Q&A with JDC CEO David Schizer
The mission is 102 years old, but it’s very simple to describe: We save Jewish lives and we build Jewish life. In so many places in the world, Jewish people are living in really difficult conditions. I’ve been to Ukraine, and I’ve met elderly people who live on pensions that are $2 a day, because the currency in Ukraine has declined so much in the last few years. These people depend on us to live meaningful lives, to be able to function. We also are so committed to the idea of helping Jewish communities become better organized, so they can provide for themselves.
Celebrating Chanukah with Ashalim and Better Together
Last week, Jews across the world came together to light candles and revel in the miracles of Chanukah. Different cultures even celebrated the holiday according to their own centuries-old traditions.
Across the State of Israel, Jewish communities began nurturing new Chanukah traditions, too.
With the help of JDC’s at-risk children and youth initiative, Ashalim, “Better Together” neighborhoods from Be’er Sheva to Kiryat Shmona celebrated Chanukah with a renewed commitment to bringing light back into their communities.
Better Together operates in Israel’s poorest neighborhoods to improve the quality of life for children and families.
This Chanukah, residents from apartment blocks across the Better Together neighborhood in Kiryat Shmona gathered in their courtyards to light candles, sing festive songs, and enjoy sufganiyot. Better Together in Kiryat Shmona has more than 3,800 participants involved in roughly 40 projects.
Community organizers purposefully lit menorahs near residential buildings; their goal was to bring light to families who were either not invited to a Chanukah celebration or might not feel safe enough to venture outside at night.
Take Marcel, a resident of Kiryat Shmona for more than three decades.
After her children moved from the city and her husband died, Marcel found it difficult to live alone, which in turn affected her health and quality of life. Last Chanukah, a few girls from her apartment block invited her downstairs to light the Chanukah candles together. At this small gathering, Marcel met the neighbors who would become her new family.
Since that evening, she has been an active volunteer, organizing activities for women and girls in the neighborhood.
She and a number of other women in the neighborhood heard from younger mothers about their difficulties raising teenage girls, and in turn began organizing mother-daughter activities at a neighborhood youth club. They also reached out to struggling single mothers from the former Soviet Union.
“For several years I lived in the dark,” Marcel said. “I did not see the ray of light and hope. But since the girls and their mothers arrived at the local youth club activities, my spirit has changed.”
In Be’er Sheva, the Better Together neighborhood Yud Alef held its own Chanukah celebrations. Throughout the neighborhood, residents blessed the holiday candles, enjoyed Chanukah treats, and organized children’s activities.
Ilana and her daughter Shachar, 8, residents of Yud Alef in Be’er Sheva, have felt the impact of their Better Together community. Shachar is involved in the Mishachkiya game room program, a creative play therapy outlet for families and their children. She basks in the warmth of her second family, eagerly awaiting each weekly meeting.
Better Together, one of Ashalim’s flagship programs, employs an innovative strategy to minimize systemic gaps among Israeli children and youth.
JDC-Ashalim, in partnership with local municipalities, identifies specific neighborhoods and seeks to give residents a voice in the decision-making process, strengthen the community’s belief in its own ability to change the situation, and train residents to carry out the change effectively.
Working closely with the municipality, the initiative leverages existing infrastructure, such as schools, community centers and public spaces, to empower the community members to take an active role in shaping the future of their neighborhood.
Programs range from specialized parenting groups (e.g. for single mothers, parents to teenagers, and parents of children with special needs) and after-school enrichment, to inter-neighborhood father-son soccer leagues and women’s cooking clubs.
Better Together helps to establish action committees, comprised of community members, municipal leaders, local service providers, and NGO representatives that aim to affect families’ quality of life. These include committees dedicated to updating and caring for communal urban green spaces, arranging neighborhood security, and implementing health-related programming.
Ashalim Director Dr. Rami Sulimani conceived of the Better Together program and has followed the growth of the program to some 40 neighborhoods.
He said the program gives neighborhood residents “the opportunity to express their voice, use their skills for the sake of their community and for their children.”
Dr. Sulimani said that when visiting Better Together communities, residents have thanked him for all that JDC has brought into their neighborhood.
