photo: Holli Rafkin-Sax, taken on a 2016 JDC Ambassadors Photography Mission to Israel
A few personal remarks on my introduction to JDC and what it means to me
My route to JDC was less direct than others I assume. I came from a very reform Jewish family in Boston area where history and tradition were important but we were not very observant. In fact, we went to temple two times a year max, for the high holidays and that was that. This was my way of saying, I wasn’t looking for a Jewish organization to embrace.
As an adult, I spent 30 years in the corporate world engaged in crisis management and crisis communications work for governments, corporations, multinational organizations and CEOs. When there was trouble — a hostile takeover attempt, a consumer product issue, 9/11 terrorist attack, I was called. I loved the intensity, the intellectual challenge, the urgency and the strategic impact of the work. However, I always said if I left the business world I would focus on a long time passion of mine, photography and would try to give back and apply my skills to organizations I cared about.
Well we sold the company about 6 years ago and it was a happy and lucky coincidence that I was introduced to Gideon Herscher and JDC at that particular time. I had no real connection with the organization, in fact I wasn’t familiar with it at all. But Gideon was dynamic, inspiring and compelling and launching a new program called Interface that focused on humanitarian aid and disaster relief and involved travel and an exploration of strategic philanthropy.
I was all in. I saw Gideon and other JDC staff parachuted into hot spots and crisis situations around the world — in Haiti, in the Philippines, in Nepal, in Rwanda, in Ukraine and they were responsible to make things happen. To bring best practices together and partner with various organizations. To coordinate a strategic response to a disaster. To teach and empower local groups so they could ultimately assume responsibility themselves in a sustainable way.
It was the perfect gateway to a second chapter for me – I had the privilege to travel to the most extraordinary places, to see firsthand what life was like on the ground for less fortunate and vulnerable people, to meet the JDC staff, many of whom are unsung heroes who work day in and day out making people’s lives a little better. And JDC afforded me the gift of time to explore, to challenge and to learn how to be an active participant in my own philanthropic endeavors.
I saw the crisis management skills I knew so well applied to humanitarian crisis and disaster relief, all informed by the Jewish narrative and values. It spoke to me in a very profound way. The JDC has opened new windows, doors and worlds to me. As a photographer I feel a great responsibility to share my learnings, my images and our people’s stories with others. Each person we meet in our travels, each story we hear, each situation we witness changes us and sustains and emboldens our mission. All this compels us to ask ‘What is our personal and collective responsibility? What is our obligation to others? And what is our commitment to tikkun olam?’