As Refugee Crisis Deepens, JDC Leads Jewish Response

November 10, 2015

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As the world grapples with the Syrian refugee and migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East, the JDC-convened Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief is on the forefront of the Jewish response.

William Recant, the assistant executive vice-president of JDC’s International Development Program, took the time to answer a few questions about the crisis — what’s been done so far and what’s next.

Q: What is JDC’s moral imperative in offering assistance?

A: The JDC has always responded during times of humanitarian crisis and disaster throughout our history. It’s part of the Jewish moral imperative to respond when you have the ability to. In this case, JDC — along with others in the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, made up of many organizations — has moved forward with the imperative.

Q: Why do you think Jews have responded to this crisis in such great numbers?

A: We know genocide. We know what it is to be a refugee and we have compassion and we’ve been taught to assist those in need. I’m proud to publicize the fact that the Jewish world has raised $1.25 million to date and already programmed nearly a million of it. The response has been immediate from the Jewish world, and as a faith-based group, we’ve been in the leadership of providing assistance.

Q: What do you think the most meaningful thing the coalition has done so far is?

A: It’s hard to pick one thing. In Jewish teaching, to save one life is to save an entire world. All of the projects we’re doing are important — providing food in a refugee camp in Jordan or providing psychosocial assistance to refugees coming through Europe or giving out school supplies to refugee children in Turkey. It’s even seeing a Syrian refugee who was always taught that Jews and Israel were the enemy and comes to the realization that everything he was taught was wrong as he’s receiving assistance from Israeli NGOs supported by the Joint.

Q: Tell me a little bit about Georgette Bennett, whose vision sparked this response. Why is her leadership so critical here?

A: It was Georgette who really sounded the alarm as to what the situation was and it was Georgette who first came to JDC and the Coalition to say this is a crisis of magnitude that requires action. It was her call that mobilized us to start working on the issue.

Q: To what extent has JDC been able to use tactics employed in other crises?

A: It’s a unique situation. It’s the largest refugee crisis since the World War II era. But we’re able to rely on programs and partnerships that have developed over the last 20 years to come up with models for assistance.

Q: What’s next?

A: There’s still a lot of work to be done with the communities that are on the move. It’s still unsettled and unknown where people will end up and when people will get there. The goal in the immediate term is still to provide direct services to refugees as they are migrating. What will come next is resettlement both in countries throughout Europe as well as those who will be brought to the United States. Jewish communities in Europe are working on the issues of resettlement in each one of their countries. And through the coalition, especially via HIAS, the resettlement of migrants to the United States will be put forth on the agenda in the coming months.

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