“Thanks to the program, we’ve grown to become involved in serving the community,” they tell him. “We feel that we have the power to influence and make a difference in our lives, to live in a well-kept place and take responsibility for what is happening around us.”
Yehuda Zusman, Better Together’s Northern Region manager, said Chanukah ties in well to the larger goals of the neighborhood initiative.
“The core of the Chanukah narrative celebrates the triumph of light over darkness. And that is exactly what our Better Together neighborhoods are doing this Chanukah,” he said. “In a physical sense, they are honoring the mitzvah of candle lighting, and illuminating their homes, courtyards and public spaces. In a spiritual sense, the communities are taking the future of their neighborhoods into their own hands, in turn making their neighborhoods brighter places to live.”
Act Now: Jewish Response for Aleppo Evacuees
As the world is focused on the plight of those being evacuated from the besieged city of Aleppo, the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief (JCDR), chaired by JDC, has swiftly moved to meet the needs of these beleaguered civilians.
Facing overwhelming hardship, the evacuees are in desperate need of food, medicine, clean water, and shelter. JCDR is working with a vetted and longtime JDC partner on the ground, the International Blue Crescent, to ensure food for the growing evacuee population.
This is latest chapter in JCDR’s response to the largest refugee crisis since World War Two. The 20-member JCDR Coalition for Syrian Refugees, and JDC, have provided humanitarian relief to tens of thousands refugees and displaced persons in the last three years in Jordan, Turkey, and across Europe.
As Chanukah approaches, and we celebrate the miracle of light banishing darkness and hope in the face of great odds, .
JCDR’s decades-long efforts providing life-saving aid and critical support, on behalf of the Jewish people, has impacted countless numbers of people facing disaster and crisis in numerous countries, including Rwanda, Haiti, Nepal, and across South Asia.
Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugee members include:
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Jewish Federations of North America
Jewish Foundation for the Righteous
Jewish Labor Committee
JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago
Jewish Women International
Jewish World Watch
NESHAMA: ASSOCIATION OF JEWISH CHAPLAINS
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
World Jewish Congress
World Jewish Relief
JCDR’s work with refugees has also led to the founding of the , an interfaith movement dedicated to spreading awareness and advocating for the needs of Syrian refugee populations.
Experiencing the Flavor of Jewish Life with JDC
Different foods tell a myriad of stories through their ingredients and spices, bringing together Jewish people from around the world for generations through the joyful process of cooking and the shared eating of these dishes.
The JDC Symposium, an annual event organized by and with participation from was held at the Center for Jewish History in downtown New York City yesterday, drawing in over 100 attendees who were offered a taste of JDC’s world, through hearing about Jewish issues; exploring key parts of Jewish history like displaced persons (DP) camps; tracing their own family roots via the extensive collection; and exploring the intertwining of today’s Jewish food and culture through a special presentation called “The Flavor of Jewish life: an exploration of cooking, culture and community.”
“JDC has touched so many lives. One of the privileges of joining this organization is that people I have known for years have recently shared with me stories about family members saved by JDC. While this need for JDC’s help is in the past for some, it is a current reality for many, many people. Jews across the globe are facing extremely difficult challenges. Without JDC, living day to day just wouldn’t be possible,” said David Schizer, JDC’s CEO designate, in his opening remarks at the symposium.
Following was Anne-Claire Legendre, the new consul general of France in New York, who discussed the status of Jews in France in the face of anti-Semitism and terror. In addition, Atina Grossman, a professor of history at Cooper Union, showcased multiple photos within the JDC archives collection and illuminated the plight of Jews living in DP camps after the Holocaust.
In another session, highlighting the connection between food and culture, heritage and Jewish peoplehood, Danielle Rehfeld, chef and founder of , alongside Liz Rueven of , and Amir Shaviv, JDC’s assistant executive vice president for special operations, held a lively conversation on Jewish food and life in distant locations ranging from Hungary to Belarus to Iran, where JDC worked until 1979.
“In cooking, there is always something to learn. Through cooking with dynamic Jewish people, I hear the remarkable stories of their families, proving there is an amazing common humanity that we all share,” said Danielle Rehfield.
