Entwined: Me, Sabah and JDC
Growing up as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor always seemed normal. Just like the slight Polish accent I couldn’t detect or the fact that my 100-year-old grandfather exercised every morning, none of it seemed weird, special, or out of the ordinary. As I grew up I learned that my grandfather and his life were not normal or ordinary at all. Everyone didn’t have a Holocaust-surviving, money-donating, business-growing, daily-exercising, 17-grandchildren-loving, or book-writing grandfather, or Sabah as I called him.
My Sabah, William Ungar, also known as Wolf, was born 1913 in the small town of Krasne, Poland. He grew up in a big Jewish family and eventually became an engineering instructor at a technical high. In 1939 he was in the Polish army and was injured; after, he was kept on as an engineer instructor during the German occupation. During his time as an engineering instructor, his student Edward Wawer gave him false Aryan identification papers.
In line with history, as millions of Jews were rounded up, Sabah’s entire family – including his wife and baby son among them – were exterminated by the Nazis. Sabah hid in a barn and was then taken to a labor camp, Janowska. With a bit of luck and many coincidences, my Sabah was able to escape the camp by joining in line with a group of prisoners who were exiting the camp, forced to desecrate Jewish cemeteries. While at the cemetery he somehow managed to sneak away and hid under a bush until dark. After his escape from Janowska, Sabah was graciously hidden by a superintendent of a building that would soon be occupied by the Gestapo. Until the war ended, for 10 months straight, Sabah hid in the basement cellar of this building in a coal bin. My Sabah always used to say he survived the Holocaust with a bit of luck, his education, many coincidences, and faith in God. But this is where the real story of William Ungar begins.
In his memoir Destined to Live, he writes “Sam [his friend] put me in touch with the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish rescue organization based in America. One day a food package unexpectedly arrived from them, along with a questionnaire asking if I had any relatives in the United States.” After he survived this unthinkable nightmare, my Sabah was saved by none other than our JDC. Sabah goes on to explain how he made the dangerous journey to get on the first boat carrying survivors out of Europe,
“A few days later Manya [his niece and sole surviving relative] and I were on our way to Bremenhaven to sail on the SS Marine Flasher. We were among the first boatloads of Holocaust survivors to leave Europe for the United States….Before we boarded I bought a large round loaf of dark bread and hid it under my jacket…It was going to be a long trip, and I was determined to start my new life with body and soul intact. That life started on May 19, 1946.”
This new life that my Sabah speaks of was only made possible by JDC.
I always knew my Sabah was helped by a Jewish assistance organization but it was not until I started working at JDC did the fact that JDC helped him truly hit me – not only that, but I was able to find proof of the life-saving assistance JDC provided.
Just a few months ago, the same week I had accepted my job at JDC, I was helping my mom clean items from my grandparents’ house. Sitting on the floor going through a pile of trash, my mind wandered as I sorted recyclables. My thoughts drifted to my new job: What would it be like? Was it the right fit for me? How would this decision impact the rest of my life? I was mostly thinking of my grandparents and how I wished they could know of the job I had just accepted. Just at that moment, I picked up a booklet, almost throwing it out, and four capital letters on the front page caught my eye: A – J – D – C. As I looked closer I saw they read “American Joint Distribution Committee.” This was the title of this booklet, and underneath it read, “Operations in U.S. Zone Germany 1948.” My jaw dropped as I realized this booklet came from my Nana and Sabah’s house – and of course it did: They were highly involved in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry. I felt this was a message: My grandparents had found a way to convey to me their support and connection to my new job at JDC.
After bringing this booklet to the JDC Archives, I realized it was a piece of history JDC wanted but did not yet have. This led to me to search for my Sabah in the JDC Archives. To my shock, Linda Levi, Director of Global Archives at JDC, and I discovered a passenger list from the SS Marine Flasher, my Sabah’s life saver. Bringing in that booklet gave me the biggest present in return: my personal archives. Seeing my Sabah’s name “Ungar, Wolf” on the list truly shook me to my core. To have this piece of my family history, this evidence of the trials and tribulations he had gone through and the interconnectedness of the Jewish people is incredible. It’s not every day you come from work having just found a piece of your personal family history. Until I began working at JDC, I did not realize the critical lifesaving role the organization played in my grandfather’s life and hence in mine.
I am blessed to have connected the dots between the opportunity I currently have here and the opportunities afforded to my Sabah. This newfound family artifact touched my heart and my family’s heart. It brought me closer to my job and, ultimately, to my Sabah.
JDC gave me a piece of my family history – and at the end of the day, it’s the whole reason I’m standing here today.
