Jewish associations with Indiana life began with a prerevolutionary land-development company in the northwest territory sponsored by several Jewish partners in the east. John Jacob Hays, who lived in Cahokia (now in Illinois), was U.S. collector of internal revenue for the Indian territory (1814–22) and Indian agent of Fort Wayne (1822).
, a descendant of the prominent Canadian family, settled in Vincennes in 1818. An attorney and friend of Henry Clay, he served five terms in the state legislature (1827–40), was speaker of the 25th general assembly, and was U.S. district attorney from 1830 to 1833. The first Jewish settlements were established in southern Indiana in the first half of the 19th century. The Gumberts family arrived in Evansville in 1837, followed by Isaac Heiman (1838) and his brothers a decade later. Adam Gimbel, who settled with his family in Vincennes, opened the first Gimbel Bros. store in that town in 1842; he was a member of the Vincennes city council (1842–66). By 1850 the Kuhn brothers had settled in Lafayette; in 1865 Abraham Kuhn joined in founding the investment firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Co. Achdut V'Shalom in Fort Wayne was the first congregation established in Indiana (1848). It was still serving the community in 1970; Frederick A. Doppelt (d. 1982) ministered to the congregation from 1940 to 1969. The second oldest synagogue in Indiana was organized in Lafayette in 1849. In 1853 a congregation was organized in Evansville; the first synagogue building was erected in 1865. By 1900, congregations were also established in Indianapolis (1856), Ligonier (1864), Peru (1870), Goshen (1878), Terre Haute (1890), and Logansport (1900).
In addition to Indianapolis (estimated Jewish pop. 10,000), the three largest Jewish communities in Indiana are Northwest Indiana (Gary, Hammond, Munster, and Merrillville (pop. approx. 2,000)), South Bend (approx. 1,850) and Ft. Wayne (approx. 900). Evansville's Jewish population is approximately 400.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Jewish population of Gary and Hammond moved to nearby Munster, Merrillville, and even as far as the state of Illinois. Federations of Gary and Hammond combined to form the Northwest Indiana Federation which serves all the Jewish communities in that area. In addition to Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne and South Bend have Federations.
In 1972 the Indiana Jewish Historical Society was organized to collect, preserve, and disseminate the story of the nearly 250 years of the Jewish presence in Indiana. The society has collected records of individuals, synagogues, and organizations that comprise the history of Jews throughout the state. The archive collection is housed at the Indiana History Center in Indianapolis (http://www.indianahistory.org/) which also has the historical records of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis. Jews have contributed significantly to local philanthropic and civic causes, and many Jews have held public office, including Stanley Miller, U.S. attorney for southern Indiana; George Rubin and Sidney Kramer, state senators; Dr. Milton Bankoff, consultant, Department of Health, Education and Welfare; and Saul Rabb, criminal court judge. Past officeholders include two Ligonier mayors, Sol Henoch (1917) and Simon Straus; and a mayor of Gary, A. Martin Katz (1964–67). Among the Indiana Jews who have held important offices in national service organizations are Rabbi Albert M. Schulman of South Bend, past national chaplain, American Legion; Julian Freeman of Indianapolis, president's conference of national Jewish organizations; and Mrs. Jack A. Goodman of Indianapolis, past president of the Women's Division, National Jewish Welfare Federations. The national and Indiana editions of the National Jewish Post and Opinion, an Anglo-Jewish weekly, are published in Indianapolis by Gabriel Cohen.
The Indiana Jewish Community Relations Council serves all communities in the state in the areas of public policy and intergroup relations.
The Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University was established in 1973 and is one of the largest Jewish studies programs in the country. Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld, who directed the Indiana University program for 30 years headed the Institute of Jewish Culture and the Arts established in 2004. A graduate curriculum in Jewish and Hebraic studies is also offered. The Borns Jewish Studies Program is considered a national model.
Jewish studies are also taught in Indiana at Earlham College (Quaker), Marian College (Catholic), Christian Theological Seminary (Protestant), DePauw University, Purdue University, and the University of Notre Dame (Catholic). Consequently, each of these cities is graced with fine Jewish scholars as well as Jewish programming. There are active Hillel chapters at Purdue, Indiana, and Butler Universities.
The Indiana University Press has been publishing books and journals of Jewish and Holocaust studies for over 30 years. The press publishes 4 to 6 new titles in Jewish studies each year and in the early 21st century over 100 such titles were in print. The IU Press also publishes six journals in Jewish studies. The richness of Jewish academia in what seems to be an improbable place continues to attract highly accomplished and recognized scholars to this Midwestern state.
Indiana became the second state in the U.S. to pass anti-BDS legislation in April 30, 2015, following the example set by Tennessee 19 days prior. The Indiana state legislature voted in approval of resolution 74, which “expresses opposition to the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel BDS movement.” The recent global increase in anti-Semitic sentiments and attitudes represents “an attack, not only on Jews, but on the fundamental principles of the United States,” according to the legislation.
As of 2013, Indiana's Jewish population was approximately 17,470 people