Danielle proceeded to recount a few stories she has heard on her Jewish food journey like Chef David Nayfeld’s family, who fled Minsk, Belarus among tens of thousands of Soviet Jewish emigres who received aid in the form of food, housing, clothing, medical care, English language classes, children’s and youth activities, and religious programs from JDC while awaiting immigration processing in Vienna and Rome in order to head to the U.S. and other countries.
As she spoke to David about his family’s miraculous story of survival, he and Danielle , a delicious Belarusian style pancake stuffed with chicken recipe that was originally developed by Neyfeld for The Inherited Plate.
Danielle also interviewed David’s mother Galina just this past weekend to hear her perspective on how the recipe originated and her personal account on her family’s history.
She said, “At that time in my life, it marked the first time ever that people like JDC were there to help me.”
Danielle Capalino and Shari Levy, members of both the JDC Board of Directors and the JDC Ambassadors Steering Committee, chaired the event, while Co-Chair of the JDC Ambassadors Steering Committee Ellie Block kicked off the symposium.
JDC FSU and Israel Departments Team Up to Promote Volunteerism
You might think JDC’s Former Soviet Union (FSU) department would have little in common with Ashalim, our partnership with the Government of Israel to address children and youth at risk.
At first glance, the two departments operate in different regions of the world and address the needs of distinct target populations.
But instead of viewing these differences as challenges to cooperation, JDC welcomes them, constantly seeking new opportunities to collaborate across the 70 countries in which we work.
That spirit was showcased by last month’s “First International FSU Volunteer Conference,” held in Chisinau, Moldova.
The event brought together more than 150 local community volunteers coordinators and volunteers from 35 communities across the FSU. Along with the critical input and participation of Ashalim professionals, it was a weekend of volunteer-based skills building and professional development, as well as coordinator training to engage, recruit, and mobilize volunteers.
JDC’s FSU team has invested efforts in strengthening and expanding volunteer activity and networks over the last several years. There are now , providing services to all age groups within the Jewish community, helping carry out community-wide events like holiday celebrations, and working to improve the broader society in the places where Jews live.
Ashalim’s Volunteer Area program was identified as a unique professional resource that could assist and support the volunteer expansion process. Since 2014, Ashalim Volunteer staff have led training programs tailored and adapted to the unique needs of Jewish communities in the FSU.
At the Chisinau conference, each delegation was encouraged to present their unique community volunteering projects at a volunteering fair. Participants had the opportunity to learn from their regional counterparts’ successful and original projects, and many said they would return home inspired to continue innovating their local volunteering initiatives.
Volunteer coordinators in the Jewish community of St. Petersburg organized “Living History,” a series of meetings between the elderly and young people. Senior citizens are given a meaningful chance to share their stories, and the next generation is able to learn about history with people who lived through it.
In Ukraine, volunteers initiated “To live — means to create,” where community members visit the Kiev Pediatric Oncological Center and spend a day interacting with the young cancer patients.
The Jewish community of Mogilev, Belarus brings Jewish theater into the lives of homebound Hesed social welfare center clients. Incorporating costumes, music, and poems, the shows — typically for just one or two viewers — are interactive, providing a much-needed source of entertainment and community belonging.
The conference was a chance to develop professional skills and meet peers engaged in the same kind of important work, said Alexandra Gorbatil, a volunteer coordinator from Moldova.
“The common discussions with coordinators and volunteers from other cities about problems they face with their volunteer projects helped me to find solutions to some of the problems that we were also facing, he said. “I was surprised how much we were all on the same page and could learn from one another.”
JDC-FSU Executive Director Michal Frank recognizes the wide-ranging benefits of community volunteering.
These volunteer networks “help meet community needs and at the same time develop a high sense of engagement within the volunteers themselves, leading directly to strengthening ties in the community,” she said.
The partnership between the FSU department and Ashalim was instrumental in developing the programming — a joint professional collaboration that involved adapting best practices from Ashalim to the realities in the FSU.
Ashalim Director of Knowledge Development Liora Arnon has worked closely with the FSU team for the past three years and was part of the team that developed the conference.
She said she’s grateful for the opportunity to work across departments.
