In Turkey Leveraging-Partners for a Robust Nonsectarian Response

September 19, 2023


When the deadly earthquake struck in February 2023, JDC jumped into action — mobilizing to provide shelter for thousands, procure critically needed ambulances, supply tens of thousands of hot meals and warm blankets, and more.

Hakki and Yasemin Orhan were sleeping when they suddenly awoke to a terrible noise that sounded like it was coming from the depths of the earth itself.

“It was like Judgment Day,” Hakki recalled. “When the shaking stopped, we ran outside in our pajamas. I went back inside to grab some clothing for my wife and kids, but I didn’t dare stay for more than a moment — I wasn’t sure how long the walls would hold.”

Caught in Turkey’s devastating Feb. 2023 earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people and destroyed over 500,000 buildings, Yasemin and her children spent a month with distant relatives, packed into one small room shared with another family, with only a small stove to keep them all warm.

The Orhan family found shelter in JDC-provided housing after the earthquake.

Hakki slept in the car next to their house to keep their belongings safe from looters.

That’s when they heard about the possibility of short-term housing in a local hotel — part of JDC’s wide-reaching humanitarian response to the natural disaster.

“A month in a hotel? I felt lucky for the first time in my life,” Yasemin said. “After the earthquake, no one told us what we should do, but we knew we had to survive. If it wasn’t for the JDC project, I don’t know where we would have gone. You extended a helping hand, and now we no longer feel alone.”

JDC’s robust efforts have included providing shelter for more than 2,000 people in hotel rooms, tents, containers, and converted dormitories; procuring four ambulances, able to reach hundreds of thousands of people across southern Turkey; supplying tens of thousands of hot meals and more than 11,000 blankets; and supporting a pop-up store in Nurdağı that reached more than 3,000 children in just two days.

Many of the pillars of JDC’s response echo its expert interventions around the globe — with a focus on public health and women’s economic empowerment and an approach that doesn’t just concentrate on immediate relief but works to develop long-term solutions that will facilitate true recovery and rebuilding.

“Our team was on the ground less than 24 hours after the earthquake, and we knew we could help and make an impact,” said Avital Sandler-Loeff, director of JDC’s disaster response and international development programs. “We’re still there, and we’ll be there until we create sustainability, securing shelter and livelihood for people who’ve lost almost everything.”


Ceren Uğurluer, president of the Gaziantep-based Empati Social Responsibility and Education Association, said she was struck by the dedication and commitment of the JDC team, which began supporting her organization’s soup kitchen just days after the earthquake.

“JDC has a team that not only aims to bring aid to places, but also rolls up their sleeves and makes bread with us — their eyes fill with tears as they listen to you, always with sincerity,” she said. “This situation has shown us the power of cooperation between Turkish organizations who have a proven track record locally and international organizations whose reach and network can lead to very meaningful results.”

Sandler-Loeff said JDC helped source its network of local partners through the Turkish Jewish community, just as it’s done while responding to other disasters in the country over the past several decades.

JDC worked with local partners to feed tens of thousands of earthquake survivors.

Working with local Jewish communities is a hallmark of JDC’s non-sectarian initiatives globally, she added, citing a partnership with the South African Jewish community that’s been an important component of a beekeeping program there that seeks to create sustainable livelihoods for women in low income urban neighborhoods.

The organization also worked with the country’s Jewish community to evacuate a small group of elderly Jews from Antakya to safety in Istanbul, with JDC and its partners covering transportation and care costs. “It’s a privilege to be able to help, to do significant work and to do it as a Jewish woman,” Sandler-Loeff said.

“I take a lot of pride in our ability to move fast to create significant solutions that help people immediately, as well as interventions that will serve people impacted by this crisis long after buildings are rebuilt.”

For Hakki, who found shelter in JDC-supported housing, the impact of the organization’s intervention was more immediate and more primal.

“While everyone was looking for a roof over their heads, we had a safe and dry place to be together as a family,” he said. “That meant the world to us.”

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