Sparking Tikkun Olam with Global Jewish Communities

October 3, 2017


Before Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines in November 2013, the island nation’s small Jewish community of about 1,500 largely kept to itself.

But that all changed when JDC showed up to deliver critical post-disaster aid and help sustainably restore livelihoods and rebuild schools.

“Since JDC arrived, our community has radically transformed—we’ve found that by helping others, we not only help them but ourselves,” said Lee Blumenthal, president of the Manila-based Jewish Association of the Philippines. “It’s strengthened our community and opened the eyes of everyone, adults and children, to see that there is a world out there that lives differently from our own.”

Since the typhoon, the Jewish community has partnered its preschool with one in a hard-hit area and in February, it held a Shabbaton weekend at Mambusao Elementary, meeting local Filipino partners and participating in a tikkun olam social action project.

“Since JDC arrived, our community has radically
transformed—we’ve found that by helping others,
we not only help them but ourselves.”

Martin Fabraquel, Mambusao’s principal, said it would have been impossible for his community to rebuild the school—now also used as an evacuation site and multipurpose center— without the support of JDC and the local Jewish community.

“It’s those relationships that provide us with the strength to keep providing our children with the best education possible, no matter the situation,” he said. “Knowing there are people who care about our story restores our faith in humanity.”

The school now proudly displays Israeli flags in classrooms and corridors as a symbol of the strength of its bond with the Jewish people.

The first call JDC makes when responding to disasters is to local Jewish communities, said Orly Fruchter, JDC’s Philippines coordinator.

Engaging them in emergency relief and ongoing sustainability efforts is a key part of JDC’s international development work. In addition to the relationship in the Philippines, Jewish communities in Peru, Ecuador, and Macedonia were key pieces of JDC’s responses to those countries’ recent natural disasters.

JDC is committed to responding to emergencies on behalf of Jews worldwide, integrating best-in-class global, Israeli, and local expertise and providing opportunities for local partners to become empowered, too.

When it came to the Philippines, that process wasn’t just about the local Filipino educators and fishermen impacted by the typhoon—it was about Jewish community members ready to come into their own as neighbors, advocates, and volunteers.

“Reaching out to the Jewish Association of the Philippines enabled us to be more impactful together while also engaging in a mutual conversation about the Jewish values that drive our work, like tikkun olam,” she said. “When we called them, we not only reconnected with a community JDC had previously helped during World War II—we uncovered a community that had become disconnected from the global Jewish world.”

During the Holocaust, more than 1,000 Jews were issued rare travel visas to work in a Jewish family’s cigar factory in Manila—a joint initiative of JDC, the Frieder family, and the country’s then-president, Manuel Quezon.

For Blumenthal, it’s a profound honor for the Jewish community of the Philippines to continue its relationship with JDC—and to be able to distribute aid to its neighbors, not just receive it.

“JDC was there then and it is there now,” he said. “None of this would have been possible without them. Even if we had the will to help out locally, we didn’t have the knowledge of how to go about it. We learned that from JDC, and now we’re active partners in cultivating a Jewish response to disasters.”

Sign Up for JDC Voices Stories