INDIANAPOLIS, U.S. city in central Indiana. In the late 1960s the population of Indianapolis was over 600,000 and the Jewish community numbered about 10,000 (1968). The Jewish community, concentrated in the north-central area, was served by five synagogues. The Jewish population has remained surprisingly stable compared with the growth of the city, which now numbers 1,200,000.
The first-known Jewish settlers in Indianapolis were Moses Woolf, Alexander and Daniel Franco, who emigrated from London about 1850. The first congregation, which became the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, was founded in 1856, under Rabbi M. Berman. Funds from the Christian community helped equip the first synagogue, completed in 1868. Frederich Kneffler rose to the rank of major general, and is believed to have been the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the Civil War.
Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation (Reform), now one of the largest synagogues in the state, was the earliest congregation in Indianapolis, founded in 1856. Other synagogues of early Indianapolis history were formed by nationality groups: Shaare Tefila (about 1882), the "Polish Shul"; Knesses Israel (about 1883), the "Russian Shul"; and Ohev Zedeck (1884), the "Hungarian Shul." The United Hebrew Congregation was organized in 1904; Ezras Achim, the "Peddlers Shul," in 1910; the Central Hebrew Congregation in 1920; and Beth-El in 1921. In 1927, Beth-El, the Conservative congregation, merged with Ohev Zedeck to form Beth-El Zedeck (Reconstructionist / Conservative), one of the two largest synagogues in the state (*Milton Steinberg was its first rabbi). There are two Orthodox Congregations; Etz Chaim (Sephardic) and B'nai Torah, and Shaarey Tefilla (Conservative). Among the early leaders of the Indianapolis Jewish community were Rabbi Isaac Eli Neustadt, who founded the Jewish Educational Association (now the Bureau of Jewish Education) in 1910; Rabbi Morris Feuerlicht, who served the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation from 1904 to 1946; and G.A. Efroymson, the first president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis (formed 1905 under the name Jewish Federation of Indianapolis), one of the first such organizations in an intermediate-sized U.S. city. Gustave Efroymson not only served during the Federation's formative years (1905–1913), he guided the Indianapolis Jewish Community through the difficult years of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and the Great Depression, serving as Federation president, once again, from 1919 to 1934.
The Indianapolis Jewish community is served through 5 constituent agencies of the Jewish Federation: the Jewish Community Center; the Jewish Community Relations Council; the Bureau of Jewish Education; Hooverwood, a nursing home facility and Park Regency, an apartment complex for independent elderly. The Jacobs Home provides group living for developmentally challenged adults, and the Albert & Sara Reuben Elder Source program provides a wide range of services for older adults.
Jewish education is maintained by the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Hasten Hebrew Academy (a day school providing elementary and middle school education) and congregational religious schools. Hebrew language is taught in 2 suburban public high schools.
Most Federation agencies and Federation offices are housed on the Max and Mae Simon Jewish Community Campus, developed in 1997. The 38-acre campus is considered one of the outstanding Jewish campuses in the United States.
Indianapolis Jews exert a great deal of influence in civic, humanitarian, and cultural affairs in the city. The Indianapolis Symphony was founded by prominent Jews, and Jews continue to have leadership roles with the orchestra which had its origins at Kirshbaum Center, the Jewish Community Center of its time. Jews have been in the forefront of leadership of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Art Center, the Eiteljorg Museum of Western Art, the Indianapolis Opera and Ballet International.
In the past, Jews made their living primarily in retail, wholesale and service businesses, but today, more are in communications, property development, and the medical and legal professions.
Rabbis Dennis and Sandy Sasso of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck are the first married rabbinic couple in history. Rabbi Sandy Sasso was the first woman to be ordained by the Recontructionist movement. The Sassos have served as senior rabbis at Beth-El Zedeck since 1977.
The Jewish Federation receives excellent support from the community, enabling its agencies to provide a wide range of human services for every age. The Federation is proud of the fact that per capita giving to its annual campaign exceeds that of any Jewish community of any city in the country with a population of 10,000 or more. The Gene B. and Marilyn Glick and Jewish Federation Joint Endowment Fund for the Far Future will allow the Federation to meet changing needs when the fund reaches its fruition, when it is projected to reach $100,000,000. In addition, during 2005, the Federation's Centennial year, under the leadership of Charles A. Cohen, chair of the Endowment Initiative, the Federation achieved the goal of increasing its endowment fund by $50,000,000.