The first Jews arrived in Michigan not looking for religious freedom, but rather to expand their business interests, particularly in the fur trade. In 1762, Chapman Abraham, the first known Jew in Detroit, arrived from Montreal to sell his wares. As more Jewish immigrants came to Detroit, the ones already established provided aid through a number of different charitable organizations. In 1899, Rabbi Leo M. Franklin of Temple Beth El gathered representatives from the different associations and proposed a joint organization through which all the charitable work would be done. It was called the United Jewish Charities (UJC).
As the UJC expanded, it became necessary to find a home for its activities. In 1903, the Hannah Schloss Memorial Building was erected. At the Hannah Schloss, a wide variety of necessary services were provided to aid in adjustment and assimilation of immigrants, including English classes, medical care, and athletic and social programs.
By 1923, it was becoming apparent that the United Jewish Charities was too limited for the growing needs of Detroit’s Jewish population. A survey was conducted to weed out unnecessary services, merge overlapping ones, and point out new fields not yet explored. In 1926, the Jewish Welfare Federation (JWF) was formed to serve the Detroit Jewish community in three major areas: 1) central fund-raising for local, national and overseas agencies; 2) budgeting and allocations of funds raised; 3) coordinating and planning of functional programs of local social services. The UJC continued to exist as the property-holding corporation of the JWF.
Invitations to join the JWF were sent out and a number of organizations came under their umbrella. In the first Allied Jewish Campaign (1925), $150,400 was raised from a total of 2,794 pledges. During the Great Depression, campaign contributions diminished slightly, but JWF continued to aid the Jewish community by providing relief for the jobless.
During WWII, more than 10,000 Michigan Jewish men and women served in every branch of the U.S. armed forces. After the war, 3,500 Holocaust survivors made their home in Michigan, aided by the Resettlement Service. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was declared and 22,000 people celebrated at the Central High School sports field.
In 1951, a building in Detroit was purchased as the new home for the JWF, and named in memory of one of the community’s most prolific and influential leaders, Fred M. Butzel. Forty years later, the JWF moved to a new location in Bloomfield Hills, this time naming their home after another important community leader – Max M. Fisher. In addition to the move, the JWF elected to change its name to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. One year later, in 1992, the UJC, its ownership, management and investment arm, became the United Jewish Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit.
More than one-hundred years after Rabbi Franklin proposed the idea of a united organization, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit remains dedicated to serving the Jewish communities of Detroit, Israel, and beyond.