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Jewish Federation of Arkansas (JFAR)

The Jewish Federation of Arkansas (JFAR) is one the 157 members of the Jewish Federations of North America and is the only one located in Arkansas. JFAR is a resource for Jews throughout the state and a means for educating non-Jews about Jewish religion and culture.

Efforts at consolidating the Jewish organizations of Arkansas began in the early 1930s. On April 24, 1932, approximately 300 Jews from around the state held a convention in Hot Springs (Garland County). There, the first association of Jewish congregations in Arkansas was formally created. It was called the Arkansas Jewish Assembly. The assembly was meant to promote the preservation of Jewish identity in Arkansas, holding yearly conventions at different sites throughout the state. Its two main goals were providing Jewish education for children and adults and reaching unorganized Jewish communities and isolated individuals. In 1938, Temple Israel in Jonesboro (Craighead County) joined the assembly, and the last of Arkansas’s unaffiliated Jews—those from the southeastern part of the state—coalesced as one community and joined the assembly in 1940. After the untimely death of assembly president Jack Botnick in May, there was no 1951 convention, and the organization ceased to exist. At this point, local federations and Jewish organizations began fulfilling the group’s past duties, such as tending to local Jewish congregations and coordinating fundraising efforts for Jewish and Israeli causes.

The local federation in Little Rock (Pulaski County) was known as the Jewish Welfare Agency (JWA). It was founded as a charity in 1912 and was first known as the Jewish Welfare Fund by World War II. In the mid-1970s, the JWA reorganized itself as the Jewish Federation of Little Rock. Due to its extensive regional influence and the concentration of Arkansas’s Jews in Little Rock (almost two-thirds in 2006), it later became the state federation (JFAR) during the presidency of Ariel Imber between 1988 and 1993. The JFAR office is located in Little Rock’s Pulaski Heights neighborhood.

JFAR provides a diverse array of social services. It provides emergency and temporary financial aid to Jewish families in need of assistance. JFAR provides partial scholarships for children to attend Jewish summer camps and offers financial assistance to families pursuing Jewish educational opportunities. JFAR raises money to endow an Israel emergency fund, which is an overseas allocation grant process. JFAR heads direct email and mail campaigns for special needs within Israel and works with Christians United for Israel (CUFI) to encourage Christian support of Israel through donations.

One of JFAR’s central social services is its commitment to Holocaust education. JFAR supports the Arkansas Holocaust Education Committee, the Knowing Our Past Foundation, and other programs that provide or support Holocaust education. JFAR also provides speakers and other resources for public school teachers to teach about the Holocaust.

JFAR also aids in the resettlement of Jews from other countries under the auspices of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. It helps these immigrants find and furnish homes and assists them with paperwork, social integration, and health insurance. JFAR has helped numerous families settle in Arkansas.

JFAR operates an annual Jewish Food Festival celebrating Jewish life in America and Arkansas. The festival takes place on an afternoon in mid-May in Little Rock’s downtown River Market district. Admission is free. Culinary offerings include traditional foods such as rugelach, strudel, hamantaschen, blintzes, latkes, and falafel. Regional Jewish musicians provide live entertainment, and festival goers can learn about and purchase items related to Judaism in Arkansas.

For additional information:
Jewish Federation of Arkansas. http://www.jewisharkansas.org (accessed August 2, 2017).

Jewish Federation of Arkansas Collection. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.

LeMaster, Carolyn Gray. A Corner of the Tapestry: A History of the Jewish Experience in Arkansas, 1820s–1990s. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

Michael Kaiser
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 8/2/2017

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