Scope and Contents
This collection which spans 1939 to 2018 includes a 1939-1943 notebook from the Refugee Services Committee which assisted Jews fleeing the Nazi regime in WWII, as well as a variety of photographs of people and events from the Federation's activities in the 1980s. The addendum includes event programs, guides, and one VHS recording.
Biographical / Historical
The origins of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston date to 1936, when a committee led by Rebecca Nathan was charged by Houston Jewish communal leaders, including Joe Weingarten and Simon Sakowitz, to explore the establishment of an organization that would oversee Jewish philanthropic and social welfare activities in a centralized fashion. The first meeting of the Jewish Community Council was called by Max H. Nathan, Rebecca’s husband, in April 1936. Subsequently, in November of that year, Max Nathan was elected the first president of the Council, while M.M. (Mose) Feld became vice-president and Abram Geller served as secretary-treasurer. The Council acquired office space in the West building in downtown Houston, and in 1937, Jacob Lightman, previously with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, was hired as the organization’s first Executive Director. In 1977, the Council changed its name to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston.
The central mission of the organization in its early years was the United Jewish Campaign, an effort to unify the fundraising efforts of the Houston Jewish community and to raise funds for Jewish causes both at home and abroad. The resources of the Council were put to the test during the 1940s, when more than 400 Jewish refugees came to Houston fleeing Nazi persecution. A Refugee Services Committee was organized to assist these men and women with employment, housing, and other needs. The records of this committee are included in the collection.
In the decades since its founding, the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston has been engaged in advocacy on behalf of Israel, Jews in the former Soviet Union, and other international causes. Closer to home, the Federation supports a variety of community initiatives, from philanthropic gifts to Jewish education to senior care.
Notable executive directors who have guided the Federation include Hans Mayer, who served from 1977 to 1996, and Lee Wunsch, who served as President and CEO from 1999 to 2017. As of 2018, the President and CEO of the Federation is Avital Ingber.