The first Jews came to Madison - then a village of 2,300 - in the early 1850s. Seventeen Jewish families formed the city's first synagogue, known as Shaarei Shamayim, Gates of Heaven in 1856. With the wave of new immigration from eastern Europe, new congregations and organizations appeared in Madison: Hadassah, the Council of Jewish Women, the Workmen's Circle, and the UW Hillel Foundation - the second in the nation - founded here in 1924.
In the 1930s, seeking to bring some unity and cooperation to local synagogues and organizations, volunteers formed the "Jewish Central Committee of Madison," conducting the committee's business out of their own homes and offices.
By 1940, displaced European Jews clearly needed assistance. Offering such assistance and support required a more formal central structure. On May 10, 1940, the "Madison Jewish Welfare Fund," the forerunner of today's Jewish Federation of Madison, was created.
The "Welfare Fund" worked in the Jewish community to raise money for Jews overseas and for the growing immigrant population coming to Madison as refugees from Hitler's Europe. In addition, at the request of the federal government, the Fund became the liaison to Jewish members of the United States armed forces stationed at Madison's Truax Field.
On April 14, 1948, the Madison Jewish Welfare Fund formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Wisconsin, citing as its purpose the coordination, consolidation and centralization of charitable, educational, and cultural fundraising activities in the Madison Jewish community. In 1950, its first full-time professional, Bert Jahr, came to work for the Welfare Fund.
Having at first devoted itself almost exclusively to fundraising, the Madison Jewish Welfare Fund evolved into a broader organization and eventually acknowledged its expanded role in 1974 by taking a new name: "The Madison Jewish Community Council."
While continuing its fundraising efforts, the Council began to provide services as well - a day camp for children, Camp Shalom, founded in 1954; social work services to senior adults and their families; a community newspaper, the Monthly Reporter, now called the Madison Jewish News (1969); the Hilde L. Mosse Gan HaYeled Preschool (1970); and the Midrasha Hebrew High School (1975), sponsored in cooperation with Beth Israel Center and Temple Beth El.
In 1978, Jewish Social Services was founded as a corporation separate from MJCC. Today, the Madison Jewish Community Council also provides support to Hillel, sponsors cultural events and community celebrations, and maintains the Community Relations Committee, a liaison between the local Jewish community and the larger population.
In 1995, Federation moved to its first permanent home, the Max Weinstein Jewish Community Building, named for one of the founders and past presidents of MJCC. In 1999, MJCC established the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Jewish Community Campus on a 154-acre site in the Town of Verona.
In 2009, the Madison Jewish Community Council changed its name once again to Jewish Federation of Madison. While we have always been a part of the Jewish Federation movement, this name change makes it clear as does our fresh and modern logo.
Through Federation, the Jewish community involves itself with the Jewish Federations of North America. Some funds contributed to Federation's annual fund raising campaign are allocated to the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the non-sectarian relief agency, and to the Jewish Agency for Israel for social welfare programs and refugee rescue and resettlement efforts in Israel.
Today the Madison Jewish community numbers more than 5,000 individuals (not including the estimated 5,000 students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus). The Madison Jewish community offers a full spectrum of Jewish experiences making Jewish life and living in "Jewish Madison" vibrant and meaningful.