Bureau of Jewish Education: History

The Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) was founded in 1910 as the central agency for Jewish education in Central Indiana. The dream for a communal Hebrew school came from BJE founder Rabbi Isaac E. Neustadt (left), a Lithuanian-born Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Neustadt began raising funds for the United Hebrew Schools in 1905, and classes were first held on November 12, 1911. Rabbi Neustadt envisioned a Hebrew school that would utilize the latest techniques in Hebrew education and provide Hebrew education to all students in the city. In 1913, the United Hebrew Schools changed its name to recognize the death of its founder and became the Rabbi Neustadt United Hebrew School.


Throughout the 1920s, the educational needs of the Jewish community evolved. Community leaders quickly realized the need for a more expansive program, particularly to serve its youngest children. In 1923, the Rabbi Neustadt United Hebrew School offered its initial Early Childhood classes, becoming the first Jewish early childhood program in the city. By 1924, there were morning early childhood classes, afternoon Hebrew classes for pre-bar and bat mitzvah candidates, high school education, teacher training for the synagogues, and support for congregation-based programs throughout the state. The Rabbi Neustadt United Hebrew School was then renamed once more to the Jewish Educational Association (JEA) in an effort to reflect the growing national movement of community-based central Jewish education agencies.


As the Indianapolis Jewish community continued to grow, many people began migrating to the north side of the city. Recognizing the need to relocate with the Jewish families, the JEA Women's Auxiliary initiated a fundraising campaign to purchase land on Hoover Road and build a modern teaching facility. The current building on Hoover Road is the result of their dedication.


Through the support of the Jewish Federation and the JEA Auxiliary, the JEA housed one of the first language labs in the state, adopted an experimental curriculum (focused on modern Hebrew language and conversational Hebrew, in an effort to consistenly align with current teaching methods), and continued to expand its services. Once again recognizing a need, the JEA Auxiliary built a library, for which they purchased books, paid for a professional librarian, and maintained its collections, which quickly became one of the largest collections of Jewish titles and authors in Indiana. Through the generosity of the Domont family, three generations of Indianapolis Jewish high school students received funding for study trips to Israel, recognizing the need to make Hebrew come alive. In the 1960s, the same concept led to a tradition of afternoon Hebrew school students spending weekends at Goldman Union Camp Institute, speaking and living the Hebrew language.


Nationally, educational associations were modernizing their titles to reflect the breadth and scope of their work. In 1980, the JEA became the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), and would remain so until the dissolution of the organization as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2018, at which point the BJE became a dedicated committee within the structure of the Jewish Federation.