For thousands of years, the Jewish people have had a tradition of taking care of those in need. That tradition continues through the St. Paul Jewish Federation. Every day, our work is felt by millions both here in greater St. Paul and throughout the world.
Working with our beneficiary agencies Federation nurtures and educates our children, maintains and strengthens Jewish families, brings comfort and care to the elderly, and reinforces our connection to the worldwide Jewish community.
The first Jewish settlers began arriving in St. Paul in the 1840s. They arrived from England and Germany, and Georgia and Pennsylvania — diverse in language and traditions. In 1856, two years before Minnesota was granted statehood, eight families and several young men established Mount Zion Congregation.
Contrary to Jews in Europe, who generally heeded the biblical injunction against accepting aid from non-Jews unless it is unavoidable, St. Paul’s early Jewish pioneers redefined their relations with the greater community through philanthropy. Within the community, local Jews followed the Jewish precepts of giving tzedakah (charity) — a local journalist noted needy Jews as early as 1857.
Just as St. Paul’s Jews were finding ways to fit in with the greater community, an influx of refugees began arriving from Eastern Europe. Between 1880 and 1924, more than two million Jews immigrated to the United States and settled in established Jewish communities, many in cities on the East Coast. Again using “intergroup ventures in mutual assistance,” the St. Paul Jewish community received its newcomers in a manner similar to other communities around the country: they offered a plan for Americanization.
In response to the influx of new Jewish immigrants, the St. Paul Jewish community funded and staffed several mutual assistance programs to help the refugees in their transition to life in America. These programs included employment bureaus; a summer facility at White Bear Lake “for tired Jewish mothers and children” (Sophie Wirth Camp); at least one day nursery for Jewish mothers who worked; several general relief organizations; two neighborhood centers, Neighborhood House and Central Community House; and two agricultural colonies in North Dakota.
As new immigrants continued to settle in St. Paul, they formed new congregations, new organizations and new subgroups. They contributed to the long record of Jewish communal achievement, but lacked a common vision of Jewish communal life. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the number of Jewish organizations continued to rise, further complicating the process of unification. Groups became inefficient, and provided a duplication of services and multiple solicitations of funds. The founding of the Council of Jewish Social Agencies in 1932 is seen as the turning point. One of two parent organizations of the UJFC, the Council was formed by a conference of local Jewish leaders convened that same year by the Jewish Welfare Association (Jewish Charities of Saint Paul became the JWA in 1920).
Into the 1940s, the Council and the UJF worked together as independent organizations — the Council concentrated on programming, the UJF focused on funding. But problems arose. According to a 1943 report, “the present arrangement whereby the United Jewish Fund serves as the fund-raising and fund-distributing agency and the Council as clearing house for community problems, has not proved satisfactory…” Merger was proposed to improve the efficiency of both organizations and to symbolize the unity of the community. This merger provided St. Paul with a local federation, which joined a group of more than 50 other local federations throughout the United States. In 1969, a University of Minnesota study noted, “The United Jewish Fund and Council comes closest to being the central Jewish organization, probably having contact with more Jews than any other organization in the city.”
Currently, the St. Paul Jewish Federation supports Jews St. Paul and abroad through its partner agencies. The St. Paul Jewish Federation offers ways for community members to be involved with local activities, providing opportunities for young adults (including a separate group for Russian young adults), women, teens, and legal and medical professionals. Opportunities also exist to volunteer in a variety of local areas as well as participate on mission trips to Israel. Additionally, the St. Paul Jewish Federation funds scholarships and distributes emergency funding, as well as supporting shlicha (Israeli emissary), who serves to build connections between the local community and the Jewish state.