A frail, 79-year-old woman named Rivka (Rosa) was huddled in her kitchen in Tskhinvali, a town virtually destroyed by ongoing attacks in Georgia and the South Ossetia region, when she was discovered by the staff of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a 94-year-old overseas humanitarian aid organization. Rivka had been sleeping in her kitchen, the only room in her house left in-tact. With proven expertise in providing emergency assistance during and after natural and man-made disasters, like the recent cyclone in Myanmar, the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, and the war in Kosovo, JDC was among the first organizations on the ground one day after the Russia–Georgia conflict erupted on August 7. JDC has since swiftly located victims throughout the region, providing critical aid such as water, food and medicines to Jews who remain in the affected region as well as shelter and trauma counseling to Jewish refugees who have fled to safer areas. This week, JDC also partnered with the Georgian Red Cross and MASHAV, the Center for International Development of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate a shipment of medical supplies to Georgia to assist non-Jewish victims.
“We will not rest until we have sought out and helped as many suffering people affected by this crisis as possible,” said Steve Schwager, Chief Executive Officer, JDC.
Immediately following the conflict’s outbreak, JDC mobilized by setting up command posts on the Russian and Georgian sides of the region. JDC relief workers, including senior representatives continue to coordinate and execute relief operations from the ground in Rostov and Vladikavkaz (Russia) and Tbilisi (Georgia), where JDC estimates that 300 Jews who are served by JDC on a regular basis have now fled.
In isolated areas that are increasingly difficult to enter, JDC has employed innovative means by which to provide aid. To help victims who have limited access to cash, JDC has enhanced its existing “Food Card” program, a debit-like card which enables thousands of needy elderly, children and families throughout the former Soviet Union and Georgia to purchase fresh groceries at their local supermarkets. Now called a “Smart Card,” the card’s reach in these hard hit regions has also been expanded to include the purchase of personal hygiene products, clothes and other basic necessities.
“It is critical that JDC serve all the Jews who are staying in remote cities and ensure that we reach as many Jews as possible with food and medicine,” said Shauli Dritter, Chief Operating Officer of JDC’s activities in the former Soviet Union. JDC is “the main Jewish address,” he added.
JDC has been operational in Georgia since 1988. Of the country’s estimated 10-12,000 Jews—many of whom live in extreme poverty—JDC today provides welfare and programs to nearly 3,000 elderly, families and children. Services include food programs, medical assistance, home care and social clubs as well as Jewish education, leadership training and the development of volunteerism efforts. JDC’s existing non-sectarian efforts include vocational training and counseling to Georgia’s internally displaced refugees and breast cancer awareness initiatives. In Russia and across the former Soviet Union, JDC has been helping over 170,000 elderly and some 28,000 impoverished children since the fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990’s.
JDC is accepting donations to help Georgian Jews in crisis. To donate, call 212.687.6200 or visitwww.JDC.org