“Sharing Ashalim’s knowledge and unique professional experience in volunteer management was a valuable professional opportunity for mutual learning and development,” she said. “The conference was an exciting opportunity for me to further learn from my colleagues on topics ranging from community development to cultural sensitivity.”
JDC Israel CEO Yossi Tamir also praised the collaboration.
“I see great importance in working shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues in the FSU to develop new programs and partnerships,” he said. “JDC Israel will continue to use its knowledge and expertise to the benefit of JDC globally, and in turn be enriched with the experience and knowledge other divisions can bring to JDC Israel.”
Tamir said the collaboration will continue with the opening of JDC’s Center for Learning early next year in Israel.
Carrying Ralph Goldman’s Legacy Forward
Hebrew University President Menahem Ben-Sasson and Israel Supreme Court Deputy President Eliyakim Rubinstein were among the distinguished guests today at the opening of the Ralph I. Goldman Center for Social Welfare, Ethics, and Judaism at the university’s Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, where Prof. Yedidiya Stern presented the opening lecture.
JDC Israel CEO Yossi Tamir headed a delegation of JDC professionals, who joined Goldman family members, friends, and a host of academics in this latest tribute to the legacy of Ralph Goldman, z”l, who passed away in October 2014, soon after celebrating his one-hundredth birthday.
An icon of international Jewish communal service, Ralph’s name was synonymous with JDC’s for over four decades. He served first as JDC’s Assoc. Director General in Israel and then as its Executive Vice President and Honorary Exec. Vice President, and he was still actively working on JDC’s behalf at his death.
Intensely interested in the interface between Jewish ethics and social welfare policies, Ralph himself laid the groundwork for this new Center. In 2008, with support from the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Fund, he collaborated with the Baerwald School to establish what has become an increasingly popular series of courses and student scholarship opportunities addressing this nexus.
It was an endeavor that continued a long-standing relationship between The Hebrew University and JDC, dating back to the establishment in 1958 of the social work school, named after Paul Baerwald, a founding member of the JDC, and the founding in 1971 of the Joseph J. Schwartz Training Center for Community Center Personnel, named after the JDC professional who led JDC’s response to WWII and the Shoah. [Learn more about JDC’s hallmark WWII-era activities at archives.JDC.org.]
Honoring Ralph’s legacy in a field so close to his heart, the eponymous Center will serve as a hub for groundbreaking academic explorations of this subject. It will offer graduate level courses, research groups, support for masters and doctoral studies, and opportunities for international collaboration and scholarly exchanges.
As JDC Executive Vice President Alan Gill reminds us, “Ralph lived his entire life in service to the Jewish People, and his greatest joy was to pass on his values to the next generation. This new center will do that and more–keeping his dreams, his vision, and his abiding sense of commitment alive for generations to come.”
Fires in Israel Draw JDC Response
As raging fires in Israel caused scores of injuries and widespread fear, the evacuation of more than 70,000, and the destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses, JDC mobilized its Israel emergency response system and wide-ranging network of government of Israel, local municipality, and NGO partners to assess needs and ensure the most vulnerable Israelis aided by JDC are safe and cared.We remain proud of Israel’s stalwart response to this crisis, the aid offered by neighbors and other nations to fight the fires, and especially the outpouring of support by everyday Israelis for their fellow citizens facing so much loss. Included among those offering such help were Lev Echad – the leading national Israeli NGO providing volunteers that JDC has long supported – which deployed 100 volunteers in Haifa and a group of Arab and Jewish mayors from JDC’s Mayor’s Forum and from the Beit Ha’Kerem region in Israel’s north who rallied to host evacuated families, organize volunteers, and ensure various kinds of assistance.Reaffirming our support for those most in need in of critical services in times of crisis, we also activated our “Center for Independent Living” online platform for people with disabilities to receive real-time help around the clock. This web-based interactive portal of Israel Unlimited – the JDC partnership with the government of Israel and the Ruderman Family Foundation — is providing services, including support to calm concerns, and emergency information, for people with every kind of disability.
