In 1914, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau sent a telegram to philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff asking for $50,000 to feed starving Jews in Palestine during World War I. Within one month, the money was raised through a collaboration of three American Jewish relief organizations, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was founded. This year marks JDC’s 95th anniversary of reaching out to Jewish communities and people in need worldwide.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is the largest international Jewish humanitarian aid organization in the world today. By partnering with local governments and organizations around the world, JDC is touching lives and transforming communities in over 70 countries through programs of rescue, relief, and Jewish community renewal; helping Israel address its most urgent social challenges; and delivering humanitarian relief on a non-sectarian basis.
“We’re thrilled to celebrate our 95-year history which serves as a solid foundation as we work to continue our enduring connections to the global Jewish family well into the future,” says Steven Schwager, CEO and Executive Vice President of JDC. “Through decades of experience and strong partnerships on the ground, we remain extremely proud of JDC’s efforts to intelligently leverage resources so funds have the furthest reach and impact.”
JDC’s mission is evident today in the former Soviet Union, where it provides critical assistance for elderly Jews, Holocaust survivors, and Jewish children at risk while facilitating the resurgence of Jewish community life. In Israel, which is at the core of Jewish life today and the home to the largest concentration of vulnerable Jews, JDC works with the country’s most needy populations—new immigrants, children and youth at risk, the disabled, the elderly, and the chronically unemployed—touching the lives of one out of every four people living in the Jewish state.
Throughout its 95-year history, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s work has spanned countries around the globe from Latin America to Asia. From its inception in 1914, when JDC was established to channel funds being raised to aid Jews in Europe and Palestine caught in the agony of World War I, the organization has played a critical role in the most pivotal events of the 20th and 21st centuries. In the 1920s, JDC-supported food supplements, medical care, kindergartens, and summer camps improved the well-being of tens of thousands of at-risk Jewish children. In addition, care was provided for orphans of war in Eastern Europe and Palestine.
Throughout its third decade, JDC’s focus was to support Jewish schools, welfare activities, emigration and retraining programs for German Jews impoverished by Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, JDC helped keep alive 630,000 Polish Jews in more than 400 cities and towns, and subsidized food, medical, educational, and cultural programs in the Warsaw Ghetto.
During World War II, JDC supported Jewish children in hiding, smuggled aid to Jewish prisoners in labor camps, and channeled funds to Jewish organizations in Poland and France, while continuing to help tens of thousands to escape from Europe. With unprecedented support from American Jewry, JDC played a important role in the organization of DP (Displaced Persons) camps, which by 1947 housed some 230,000 Jewish refugees.
In the early 1950s, JDC helped bring 440,000 Jews to Israel and assisted Israel in addressing the challenges posed by the influx of new immigrants. For Jewish communities remaining in Muslim countries in North Africa and Asia, JDC worked to combat malnutrition and disease, maintain Jewish school systems, and care for a disproportionate number of needy and elderly. In the 1960s, JDC became a catalyst for social service improvements in Israel and partnered with the Israeli government to help transform the quality of life for Israeli seniors. At the same time in Western Europe, JDC facilitated the rebuilding of Jewish communal life. Throughout the 1970s, JDC supported welfare and health care programs for thousands of aging Holocaust survivors in Romania, Yugoslavia and other parts of Europe.
In 1988, JDC leaders returned to the Soviet Union to establish contact with Jewish communities, shipped hundreds of thousands of religious and cultural items, and began a Jewish libraries initiative that ultimately supplied 1 million books. During the 1990s, JDC worked with partners to secure and organize the exit of Jews from Ethiopia,Yemen, and Syria. At the same time, as economic conditions deteriorated in the former Soviet Union (FSU), JDC assisted local communities to organize support programs for impoverished elderly Jews and founded a network of Hesed welfare centers that provided food packages, hot meals, home care and social and cultural activities to over 170,000 people throughout the region. In 1998, JDC partnered with UJA-Federation of New York and the Israeli government to establish Ashalim, developing programs for children and youth in Israel who were considered at risk of abuse and neglect.
Responding to renewed terrorist attacks in Israel beginning in 2000, JDC provided emergency assistance to tens of thousands of traumatized children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. In 2006, JDC served Israelis facing war in the north and recurrent rocket attacks in the Gaza border region. In its largest endeavor to date, JDC’s International Development Program (IDP) organized relief and development projects in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand following the December 2004 South Asia tsunami. Backed by over $19 million in contributions, the projects enabled affected communities to re-build. In addition, through a partnership with the Israeli government, JDC empowered Israelis who were not in the workforce to overcome obstacles to employment, allowing them to move from poverty to self-sufficiency. In 2008, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ)-JDC Partnership for Children in the Former Soviet Union, founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, provided food, medicine, shelter, clothing and social services responding to the unmet needs facing Jewish children and their families throughout the region.