9.23.16 Issue

Ozzie Nogg

Wherever and whenever Jews are in need, the Joint Distribution Committee will be there to offer them hope, for we are ‘One people, one heart…’

Use the word ‘joint’ around a certain age group, and you might get a nudge and a wink. But for people in an older demographic, the word ‘joint’ means the American Joint Distribution Committee, a non-sectarian emergency relief program that for over 100 years has been mobilizing resources and coordinating efforts to help victims of natural and man-made disasters.

The history of the Joint is the history of modern Jewish survival. The largest nonpolitical organization dedicated to helping Jews in distress all over the world, the Joint was founded in 1914 and, until 1931, was called the Joint Distribution Committee of the American Funds for Jewish War Sufferers. The original aim of the organization was to centralize allocations of aid to Jews adversely affected by World War l. In the fall of 1914, monies from JDC saved the Palestinian Jews – then under Turkish rule – from starvation. During WWll, funds from the JDC were smuggled to the Polish Jewish underground. After the War, the Joint’s retraining programs helped people in DP camps learn trades that would enable them to earn a living, while its cultural and religious activities helped re-establish Jewish life. In more recent years, the JDC brought Jews from Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Soviet Union to Israel where, today, JDC’s top priority is responding to the terrorism that threatens Israel’s existence.

“The Joint exemplifies that all Jews are responsible for one another,” said Julee Katzman, Jewish Federation of Omaha Special Projects Coordinator. “JDC has boots on the ground and knows where the vulnerable Jews are at any given moment, in Israel and in more than seventy other countries. They locate the poorest Jews in the world, the isolated elderly, at-risk families, Israel’s most disadvantaged children, immigrants and people with disabilities wherever they may be. The Joint finds its way to communities around the globe to rescue Jews in danger. To bring immediate relief — food, clothing, shelter, job opportunities — and help those communities and individuals build their future.”

The Jewish Federation of Omaha allocated about 27% of last year’s annual campaign toward Israel and Overseas causes. According to Steve Levinger, Jewish Federation of Omaha Chief Development Officer, “Most of this is allocated to the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to support their core funding of programs and services for our overseas partners, one of which is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. With their dedicated teams and through their social services, employment initiatives and emergency aid, JDC has touched millions of lives and renewed lost bonds to Jewish identity and Jewish culture. There are many heartwarming examples of how our Campaign dollars directly assist fellow Jews in vulnerable regions of the world”:

Today, Moishe House has an Omaha connection. Founded in 2006 in Oakland, CA, and fueled by enormous demand for peer-led, home-based programming from young adults and their Jewish communities, Moishe House has become the global leader of Jewish engagement for young adults, with outposts in 29 cities, including Beijing, Cape Town and Warsaw. “We have been working with Moishe House to launch a Moishe House Without Walls pilot program in Omaha,” said Nate Shapiro, JFO Director of Development. “This has truly been a collaborative effort with the synagogues and the Jewish Federation of Omaha. We have asked a small number of 22-32 year olds to attend a training session where we all learn how to host and organize events. Moishe House Without Walls will serve as a way to supplement already existing programming, while providing a framework for more organic Jewish community creation. In addition, this is a great opportunity to help create and engage the future leaders of our community.”

The reach of the Joint Distribution Committee extends beyond the global Jewish community by providing non-sectarian disaster relief and long-term development assistance worldwide: donations to UNICEF Haiti’s Child Protection sector and emergency appeal for Pakistan; ongoing humanitarian assistance to the crisis in Syria; providing potable drinking water, life-saving medical care and crucial education opportunities to people in Ethiopia, Tunisia and Morocco. “Bottom line,” Levinger said, “the Joint is often the first source of Jewish humanitarian assistance on the ground when disaster strikes. Wherever JDC works, it is viewed as a trusted partner to propel vulnerable Jewish and non-Jewish communities from dependency to self-sustainability. For those who struggle in desperate conditions, the Joint Distribution Committee provides a safety net.”

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is ranked #40 on the Forbes List of the Fifty Largest U.S. charities. JDC’s non-sectarian disaster relief programs are funded by special appeals of the Jewish Federations of North America and tens of thousands of individual donors to JDC.

• Reinvigorating European Jewry Through Camp: Camp Szarvas – JDC’s pioneering international Jewish summer camp operated in rural Hungary – is a chance to connect to Judaism and meet friends from around the world. A second home for about 1,300 children and teens from 20 different countires, Szarvas is a dynamic and vital part of the global Jewish revival through summer camp. Like many young Jews from Europe, David Csillik had his first Jewish experience at Szarvas. “The experience was fun and helped me explore my Jewish roots,” he says. After six years as a Szarvas counselor, David now feels empowered to stand at the vanguard of leaders building a positive identity for Hungarian Jewry. “JDC gave me the opportunity to see myself as a Jewish leader, a Jewish advocate, someone who is actually a representative of the community.”

            • Leading a Jewish Revolution in Cuba: The Cuban government may have tried to suppress religion, but they couldn’t suppress Monica del Pino’s Jewish soul. When the government eased religious restrictions in 1991, eight-year-old Monica jumped at the chance to enroll in Federation partner JDC’s newly-opened Sunday school. Since then, she has become a pillar of the community, working with JDC to revive Jewish communal life throughout the island. “JDC’s assistance has been very vital for the existence of Judaism here – and it keeps us optimistic about our future,” she says.

            • Support for Families With Special Needs: Bader’s 19-year-old son has problems with his hearing and vision and cognitive difficulties that make it challenging for him to navigate social situations. But Israel’s bureaucratic labyrinth made it difficult for Bader to procure the necessary treatments for his son. Then he learned about the Joint’s Tzamid Ramla program which brings together a diverse group of parents of children with special needs and provides guidance from social workers as well as the support and comfort of community. Bader says Tzamid helped him improve his relationship with his son, and now he’s eager to help spread the program to other cities in Israel. “There are so many people who can benefit from JDC support,” he says.

            • A Tale of Love and Darkness in Ukraine: When separatist forces entered Nikita’s small hometown in eastern Ukraine, he was forced to leave behind everything he knew, from Joint Distribution Committee community programs to his beloved fiancée. Five hundred miles away in Kiev, he found a home at the city’s Moishe House, a Federation-supported community hub for young Jews. Shortly after beginning his new life, he discovered his passion – police work. It’s a natural extension of the community work he loved so much before. Now, he hopes to help his country also begin again from the depths of crisis.