who we are

Our History

The history of the JCC isn’t just about the 125-plus years we’ve served the Greater Milwaukee community or the 150 years of service throughout the national JCC movement. Our history dates back over 5,000 years – but it’s as much about tomorrow as it is about yesterday.

The JCC, as we know it, was founded by Lizzie Kander in 1895 in support of Milwaukee area immigrants. Originally called the Jewish Mission, it was funded in part by the proceeds of Kander’s “The Settlement Cookbook,” which was based on recipes that were used in cooking classes at the center. Since then, the JCC has worn a few names and seen a number of addresses. From our early days in the Abraham Lincoln House on 9th and Vine, to our mid-century home on North Prospect Avenue, our history is as diverse as the community we’re blessed to serve.

Today, we serve the entire community – through six sites across the state of Wisconsin and in 18 unique impact areas including fitness, early childhood education, arts & culture, camping, and adult programs. We strive to create a space in which we can find joy, understanding and inspiration in our Jewish values.



Lizzie Kander founds the Jewish Mission to aid immigrants. The Mission is housed in the vestry of Temple Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun at 10th and Cedar Street. Activities include sewing, cooking, manual work and “treats” for immigrant children.


The Jewish Mission coalesces with the Council of Jewish Women and the Sisterhood of Personal Service to form the Milwaukee Jewish Settlement. The Settlement rents a house on Fifth Street.


Lizzie Kander publishes The Settlement Cookbook, based upon recipes Kander and others used in cooking classes at the Mission.


The Settlement moves to a larger house.


The Settlement takes possession of the newly built Abraham Lincoln House, on Ninth and Vine Street, forerunner to the Jewish Community Center. Activities include classes in English, cooking, music, nutrition, as well as a host of social clubs which meet regularly in meeting rooms.


Proceeds from the sale of the Abraham Lincoln House and royalties from the Settlement Cookbook are used to buy the University High School at 1025 North Milwaukee Street and form the Jewish Center. The new Center is formally dedicated in March 1931. It offers a broad array of social, cultural and recreational activities for the entire community.


The Jewish Center becomes a Milwaukee Community Fund (United Way) beneficiary.


The Center officially changes its name to the Jewish Community Center.


A lakeside site at 1400 North Prospect Avenue is the new home of the Jewish Community Center. The move to the new location reflects the Jewish population’s shift out of Milwaukee’s inner city.


The Jewish Community Center acquires property near Eagle River, Wisconsin, and begins Camp Interlaken JCC summer resident camp.


The Jewish Community Center acquires property in Fredonia, Wisconsin and creates Camp JCC day camp.


The Jewish Community Center and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation Women’s Division open a food pantry in the City of Milwaukee.


The Jewish Community Center, continuing to follow the Jewish community’s shift to the suburbs, moves to its new quarters at the 28-acre Karl Campus in Whitefish Bay.


The opening of the Mequon Preschool at Beth El Ner Tamid Synagogue in Mequon, Wisconsin.


JCC purchases 73 acres of land in Mequon for potential future development of an outdoor Water Park/ Pool.

The Jewish Community Center officially changes its name to the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, a gift from the Harry Samson family.

The name of the camp in Fredonia, Wisconsin is officially named the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Camp, a gift from Albert & Ann Deshur


The Milwaukee Jewish Federation has a Capital Campaign for the Jewish Community Center to stay in Whitefish Bay.

The Daniel M. Soref Education and Retreat center at the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Camp is dedicated and opens a 21 guest room facility and bayit.


The name of the JCC Early Childhood department is renamed Gan Ami.


Gan Ami Whitefish Bay moves into a new expanded building on the Karl Campus with twelve new classrooms and atrium complete with aquarium.

Hy and Richard Smith Family Water Park opens in Mequon.

The Grand Opening of new facilities including the Marcus Pavilion, Daniel M. Soref Community Hall, the Guten Discovery Center, and CAFĀ B DATA.


J-Shore opens at Bayshore Town Center providing a new connection to the community with activities for young children and older adults


The Jewish Community Pantry opens in its new space at 29th and Center in Milwaukee to help provide food for those in need.


Gan Ami Mequon moves to their new home on Donges Bay Rd.


Milwaukee hosts the JCC Maccabi Games.


Gan Ami Mequon moves to their new home on Port Washington Rd


JCC closes all facilities March 15 in the interest of community health due to the Covid-19 pandemic and launches Beyond a Building programming utilizing online platforms and curbside pickups.

Jewish Community Pantry shifts quickly to outdoor, drive-up service.

Early childhood education and wellness facilities reopen in June. Student Center opens in Fall to provide virtual school support for member families.


JCC hosts Covid-19 vaccination clinics in partnership with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

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A black and white photo of the entrance to a building.