The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) — the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian organization — will kick off its 100th anniversary celebrations at a 2-day gathering in Washington, D.C. on December 9. The program includes remarks from Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew as well as a Capitol Hill reception and a Centennial dinner event hosted by CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer. The conference will highlight the group’s century of life-saving care and Jewish community building overseas as well as the challenges and opportunities for JDC’s work in the decades ahead.
Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are the Honorary Co-Chairs of the Congressional Host Committee for JDC’s 100th anniversary celebration. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) will provide remarks at the Capitol Hill Reception. Other attendees include members of Congress, administration officials, foreign dignitaries, Jewish leaders from North America and abroad, NGO partners, and hundreds of others. It will be followed by a year of centennial events including celebrations in Jerusalem, Paris, and an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society.
‘We are honored to be leading JDC during this upcoming centennial year and to celebrate this milestone with Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Lew, among so many other distinguished guests. Even as we recall JDC’s historic contribution to the Jewish people and to countless others over the last century, we are inspired and energized for what lies ahead in the next 100 years,’ said JDC President Penny Blumenstein and CEO Alan H. Gill. ‘Every day we put into action the timeless ideal that all Jews are responsible for one another. During our time in Washington, we will explore how today that mission continues to inspire new paths to Jewish identity, lifts the most vulnerable out of despair, and allows us to connect new generations of Jews eager to save lives and strengthen their communities.’
Active today in more than 70 countries, JDC provides a broad range of programs that are alleviating poverty among the neediest Jews in the former Soviet Union and economically strapped Jewish communities in Europe. The group also fosters innovative Jewish community programming and paths to self-expression from Argentina to Poland. In addition, JDC creates and scales pioneering, strategic solutions to Israel’s social challenges by working with its government to help the country’s most vulnerable citizens integrate, work, and succeed.
Additionally, JDC provides a Jewish response to disasters, wars, and humanitarian crises in places like Philippines, Haiti, Japan, and Ethiopia. As part of these efforts, JDC has established major humanitarian partnerships with a broad range of governments and NGOs, including the U.S. Department of State and USAID, the Government of Israel, IRC, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF, ProDev, Susan G. Komen, and the Clinton/Bush Tsunami Fund. The D.C. gathering will include speakers and sessions on the special role of JDC in addressing the broader challenges of international relief.
Along with the Board and a range of special invitees, the event will also feature participants from JDC Entwine, JDC’s movement of young Jewish leaders, influencers, and advocates. Entwine sends more than 500 young Jews a year overseas to contribute 100,000+ hours of service to both Jewish communities and others in need. Through nine Learning Networks across America and the UK run by Entwine service alumni, Entwine fosters meaningful, peer-to-peer learning, combined with socializing and networking, to educate young Jews about issues from Jewish Cuba to social innovation in Israel.
JDC’s centennial events are steered by an esteemed ad-hoc committee chaired by Andrew Tisch and leading members Nancy Grosfeld, Sam Pollack, Jerry Spitzer, Patricia Werthan Uhlmann, Caryn Wolf Wechsler, and Jane Weitzman.
‘For a century, JDC has been and continues to be a pillar of continuity and assure quality Jewish life around the world,’ said Tisch. ‘I’m incredibly proud to be a small part of its story and to lead the efforts to recognize and celebrate JDC’s historic milestone.’
JDC was founded in 1914 to aid distressed Jewish communities in Ottoman Palestine and Eastern Europe suffering as a result of the First World War. Over the decades, JDC has played a key role in the lives of many of the 20th century’s most important political and social leaders, creative giants, and other luminaries: Artist Marc Chagall worked at a JDC’s children’s home in Russia teaching children; JDC helped future Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin escape Nazi-occupied Poland; and the organization worked with Raoul Wallenberg to save the lives of thousands of Jews during the Second World War. After the war, Holocaust survivors Elie Wiesel and former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau were cared for by JDC in a children’s home in France.
Influential Americans like New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and entertainers Eddie Cantor, Edna Ferber, and Henry Fonda contributed to or helped promote JDC’s fundraisers. Scientist Albert Einstein took a strong leadership role in JDC’s efforts to save children from Europe during and after the Holocaust. Activists Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt visited JDC’s early work sites in Israel and famed conductor Leonard Bernstein gave concerts for Jewish Holocaust survivors in JDC-supported Displaced Persons Camps after WWII.
JDC also touched the lives of artist Peter Max, former Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal, fashion designer Ilie Wacs, novelist David Bezmozgis, and family therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer. These historical connections and JDC’s dramatic narrative will be recalled in a centennial volume, I Live. Send Help. 100 Years of Jewish history in images from the JDC Archives, which is due out in January 2014.
Over the past century, JDC has been a key player in the lives of Jews during some of history’s most tragic and meaningful moments: