Who We Are - History
The Fort Wayne Jewish Community
Beginning in the late 1700’s, Jewish fur traders lived in the Fort Wayne area. The first known Jewish resident was John Jacob Hayes, appointed by President James Monroe to serve as Indian Agent. He lived in Fort Wayne from 1820-1823.
Jewish immigrants from Germany began to arrive in Fort Wayne around 1830. They worked as peddlers, merchants and craftsmen. By 1848, there was a sufficient number of Jews to form the first Jewish congregation in Indiana, The Society for Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead. In 1861, the congregation changed its name to the Synagogue of Unity and Peace (Congregation Achduth Vesholom), affiliating with the Reform Movement in May 1874.
As the city grew, the Jews prospered and, by 1880 lived in comfortable homes on the near west side of the city close to the Temple. During the 1890’s, Jews immigrated to Fort Wayne from Russia, Poland, Romania, and other Eastern European countries. These Eastern European Jews formed the B’nai Israel Congregation. This group lived on the east side of the city near their synagogue. In 1912, Jews who had continued to flee the pogroms in their European homelands organized B’nai Jacob Synagogue. When B’nai Israel disbanded in 1936, some members affiliated with Congregation Achduth Vesholom and others joined the B’nai Jacob Synagogue, which became a Conservative congregation.
As in many other early Jewish communities, relations between the German Jews and Eastern European Jews was sometimes less than harmonious. With the formation of the Fort Wayne Jewish Federation, all community members had a conduit to work together for the betterment of the local and world-wide Jewish community.
Jews live throughout Fort Wayne, although the largest number live primarily in the Aboite township zip codes. Current population is approximately 450 family units.