Naomi Levin is a program specialist in Global Immersive Experiences at JDC Entwine.
World Humanitarian Summit Reflections
Sam Amiel, JDC’s Senior Program Director, International Development Program and Asia/Africa Region, discusses his participation in the first-ever UN World Humanitarian Summit, an event bringing together global organizations to share best practices related to improving humanitarian aid.
1. What was the significance for JDC of the first World Humanitarian Summit being held in Turkey, given our organization’s longstanding partnership with the Turkish Jewish community?
It was both symbolic that the first UN Humanitarian Summit was held in Istanbul, the city where JDC began its history and where one can still see our footprint in establishing many of the present community’s historical organizations. However, in the last few decades, Turkey is a country where JDC blends its Jewish community development work with our more universal work in disaster response assistance in times of emergency, whether an earthquake or the global refugee crisis.
2. What were the standout best practices shared during the summit related to humanitarian aid, and in particular, JDC’s work?
The summit was a great opportunity to be among policy makers, practitioners, and supporters of humanitarian work from across the globe. A special session on faith and humanitarian work featured the work of our partners Sarvodaya of Sri Lanka and CADENA of Mexico. JDC was also recognized as a leading faith-based humanitarian organization.
The issue of forced displacement/migrant and refugee assistance was prominent given the current high levels of refugee migration across theMiddle East and Europe.
Best practices in disaster response was of particular relevance to JDC and many other humanitarian groups and an innovation marketplace featured the latest technologies in humanitarian work and many new resources.
3. What are some of the key trends in the humanitarian aid space today?
The summit meant to foster the professional and moral thrust to the work we do around the globe as humanitarian actors, especially poignant for us as Jews who are eager to learn from and share with others our best practices.
Four trends, central to JDC’s operating philosophy, emerged:
The first was the importance of disaster risk reduction as a strategy for mitigating the affects of disasters. This is a part of every disaster response we lead and an area we are firmly committed to, working with communities to ensure they are prepared to take on the next crisis and disaster in an efficient way that empowers all community members to take part in relief and rebuilding.
Another trend, quite prominent, was that aid must be locally driven and we must listen more closely to those we are aiding. At the summit, several NGOs committed to ensuring that a percentage of their funds are channeled through local entities. This is critically important to JDC and since the vast majority of our projects are managed through partnerships with local entities and driven by local needs, we were happy to see this was high on the agenda.
The issue of inclusion of people with disabilities within humanitarian response was also highlighted. JDC, which works with people with disabilities across its global operations, especially in Israel, has been mindful to work this way. Our planning works to ensure that people with disabilities are part of the decision-making process for community managed disaster risk reduction.
Another major topic of conversation and plenaries was the failure of the humanitarian system to meet critical needs and the need to look at innovative financing mechanisms. Thisis exactly what JDC will achieve with our newest development program, Tikkun Olam Ventures (TOV), where philanthropic dollars will be leveraged to create social businesses in Africa that deploy Israeli technology to small holder poor farmers.
4. Of the relief efforts highlighted at the summit, what caught your attention/stood out?
The training efforts stood out to me. As the humanitarian field grows – with $25 billion a year being invested in humanitarian aid today – so too does the need to ensure that practitioners share best practices and training in relevant areas.
As JDC’s long-standing nonsectarian development program evolves to be more strategic and focused, in particular, on areas such as disaster response and disaster mitigation, we have great opportunities to be an active player in the international community of relief agencies and humanitarian organizations.
Of important note were African policy makers and practitioners who presented new initiatives related to critically important populations such as youth and women. A session on monitoring and evaluation highlighted the importance of transparency and professionalism in reporting, but also explored the tensions that appear between partners such as donors, service providers, and recipient groups.
A truly special moment for me was on the first day when Benjamin Laniado, the president of CADENA –the Mexican Jewish relief Agency and our new partner — spoke at the special session on “Faith and Humanitarian Aid.” Speaking in Spanish, he eloquently described to a room filled with senior clergy from across the globe how the deeply held Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah reinforced the global humanitarian principles being discussed at the summit.
Mr. Laniado and I took advantage of being in Istanbul together and met with the Istanbul Jewish community leadership to introduce them to CADENA and create bridges for sharing and Jewish connection.
I also enjoyed reconnecting with Muzaffer Bacca, president of the International Blue Crescent, a widely respected Muslim relief agency and long-standing partner of JDC in Turkey and the region.
5. What message was sent in JDC and other Jewish and Israeli groups being present at the summit?
Above all, it was a reminder that we are indeed global citizens and integral players in the vast and important system dedicated to serving humanity and alleviating suffering.
