As financial conditions worsen for Greek Jews, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), through the support of the Jewish Federations of North America, is leading a growing group of global partners, including Lauder Foundation and Leichtag Family Foundation, to aid the financially-strapped Jewish community. Suffering under the weight of high unemployment, a loss of income, and new taxes, Jews are out of work and seeking assistance. In response, JDC has advocated for a pan-European and pan-Jewish response and has donated, to date, $330,000 for welfare and school scholarships to the Athens Jewish community, which has been the most hard hit. Additionally, JDC will be holding its European regional Gesher young leadership conference in Thessaloniki to ensure young Greek Jews can participate locally.
“As we did when the Argentine Jewish community was decimated by its country’s financial meltdown, JDC is at the forefront of efforts to help the Jewish community in Greece get through this extremely challenging time. In continuous consultation with JDC’s staff experts on community development and financial crisis response, JDC has been working with the local community and its partners to ensure Greece’s Jewish community, one of the oldest in the world, can continue to provide for its members in need and ensure Jewish life for all who seek it,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager.
Included in the consortium of Jewish organizations responding to the crisis have been the AJC, Claims Conference, and now the Jewish Agency for Israel and its partners Karen Hayesod and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Previous relief efforts in Argentina were generously funded by the Jewish Federation system.
“We welcome the decision by the Jewish Agency to join the group of global partners, led by JDC, that have already been working for months to help the Greek Jewish Community. Their generous donation builds upon our collective efforts and serves as a reminder of JDC’s abiding principle that all Jews are responsible for one another,” said Schwager.
JDC helped rebuild the Athens Jewish Community after World War II and left in the early 1950s as the community modernized and became self-sustaining. There is a plaque in the community headquarters today thanking JDC for supporting a medical program on the site in 1948. Similarly there is a plaque on the site of the Jewish school which was purchased by JDC in 1960 and donated to the community.
Although the Nazis murdered over 95 percent of the 70,000 Jews living in Greece during World War II, five thousand people remain,and the majority live in Athens with other communities in Thessaloniki and scattered communities throughout the country. The Athens community operates two synagogues, a day school for 150 children (an enrollment that represents 70 percent of the school-age Jewish population), a welfare program, an old age home, a JCC, a Holocaust memorial, and more.