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.

Jewish Philanthropy for the Next Generation.

The Federation’s population study confirmed that there is a sense of connection to a larger regional Jewish community, as opposed to one segregated by regions. In 2019, the East Bay Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay transferred its operations to the San Francisco-based Federation. This historical event will increase support for Jewish communal needs and better serve philanthropists throughout the Bay Area. Today, as part of a broader regional community, the Federation will help mobilize people, capital, and the community for greater impact. To help achieve this, the Federation launched its advisory practice, called Federation Philanthropy Partners, to provide customized advice, philanthropic education, and access to innovative funding opportunities, including impact investing.

Evolving to meet the community’s changing needs for the next 100 years.

For more than a century, the Federation has significantly shaped and strengthened this Jewish community and beyond. Today, our community’s needs have changed—as have our culture, our regions, and the world around us. The Federation has embarked upon a new strategic direction that aims to achieve more and better Jewish philanthropy, dramatically increase the number of young people engaged in Jewish life, and foster resilient and secure Jewish communities. These goals will help us meet today’s challenges while strengthening our Jewish communities for future generations to come.