“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It’s an oft-stated, and sometimes overstated, axiom that, without real life examples, seems silly at best. But this week in New York City, a pair of decrepit eyeglasses – barely held together by wire, rubber bands, and string, with a prescription long past its usefulness – became emblematic of JDC’s presence in the lives of the Jewish people for the last century and for me, demonstrated our ability to forever change lives.
And, therefore, it is one of our treasures.
An artifact in the New-York Historical Society’s exhibit on JDC, which is open to the public through September 21, the glasses were worn by an elderly Russian Jewish man who could not afford to ever change the lenses, which would have cost him the equivalent of 6 cents. They were given to him on his demobilization from the Red Army in 1945 and it wasn’t until 1991 that JDC, having returned to the former Soviet Union, replaced them for him.
The eye glasses represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of keepsakes and everyday objects like a bar of soap with a JDC logo, long lost to history, that have found their place in the renowned museum’s celebration of JDC, which was covered by premier media outlets like the Associated Press.
And in a curious, but compelling call to action for those of us involved with JDC today, there are also dramatic posters, pocket-sized dime banks, and public service announcements urging the American public – including Jewish communities far and wide – to support JDC’s efforts for the last 100 years. Most poignant is a radio broadcast by celebrated performer Eddie Cantor pleading for funds to feed hungry Holocaust survivor children in DP camps.
Those last items speak not just to the philanthropic and humanitarian spirit of Jewish communities then, but also to our ongoing commitment to JDC’s mission now. From Ukraine – where the neediest Jews face increasing needs in a country in continuous unrest – to Hungary – where our international Jewish camp at Szarvas will celebrate its 25th summer of creating Jewish leaders for tomorrow – our work is more important than ever before.
And while many people wring their hands over shortages of philanthropic funds or lack of interest by the younger generation, I would argue that what is really missing today is inspiration. But in JDC’s work, there is no shortage of inspiration we can engender in people. And through JDC’s menu of impactful initiatives to educate and engage – which is growing all the time – I have met people all lit up about what we do to improve the world and to create a Jewish future shaped by mutually responsible Jewish communities, relying on one another for creativity and care.
Proof positive that young people, especially young Jews, care about the world around them and Jewish needs, JDC’s flagship Entwine initiative is a growing movement of young Jewish leaders, influencers, and advocates making a meaningful impact on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues. To date, Entwine has reached more than 12,000 young Jewish adults by connecting them to JDC’s work and has expanded its Learning Networks, by popular demand, to nine U.S. cities and the UK. Recently lauded by the Huffington Post for its overseas service opportunities, which draw more than 500 young people each year, Entwine is inculcating a sense of global Jewish responsibility and citizenship for an emerging generation who will lead the Jewish world in the years to come. And in a first for Entwine, they are expanding their reach exponentially and meeting young people where they are – on smartphones, by launching a web-based comedic film series on Jewish life around the world, Diaspora Diaries. You can watch and share the first installment here.
With the tagline “philanthropy that changes lives,” our Ambassadors program fosters meaningful connections to JDC through a multifaceted platform for learning and engagement. Ambassadors educational programs and symposia throughout America offer first-hand insight into JDC’s innovative solutions to Jewish issues and humanitarian needs around the globe; its Impact Networks offer opportunities for group learning and giving. Ambassadors travel opportunities provide access to Jewish community life in countries around the world by inviting Ambassadors into the homes and institutions of local Jewish community members. As Ambassador Steering Committee member Cheryl Fishbein wrote in her recent op-ed in the New York Jewish Week reflecting on a home visit during her Ambassadors excursion to Siberia, the notion that all Jews are responsible for one another, “was more than just words, it was a living legacy to all those Jews who came before us and were with us, at that moment….”
With an eye to engagement in the international Jewish arena, our Joint Australia effort, under the incredible leadership of JDC Board member and Joint Australia President Eva Fischl, has reconnected one of the world’s leading Diaspora Jewish communities to their history with JDC and with the needs of the Jewish world today. With Elie Wiesel as their patron, ongoing outreach to the Australian Jewish community with JDC staff expert visits, and an upcoming trip to India to explore JDC programs there, it’s a model we enthusiastically highlight.
And for those who wish to bring JDC to your synagogue community, our Rabbi and Synagogue Initiative is engaging rabbis, synagogues, and American Jews at large by featuring JDC’s critical role in reviving Jewish life and by connecting them to the global Jewish world.
Today we’re dispelling the notion that JDC is “the best-kept secret in the Jewish world.” And we will continue to succeed on that front with the support of these initiatives, our stellar Board which is deeply involved in all our efforts, and our Federation and other partners. Because at the heart of what we do, our moral compass so to speak, is our responsibility to all Jews, and all humankind, to create a better tomorrow.
In 1945, a Holocaust survivor named Luba Minze sent an urgent telegram to JDC from Warsaw. It was made up of four words: “I Live. Require Help.” Nearly 70 years later, that telegram is on display at the New-York Historical Society (and served as inspiration for the exhibit’s title), a testament to JDC’s simple role in the world: to help and to empower.
Though not glamorous or trendy, they are the simplest of human capacities. And we do it everyday, with 100 years of expertise, in more than 70 countries and Israel.
So spread the word. As you can see, you’ll be in good company.
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