Our History Inspires Us
Our Mission is to serve the Jewish people- locally, in Israel and through the world - through coordinated fund raising, community wide programming, services, and education activities.
The roots of the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley date all the way back to the closing of World War II, when South Bend and Mishawaka Jewish leaders established the Jewish Community Council of St. Joseph County. As part of an emerging network of local Jewish federations in the United States and Canada, the Council’s mission was clear; to foster, promote and coordinate Jewish community activities and improve relationships between all colors, creeds and nationalities.
Throughout the next ten years, the Council proved its standing as a valuable community resource by successfully aiding Holocaust refugee immigrants, responding to incidents of anti-Semitism, promoting religious pluralism within the public schools, fostering Jewish educational programs, and sponsoring a variety of youth activities including Camp Ideal – a summer day camp for children designed to promote the values and ideals of the Jewish tradition. The Council also raised more than $2 million to help Israel house and feed the millions of Jews returning to the new Jewish homeland.
In 1978, the Jewish Community Council of St. Joseph County reorganized to form the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley. Originally established as an association of local Jewish community organizations – religious and secular – the new Federation was now an organization of individuals making annual contributions to the local Jewish Welfare Fund Campaign. The restructuring also expanded its geographic reach to include, not only South Bend and Mishawaka, but also Elkhart and Niles, all in the valley of the St. Joseph River. In 2007, the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley welcomed the Jewish communities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan under its umbrella.
Due to a declining and aging population, the demands of the Annual Campaign (formerly the Jewish Welfare Fund) increased, and the Federation began to struggle as a viable Jewish community resource. In order to attract new members and help the Federation grow, board members and participants soughtto better unify the Jewish community by developing and providing more visible community relations activities, cultural programs and services for seniors, young adults, and children.
Throughout the 1980's and into the 1990's, the Federation realized each of these goals through various achievements, including the Robert Simon Leadership Award, the Friendly Visitor Program, Volunteer Transportation program for seniors, Jewish Book Month Exhibitions at the South Bend Public and University of Notre Dame libraries, expansion of Camp Ideal staff and activities, the launching of Camp Shemesh for pre-school children, and meetings with area schools that led to the development of a special ethnic diversity curriculum based on the lessons of the Holocaust. Most significantly, as the former Soviet Union collapsed, we re-settled more than 200 Russian Jewish families within our Jewish community of St. Joseph Valley.
In the late 1990's, the Jewish Federation, which had been operating for decades out of several offices in downtown South Bend, celebrated a landmark expansion when Kurt and Tessye Simon donated $1 million to fund the construction of a centralized community center that would function as the official headquarters of the Jewish Community. In the fall of 2000, with the matched community contributions, the Federation opened the newly built Kurt and Tessye Simon Jewish Community Building on a 27-acre wooded campus off of McKinley Avenue in South Bend.
Today, the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley serves as the cultural epicenter for Jewish life in Michiana. Reaching more than 2,000 Jewish people in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties and southwest lower Michigan. The Federation continues "to serve the Jewish people – locally, in Israel, and throughout the world – through coordinated fund raising, community-wide programming, services, and educational activities."