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JWB Jewish Chaplains Council® History

In 1917, on the cusp of America’s entry into World War I, the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) was formed to serve young Jewish service members entering the military. To this end, it developed a comprehensive infrastructure for attending to the welfare of all Jewish military personnel. It continued to serve Jewish Americans in the armed forces both at home and abroad after the war.

In 1921, JWB merged with the National Council of YMHAs and Kindred Associations, making JWB the national organization serving JCCs, Ys, and Jews in the U.S. military.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, JWB began to make recommendations to JCCs that would improve their function and stress unity, purpose, and service to the Jewish community. Focusing on Jewish summer camps, the needs of youth and the recreational and cultural aspirations of a primarily urban population, the organization founded a Lecture and Concert Bureau, offered training for camp counselors, implemented educational conferences and conventions, encouraged group insurance programs, and dedicated resources to assisting JCCs in finding qualified staff.

By 1939, JWB began preparing for the possible entry of the U.S. in the war in Europe. Within two years, JWB had field men working near U.S. training camps while commissioning new Jewish chaplains for the armed forces. In 1941, at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, JWB, along with the YMCA, the YWCA, the National Travelers Aid Association, the Salvation Army, and the National Catholic Community Service, created the United Service Organization for National Defense, to become more commonly known as the USO.

Throughout the war, JWB kept personnel records on Jewish troops, organized work related to the war effort, and continued to commission chaplains to serve U.S. military personnel. JWB also grew from representing 15 national Jewish organizations to representing 38 by the war’s end.

Following the war, newfound prosperity propelled many Jews to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. With more leisure time and disposable income, Jews sought recreational opportunities and other new pursuits. JCCs built large, modern facilities to serve the suburban populations. Among their many offerings were day camps, teen travel camps, fine and performing arts, early childhood education, athletics and sports, services for seniors, and informal education. Additionally, other organizations began to be housed within JCCs.

With the heightened pride in Israel and Judaism that followed the Six-Day War in 1967, JCCs flourished, hosting Jewish celebrations and cultural events, including book fairs, film festivals, communal Hanukkah parties, rallies for Soviet Jewry, and Israel Independence Day extravaganzas. Many JCCs also recruited Israeli shlichim (emissaries) and sent delegations on trips to Israel.

In 1982, JWB formed the Committee on Maximizing Jewish Education and Effectiveness (COMJEE). Led by the Mandel Commission, it was charged to explore the organization’s role in Jewish education. Together with COMJEE II, formed in 1995, the work of the two committees led the way for JCCs to promote Jewish education, which was reflected in adult education programs, staff training, and leadership development.

In 1990, JWB changed its name to Jewish Community Centers Association of North America to better reflect the agency’s evolved scope and mission.

Today, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council® remains a signature program of JCC Association of North America and an integral part of the organization’s history.