Founded in 1910, the Bureau of Jewish Education is the central agency for Jewish education in Central Indiana. The dream for a communal Hebrew School came from our founder, Rabbi I.E. Neustadt, 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 utilizing the latest techniques in Hebrew education and providing Hebrew education to all students in the city. To utilize the latest techniques, Rabbi Neustadt only hired certified teachers, a tradition that continues to this day. Today, the BJE is the oldest community afternoon Hebrew program in the United States.
In 1913, the United Hebrew Schools changed its name to recognize the death of its founder and became the Rabbi Neustadt United Hebrew School. Community leadership quickly realized the need for a more expansive program, particularly to serve the needs of the youngest children. Early Childhood classes were initially offered by the Rabbi Neustadt United Hebrew School in 1923, becomming the first Jewish early childhood program in the city.
Throughout the decades, the educational needs of the Jewish community evolved. By 1924, there were afternoon Hebrew classes for pre-bar and bat mitzvah candidates, high school education, early childhood classes in the mornings, teacher training for the synagogues, and support for congregational based programs throughout the state. The Jewish Educational Association (JEA) was the new name for the Rabbi Neustadt United Hebrew Schools in an effort to reflect the growing national movement of community based central Jewish education agencies.
The Jewish community continued to grow and relocate to the new Indianapolis northside. Recognizing the need to relocate with the Jewish families, the JEA Women’s Auxiliary initiated a fund raising campaign to purchase land on Hoover Road and build a modern teaching facility. The current building on Hoover Road was the result of their dedication. In an effort to consistently align with current teaching methods, the curriculum focused on Modern Hebrew language and conversational Hebrew. Through the support of the Federation and the Auxiliary, the JEA housed one of the first language labs in the State, adopted an experimental curriculum, and continued to expand its services. The Auxiliary again recognized the need for a library and built the JEA library – purchasing books, paying for a professional librarian, and maintaining its collections. Quickly, the library grew to 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. This same concept in the 1960’s began a tradition of afternoon Hebrew 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). Today, the BJE offers educational programs for students of all ages through formal and informal educational opportunities. From the Jewish Discovery Place to adult education classes, BJE programs enrich the lives and educational opportunities for the entire community. The Maurer Library serves as a community resource of Jewish educational materials in addition to holding the largest collection of Judaic books in Indiana. The William Nelson Media Center provides media based resources to Jewish, parochial, and public schools in the State. BJE classes and resources are available to members of the entire community, regardless of affiliation, and provide a pluralistic Jewish education for all those who wish to learn.