Philadelphia’s Jewish community is one of the oldest in North America. For more than a century, the Jewish Federation has been there to support that community by meeting urgent needs, responding to major events and strengthening Jewish traditions.
In the beginning
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was originally founded in 1901 as the Federation of Jewish Charities, which united nine agencies into a single combined effort to help Philadelphia’s Jewish community. Since then our reach has grown considerably as our range of services expanded to help support Jews throughout the Greater Philadelphia region, in Israel and around the world.
In Times of Greatest Need
During the Great Depression, the Federation of Jewish Charities joined with the non-sectarian Welfare Federation of Philadelphia (the precursor of the United Way) to help thousands suffering locally from hunger, poverty and despair. Philadelphia’s Allied Jewish Appeal was founded in 1938 as an overseas complement to the Federations’ efforts, funding rescue missions in the face of Nazi persecution. In 1957, the Federation of Jewish Charities and the Allied Jewish Appeal merged their 26 constituent agencies to become the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia, with a combined mission of supporting Jews locally and overseas.
Since then, through our annual campaign — now called the Jewish Community Fund — we raise millions of dollars each year to provide vital services and programs to the Jewish community. That includes proudly supporting the people of Israel, especially during times of most urgent need. In 1967, for example, we launched a special fundraising effort in response to the Six-Day War that Israel fought with Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria; we similarly leapt into action when Egypt and Syria jointly attacked in 1973, beginning the Yom Kippur War.
Evolving to Meet New Challenges
Through the decades, our Jewish Federation’s responsibilities have grown, positioning us as the region’s central convener, fundraiser and grant maker for the Jewish community. In 1990 our unique role as the region’s central Jewish communal non-profit became reflected in our new name: The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
In an ever-changing environment, we have stood ready to help Jews everywhere. Internationally, we helped Soviet Jews fleeing antisemitism to resettle in America. Locally, we have responded to the rise of food insecurity in our communities with our Mitzvah Food Program. For Israel’s 70th anniversary, we strengthened the connection between Greater Philadelphia and Israel through an entire year’s worth of local programming — and a historic joint mission to Israel with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
When antisemitism has reared its head, we have mobilized. In 2017, after Mt. Carmel cemetery was desecrated, our Stand Against Hate rally drew thousands of community members, many of whom also pitched in with our cemetery’s cleanup and restoration. And after the terrible 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, which claimed the lives of 11 Jews at worship, our Interfaith Vigil of Solidarity and Hope allowed us to draw strength from one another amid our grief.
We remain, as ever, dedicated to serving vulnerable populations, inspiring community engagement, and supporting Jewish life and learning — here in Greater Philadelphia, in Israel and around the world. Find out how you can help us Carry the Light by getting involved.