For us at JDC, it was another opportunity to be at the table with those groups we have long relationships with (and new groups we are becoming acquainted with), demonstrating our commitment to ensuring hope in places filled with despair, and our enthusiasm to deploy our expertise from Jewish and nonsectarian communities for the betterment of all humankind.
Many people call it tikkun olam. We say it’s all in day’s work.
Senior Program Director, International Development Program and Asia/Africa Region
On the Ground in Ecuador, Delivering Critical Aid
More than a week after the devastating earthquake in Ecuador, JDC and its partners are providing aid to hundreds of people, including food, water, medical equipment and supplies, water filters and purification tablets, solar panel lamps, and post-trauma kits for children.
JDC’s disaster relief expert and field medic Mike Attinson and JDC Latin America community development expert Viviana Bendersky are on the ground in Ecuador, coordinating JDC’s response. They wrote this reflection on conditions and relief work in the field.
Today was an opportunity to see some of the areas affected by the earthquake firsthand. We visited three towns — San Isidro, Canoa, and Jama, all in hard-hit Manibi province.
In San Isidro, we joined a massive aid distribution operation providing water and 800 food packages to scores of hungry townspeople. This critically important relief effort was organized and deployed by Johnny Czarninski, the president of Guayaquil’s Jewish community and a noted business leader.
In Jama and Canoa, the destruction was significant. I saw 90-year-old houses collapsed, and when I spoke to residents, the despair was clear. On one side-street, I met a mother who told us, with tears in her eyes, how her four children were killed. There is no doubt that the efforts of JDC and our partners help ensure these Ecuadoreans can pick up the pieces of their lives and rebuild.
Even Jama’s Catholic church was ravaged by the earthquake. The parish priest told me he and his staff are busy distributing food to residents in outlying hill villages. It was quite surreal for me to see rows of empty church benches laid out in orderly fashion on the street. The confessional was tucked in the shade a few yards away, waiting for parishioners who can only ask their god why he has brought them such chaos.
Every school we saw suffered significant structural damage. It’s doubtful that a number of them will see pupils in their rooms in the near future.
Shelter, livelihood, and education remain central issues and as we have learned in the past, require addressing shortly after the initial shock of the disaster has passed.
We were moved and saddened to see people standing along the signs holding up signs. They read Ayuda — “Help.”
There are too few social workers and psychologists to treat those here who are in need.
We’re proud at these moments to be a part of JDC, bringing a small degree of hope to those facing great odds.
NFTE Takes Bite Out Of Big Apple
Living in Jerusalem, 17-year-old Yaron Ohayon cares for his elderly father when he isn’t in school. Before enrolling in the Amal Lady Davis High School, Yaron dropped out of four other schools.
Inon Sabag, 15, also resides in Jerusalem and spends his evenings working at a grocery store; before ending up at the same high school as Yaron, he changed schools six times.
Born in Turkey, Lennon Sandak, 15, made aliyah with his mom to Israel but found it difficult to adjust to life in a new and unfamiliar country. He attended eight different schools before finding Amal Lady Davis.
Moshe Tayehu, 18, made aliyah to Israel nine years ago. After arriving in the country, he enrolled in a school attended mostly by Ethiopian-Israelis but after struggling with his studies, he transferred to the Amal Lady Davis High School.
What do all of these boys have in common? All four of them began attending their new high school with little motivation to succeed, while navigating through choppy waters filled with social and emotional issues as well as academic challenges. All of that changed though, when they became actively involved in Partners of NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) Israel, a joint partnership with JDC, NFTE, and Boaz Raam, a new JDC Board Member, to help at-risk teens.
The program combines entrepreneurship and exposure to the working world to help disconnected youth improve their self-confidence and marketable skills. The boys also receive career guidance and training designed to help them achieve financial independence.
NFTE also helps the boys fully think through an idea: building a business plan, completing a SWAT analysis, and presenting the project to an audience.
That’s exactly what happened when the group recently visited JDC’s New York headquarters and presented their social queue management app Queclick. The presentation didn’t just showcase their hard work; it also helped them learn to believe in themselves and trust their impressive abilities.
The quartet was in New York for the 2016 NFTE Global Showcase, celebrating the initiative’s extraordinary teachers and alumni from around the world and presenting the Global Young Entrepreneur, Global Enterprising Educator, and Volunteer of the Year Awards. More than 400 attendees had the chance to visit the young entrepreneurs’ and teachers’ exhibit tables and learn all about their businesses.
