copies of the Jewish Observer and its predecessor newspapers dating back to 1922 but mostly from the 1940s through the early 1980s. The records of the Jewish Welfare Fund concist mostly of yearly campaign files. These may include donation information as well as other campaign ephemera and publicity material (with particulalry interesting files from the years during and just preceding World War II). The records of the Jewish Family Service include a history of the division and some materials from its predecessor bodies, the Family Welfare Committee and the Daughters of Israel Relief Committee and Fruit and Flower Mission. The photographs in the collection consist mostly of images of individuals, annual meetings, and events from circa 1960-1980. There are, however, some early (circa 1920) photographs the the Federation building. There are also photographs and a photo album of activities and events at the Oakland Jewish Community Center from 1924 through 1942.


Jewish Federation of the East Bay (Oakland, Calif.)


19 cartons, 3 boxes, 7 oversize boxes, and 1 oversize folder (28.2 linear feet)

Collection #

BANC MSS 2010/739

Publication Date

December 7, 1881

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