Additionally, the post-Second Lebanon War preparedness training and cooperative approach to responding to future disasters we promoted among Israel’s local emergency responders – firefighters, hospitals, police, and volunteers – has been effective years later during this crisis. The blazes were especially poignant for us at JDC as our staff, like their neighbors, were also impacted. Some, together with their families, were evacuated and we provided support on an individual basis to ensure their needs were met. Such efforts served as a reminder of the power of a caring community, whether professional or personal, when one is faced with extreme challenges. As Israel continues to fight the fires, and care for her citizens, we remain at the ready — standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity — to respond further, provide aid to the most vulnerable, and help strengthen Israel’s social fabric for the future and in the event of another unfortunate crisis.
2nd Annual European Jewish Resilience Conference Helps Strengthen Tenacious Jewish Communities
As European Jews continue to face challenges including terror attacks, growing nationalism, rising anti-Semitism, the Syrian refugee crisis, and complex socioeconomic challenges, JDC believes strengthening Jewish community resilience and planning for the future are key to ensuring thriving Jewish life across the continent.
That’s why dozens of leaders, experts, and professionals came together to further invest in Jewish life at the second annual European Jewish Resilience Conference, recently held over two days in Barcelona.
Last year’s inaugural JDC Resilience Conference paved the way for this year’s confab, which acts as a forum in which community leaders and others can join together to have robust conversations on not only the current challenges they face, but also specific ways to overcome them.
“In these frightening times, it is very reassuring to know that there are people who are thinking ahead and helping us plan for the future,” said Yariv Reisler, Chairman of the Irish Jewish Museum.
Themes of the conference included: developing relationships with local authorities and other faith communities; strategies and common dilemmas to improve media relations; and models and best practices related to security and preparedness.
Co-organized with the European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC) and the European Jewish Congress, and supported by UJA-Federation of New York, the event brought together attendees to learn about critical issues that will affect the future of Jewish community life in Europe. Despite rising tensions, most Jews in Europe are committed to a future there.
Keynote speakers like renowned historian and Paideia Director Fania Oz-Salzberger spoke about Judaism’s approach to resilience and community survival, while Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland highlighted extremist trends in Europe and a Jewish response to these movements.
“Resilience is not only about staying alive. It’s about asking, “Why is it worth it to be alive?,” Oz-Salzberger said.
The conference also included a conversation with Katharina von Schnurbein, who coordinates the European Union’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and a special panel discussion on French Jewry featuring Jewish leaders from France.
“I came into a room filled with strangers, but I felt that I was with family,” said Petra Kahn Nord, Secretary General of the Jewish Youth Union of Sweden. “We are all dealing with similar challenges and here we can really strengthen each other.”
Life is But a Dream at New Halom JCC in Kiev
Despite many ongoing challenges in Ukraine today, Jewish life is thriving.
Yesterday, Kiev’s Jewish community and JDC held a special dedication for the Halom Jewish Community Center (JCC) in a ceremony that highlights the incredible revitalization of Jewish life since the fall of Communism, and even in the face of the current crisis.
American, Israeli and German government officials attended, along with a Kiev municipal leader and Jewish leaders, as well as JDC President Stan Rabin, JDC CEO Alan H. Gill, JDC CEO designate David Schizer, JDC FSU Regional Director Michal Frank, and Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
In just two months of opening, the Center, a hub for Jewish cultural, educational, community, and social service programs and activities, has already seen 500 visitors and expects to see many more in the coming months.
The Halom JCC celebrates Jewish identity in every sense of the word, and the building, located in central Kiev, was designed to bring the broad swath of the city’s Jews together to create a self-sustainable Jewish community.
The name Halom, Hebrew for dream, and the logo for the facility were even chosen after a community-wide vote.
Multiple organizations and services are housed within the Center’s four floors that are spread over 17,000 square feet, such as Jewish Family Service (JFS), where at-risk families can access key resources they need, and a JDC office.
Also, displaced Jews who fled eastern Ukraine are better able to adjust to their new location as they engage in activities at the Halom JCC.
“The Halom JCC is like a dream. It is very bright and colorful, and already has children’s artwork proudly displayed in its entry way. We designed the furniture in different classrooms according to the ages of the students, so that it matches their exact height,” said Anna Bondar, Director of the Halom JCC. “It’s truly like a children’s paradise!”