Queclick is ideal for service providers, pharmacists, business owners, hairdressers, doctors, and travel agents. By allowing users to “download Queclick and set a queue quick,” a clever and ultra-catchy tagline coined by the boys, the application aims to settle the need to wait in line; with Queclick, you can conveniently see when you will receive your scheduled service, directly through your mobile device.
If you hate waiting for extended periods of time on calls, are looking to find a parking lot nearby, or just want to take your kids to the park, Queclick allows you to check how crowded these facilities are with the simple swipe of your finger.
Watching the group talk in detail about the next-generation app they came together to work so hard on and seeing the close bond they share with their teachers was truly inspiring. Maybe one day their app could be on a yet-to-launch Israeli version of ABC’s hit show Shark Tank.
Jamie Epstein is JDC’s media relations manager.
Gratitude and Action: Coming Together to Do Good
As we prepare for Passover, I want to call out some people in the JDC orbit whose actions seem to put into practice so much of what Passover is about.
My friends Ron Burton and Steve Silverman set off a month ago to help underprivileged children in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union attend a most amazing summer camp — run by JDC and located in Szarvas, Hungary. They feel there is no better investment in Jewish children and future than this place that, during the precious days of summer, serves as mother, father, friend, teacher, and mentor for kids who hail from towns and cities still devastated by World War II and communism and its aftermath.
These kids go home to a Herculean task: recreating Jewish life from the ground up. The network, knowledge, and inspiration they get at Szarvas is literally the battery that powers that mission — which lies on their young shoulders, with our support.
With passion, persistence, and the amazing stories of how this camp has changed individual lives of campers and recreated Jewish possibilities in the region, Ron and Steve made meaningful gifts and then shared the opportunity to make such a tangible difference with their families and friends.
The response has been amazing — dozens of gifts, pledges to match and leverage funds, a sense of shared drive and … accomplishment. To date, we have new funding for more than 32 young people to attend camp this summer — and close to 40 new donors to JDC, who are equally passionate about doing good and beginning to understand what an incredible vehicle this organization is for people who want to make meaningful and tangible change in the world.
The campaign runs through Passover. If you’d like to participate in honor of the holiday, with its message of gratitude for all we have and of recognition of all that we can do for others, visit .
In the coming months, several amazing people with whom I have the privilege of working will be founding small, active groups to support and build other life-changing projects:
A sweet and meaningful Passover to you and your loved ones. And thank you for your caring!
Rebecca Neuwirth is the Director of Strategic Engagement and a Senior Development Officer at JDC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeking Refuge: From Immigrant To Immigration Advocate
My mom and I pressed our faces against the large store window as we hid from the freezing cold in Moscow, while my dad stood in line behind the fence that shielded the U.S. Embassy. After hours of waiting, I saw him running down the street waving a piece of paper in the air, as if he had won the lottery. The winning lottery ticket granted us refugee status and permission to leave the USSR. It was my mother’s biggest dream to leave for the U.S. as the Soviet Union was falling apart. Her desire grew even more when civil war broke out in Transnistria, a region fighting to gain its independence from Moldova, our home country.
This was a time of long lines, instability, and economic unrest, all set to a backdrop of anti-Semitism. At a young age I was instructed to avoid questions of where my last name was from, and what ethnicity I was, but hiding it was nearly impossible; after all, it said “Jew” in our passports. This is what motivated my parents to take the courageous act of leaving everything behind in search of refuge in the U.S.
From May to December 1990, our small one-bedroom apartment turned into a yard sale. Little by little, books, pots and pans, furniture and even jewelry disappeared. We left Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, on a train to Moscow and were accompanied by my older sister’s boyfriend, my dad’s best friend, and his wife. As we walked away through airport security, we watched their fur hats disappear into the distance, not knowing if we would ever see these dear people again. On December 22, 1990, with $600 for a family of four, we boarded Pan Am Flight 031 to New York.
We arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, in the middle of winter to find empty snow-covered streets and houses decorated with Christmas lights: a true life-size snow globe. Our first trip to Carl’s, a local supermarket, left my mom in tears of disbelief from aisles full of cereal boxes, large pyramids of oranges and apples, and shelves bursting with bread.
I began the third grade in January 1991 knowing only how to count to 12 and say “I love you” in English. Children were extremely cruel, and not speaking their language left me silent. But what shocked me most were other Russian-speaking children who refused to help. They seemed to have forgotten what it was like to not understand, or perhaps they were too ashamed or traumatized to admit that they too, spoke Russian.
