Our History

More than a century of generosity and impact

Over 150 years ago, Jews were among the settlers heeding the proverbial call of the 19th century to "Go West." Following the lure of the Gold Rush, they came to California and helped establish the community that eventually would grow to be San Francisco. Because of the hardships endured during that westward migration, however, these early pioneers were driven to establish a communal fund — eventually called the Eureka Benevolent Society — to help aid the sick and needy, assist in the resettlement of Jewish immigrants, provide widows and children with food and shelter, and pay burial costs when their husbands and fathers succumbed to the hardships of dangerous work and difficult living conditions.

With the Society as a starting point, San Francisco's growing Jewish community established a large number of social service agencies and, in 1910, the Federation of Jewish Charities was formed to direct a unified fundraising effort and to distribute the proceeds among programs serving the community. Eventually, the leaders of these agencies decided to centralize fundraising by combining agencies under one roof, and the Jewish Welfare Fund (JWF) was born. 

By 1980, the JWF was no longer dedicated to helping just the needy, eventually broadening and deepening its mission to fund Jewish education and culture and other Jewish identity-building programs. 

In 1981, the JWF changed its name to the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (the Federation) to better reflect its mission and the geographic area that it served. Its objectives included future planning and leadership development for the area, reaching as far south as Sunnyvale and as far north as Sonoma County. The Federation helped Jews and non-Jews alike through Jewish-sponsored service agencies providing shelter, clothing, food, medicine, and job training. 

The Federation continued as the Jewish community’s central fundraising and planning organization, assisting diverse beneficiary agencies in bringing social services, educational opportunities, and cultural and recreational events to the Bay Area.

In 1975, to help ensure the continuity and vitality of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish community, the Federation established the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

The Endowment Fund began as a small community fund to receive the bequests of donors, many of whom were assisted by the Federation’s beneficiary agencies. Today, the Fund is a key part of the Federation’s work, and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund manages some $1.6 billion in total assets. These funds have become a critical source of financial support for projects throughout the Bay Area Jewish and general community. The Endowment Fund provides support for emergency needs and seed-funds new projects posing creative, thoughtful solutions to communal problems locally, in Israel, and around the world. 

Individual donors and families can easily partner with the Federation through the many planned giving options it offers. Together with the Federation, these philanthropically minded individuals can join in the effort to address today’s most pressing needs while preparing for tomorrow’s challenges.

History of the JCF from Jewish Community Federation on Vimeo.