The Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Western Kentucky is located at 3419 West Main Street, Belleville, IL 62226 and is comprised of approximately one thousand men, women and children scattered over an area in excess of 40,000 square miles in three states.
There are five functioning synagogues all of which are lay led or served by rabbis on a part-time basis. The religious schools are staffed by lay principals and lay teachers and there is no community center.
The Federation is truly, therefore, the central address for our Jewish community and provides a wide variety of Jewish services and programs for our members consistent with the logistical limitations which exist.
It’s our Federation: our past and our future
Jewish roots run deep in Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Western Kentucky. Jews came to this area in the late 1800’s from Europe. Many became merchants. The coal and oil industry attracted Jewish entrepreneurs. Jewish doctors, lawyers and teachers came to serve the needs of our small towns. University professors joined the staff at Southern Illinois University. As these men and women achieved success they became active members of their communities serving on school boards, chambers of commerce, and hospital boards. They were proud Americans. They were proud Jewish-Americans. They were the early leaders of our communities.
They established synagogues. They founded our Federation.
Synagogues thrived in Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Benton, Centralia, Alton, Belleville, Granite City, Cairo and East St. Louis. The Jewish community of Paducah has been in continuous existence for well over 150 years.
In 1941, Ben Frankel and others saw the need for what would become the Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois. Our leaders at that time saw the need to organize in order to do their part in rescuing and providing help to Jews fleeing the Holocaust. They also saw an opportunity to bring Jews dispersed throughout our area together under an umbrella organization. They saw that much could be done by combining in common cause for charity, for Jewish education, for support of the soon to be born State of Israel and other challenges.
In 1949, just a year after the founding of the State of Israel, The Federation created a summer program where Jewish boys could study together for their Bar Mitzvahs. Within two short years, this program began to flourish as a fully fledged, co-ed residential summer camp at Giant City Park.
Since that beginning Camp Ben Frankel has touched the lives of thousands of children with immersion in Jewish life through a unique combination of song, sports, religious observance, and the forging of lifelong friendships.
Today, we have evolved into The Jewish Federation of Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Western Kentucky. The challenges continue and our mission is vitally important. We enhance and support Jewish life in our communities; we fund and direct charity to our own communities, to Israel and to the greater Jewish world; we continue to run Camp Ben Frankel.
Of course, our Federation cares for its own members. When our members fall on hard times, we are there for them to lean on – from emergency loans and monetary gifts, to referral to counselors, doctors and nursing homes. We have answered the call for help with medical emergencies, funerals, divorce, and home fires. We are also there in times of celebration: for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs training, for officiating at baby namings, for Shabbat and Holiday celebrations and providing Rabbinical services.
The Federation helps foster ties of mutual respect and understanding with the greater community in which we live. The Ralph Anderson Interfaith Conversations in Carbondale is one example. We sponsor lectures and programs about the Holocaust, Israel, Judaism, anti-Semitism, bigotry and interfaith relations. We host speakers of international renown, including Jewish and Israeli politicians, artists, diplomats, educators, journalists and comedians who have entertained us, informed us and inspired us.
Bonds of friendship and collaboration among the members of our different communities are created and nurtured at Federation-sponsored Purim, Sukkot, Hannukah and Yom Haatzmaut celebrations. We organize and support missions to Israel. We also take our youth on special missions to places that will inspire and teach them about Israel and Jewish history and values.
It is the generous support of our members that allows the Federation to continue its mission.
As a tiny minority of our hometowns’ members we often have to work hard to connect with our Jewish history, heritage, culture, values and traditions. Our Federation helps each of us to imbue our lives with Jewish meaning.
Our Federation needs your financial support!
Our rescue and relief efforts, our social services, our educational and community relations programs—our enhancement of Jewish life cost money. Our Federation is supported entirely by your contributions. To continue The Federation must have your strong and committed financial support. This is not some abstract goal of a distant, national organization. The Federation is us, and it does so much to bring the Jews of Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri and Western Kentucky together for our common cause.
Those of us who have accepted the responsibility of conducting the annual and endowment campaigns sincerely hope you appreciate how important our Federation is to you, your family, and our community’s Jewish life. Be generous; be very generous in making your pledge.
Live Generously—It Does a World of Good