The Center has activities for children including early childhood programs, baby and prenatal yoga, speech therapy, and mental health assistance; in addition to classes ranging from music and cooking to Hebrew and English language courses.
Additionally, the JCC-based Youth Club is the perfect place for teens to come together and bond with their peers while playing Xbox, cooking in their own kitchen, participating in a leadership-training program, Sunday school, cinema club, vocational assistance program, weekend camping experiences, or touring historic Jewish sites in Kiev.
JDC CEO Alan Gill noted in his remarks the importance of Halom, especially in the context of JDC’s work across Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, and below excerpts from the dedication ceremony yesterday:
“One the tremendous things we have achieved together here in Ukraine, and throughout the former Soviet Union, is the building or supporting of Jewish community centers which have become literal hubs of Jewish community life.
Across the FSU, we support dozens of JCCs, including in the major Ukrainian cities of Kharkov, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, and Zaporozhe.
The JCC model has served a particularly unique purpose in post-Soviet society, twinning an American Jewish community concept with the cherished and esteemed cultural and intellectual acumen of Jews in this region.
So alongside Shabbat and holiday celebrations, Hebrew and Yiddish classes, early childhood frameworks, teen and youth clubs, and sports, you find classical music concerts, book clubs, and discussion salons touching on all matters of history and the arts.
Serving as a nerve center for the community, our JCCs are often packed with those who are already invested in the community, those who are helping build it, and especially those just learning about their identity.
This has helped produce a vast and miraculous grassroots Jewish culture and thousands of self-identified Jews, doing things Jewish, on their terms.
That commitment to Jewish life and the Jewish world has been paired with another one of our Jewish values: caring for the needy among us.
Today, around Ukraine, we are working together to serve tens of thousands of poor Jews, both elderly and families in need. That work, which continues today given the numerous challenges facing our community’s most vulnerable members, is critical.
Not just because their need is dire, but because it is a measure of our success in working together to create Jewish communities that can provide for those who cannot care for themselves.
The Halom JCC takes a step forward in this direction, including for the first time ever in a fully integrated concept programs for children at risk and a club for the elderly.
Because these seniors and children are as much a part of the community as all others who partake in the JCC. They are our neighbors, friends, and even our family.
Without them, community is not complete. Halom would be incomplete.
I am so very proud that we have worked to ensure their inclusion and have built here in Kiev, a city I have visited many times, another institution to secure the Jewish future in Ukraine.”
Romania’s Bereshit Event Turns 13
“Imagine getting to meet with 400 Jews who we don’t get to see every day in a reunion that is positive and energizing,” said Luciana Friedman, President of the Jewish community in Timisoara, Romania.
“It’s a real learning experience and a unique opportunity!”
Luciana is one of hundreds of participants, representing 33 communities across Romania, who have gathered together for a multi-day celebration of Jewish culture, learning, and traditions at the 13th annual Bereshit event, serving as a special Bar Mitzvah for the seminar, in Tirgu Mures, Romania.
“This event brings Jews from across Romania for a weekend of learning and discovery. We have professors from Israel and Romania who come to teach Judaism in a way that is both interesting and accessible, and there are hundreds of people who are thirsty to learn and celebrate their Jewish identity,” said Israel Sabag, JDC director of Romania and the former Yugoslavia.
This weekend’s gathering is especially significant, as it marks 100 years of JDC’s work in Romania, including the founding of the Bereshit academic study event for the country’s Jewish community, and local Jewish Community Center (JCC) members.
At this seminar, the group is exploring the theme of tikkun olam – the Jewish concept of repairing the world – through dynamic, interactive activities highlighting Jewish values.
“It gives me an enriching opportunity to meet other members from other Jewish communities in Romania,” said another participant, Ivan Schnabel.
Attendees will also celebrate Shabbat and engage in text study and meaningful dialogue.
“This seminar is a beautiful celebration of Jewish knowledge,” said Zoya Shvartzman, part of the JDC Europe team. “This forum provides educational, spiritual, and social enrichment for a community that was shattered by the Holocaust and decades of Communism, giving individuals the opportunity to gather, engage in Jewish study and strengthen their connection to their Jewish heritage. It is a testament of the vibrancy and resilience of the Jewish community of Romania.”