My dad, a textile engineer, began his career in the U.S. at a bed factory. For nearly a year, I didn’t see him during the day, as he worked the night shift. On weekends, when we spent time together, I always noticed the dirt under his nails. His elegant hands turned into the hands of a factory worker. My mom, also an engineer, took a job sewing wheelchair covers. She walked 40 minutes to work every day and often fell asleep at her desk, only to wake from the burning sensation of her fingers being caught in the sewing machine. Wendy’s was my sister’s first job in America, where she managed the salad bar and secretly tasted all of the new foods she had never seen before: baby corn, raw mushrooms, and pineapples. Eventually, my parents, as many immigrants do, reinvented themselves. My father became an incredible florist and my mom a master tailor.
Throughout high school, I tutored ESL classes and welcomed new immigrant students to our school. My goal was to become an immigration attorney. To learn more about other immigrants in the U.S., I studied Spanish and focused on Latin America in college. I worked at an immigration law firm in Ohio and with unaccompanied Hispanic minors at a detention center in Chicago. I studied abroad in Chile and did my Fulbright research on female migration issues in Latin America. In 2002, I interned for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington, D.C., and that same summer received a scholarship for new immigrants from HIAS. HIAS has always been an important name in our household, representing the agencies that assisted us in the journey to America.
Eight years ago, I returned to DC to work as a government consultant with projects on the Southwest border and in Mexico.
In Washington, I also found a vibrant Jewish community that led me back to some of the organizations that helped my family come to the U.S. Through HIAS, I prepared Hispanic immigrants for their citizenship tests, and at CASA, I helped migrant workers build their first resumes. I also discovered JDC and Entwine, and I recently co-chaired a trip to China for Russian-speaking Jews, supported by Genesis Philanthropy Group, where we learned about Jewish refugees saved during the Holocaust.
At the refugee museum in Shanghai, I found a quote from Fred Antman. “My father had little money,” the quote read. “He asked his friend for a loan to help him buy two sewing machines and a coal-heating iron for pressing. He visited the managing director of Shanghai’s largest department store […] and offered his services to their numerous customers.” Antman was a tailor saved in the Holocaust by the courageous efforts of agencies like JDC and HIAS. My mother, too, become a tailor in the U.S., offering her services to some of the biggest names in the retail industry, like Nordstrom and Banana Republic. A million miles away, I found that we went through experiences similar to the Jewish refugees of Shanghai.
Had I not been a refugee, I can’t imagine what my life would be like today. My personal immigration journey defines who I am, including my true passion: to accompany other immigrants on their journey no matter where they might be from. Thanks to agencies like JDC and HIAS, my family and I came to the U.S. to pursue dreams we didn’t even know we had. As a refugee from the USSR, I am beyond proud of our story and eternally grateful for all of the opportunities that were granted to us in the United States.
To learn more about JDC Entwine, JDC’s young adult engagement platform, .
Lana Alman is originally from Tiraspol, Moldova. She immigrated with her family to the US in 1990 and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her BA from Miami University in International Studies and Spanish and her MA in Latin American Studies from Vanderbilt University. Lana has dedicated her academic and professional careers to immigration affairs. Today, Lana works at a government consulting firm where she focuses on projects related to Latin America and immigration. Lana lives between worlds where Spanish, Russian, and English are spoken, all of which define her identity.
In Moscow, Powerful Play Bridges Generations
As the 60 elderly clients of JDC’s Hesed social welfare centers in Moscow entered the city’s ORT Moscow Technology School, they were swarmed by students. Delighted, they began answering dozens of their questions – thrilled to be back in school again.
The group was there for a special event, a performance of the play “Dreyfus,” based on the Jean-Claude Grumberg book about Jews living on the outskirts of Vilnius in 1930. In the book, a group of Jewish artists in the village enjoy amateur theater, usually performing melodramas and satires. But when the theater’s director writes a political play about the Dreyfus affair, the actors eventually all find themselves in concentration camps.
“We’ve performed this play four times before, but today we are more excited than ever before,” said one 10th-grade actress. “This is first time we’re going to perform in front of real-life witnesses to the kind of events we describe in the play.”
After the play, the Hesed clients – from the city’s Nadezhda, Etel, and Yad Ezra centers – silently left the theater. Many had tears in their eyes.
“The atmosphere of the shtetl was recreated,” one Hesed client said. “We even heard it in the language, traditional Jewish expressions we remembered from our parents but we hadn’t heard in years.”
One young actor said the play’s themes resonated with Russian society today.
“We have to talk about these kinds of issues, to pay attention to what happened to ensure it never happens again,” he said.
Another young actress said she found it difficult to portray an anti-Semitic character.
“I’m Jewish and for this role, I had to overcome my own nature, to say things like, ‘Jews, I hate you,’ and ‘I want to kill you,'” she said. “Luckily, I believe that the events that happened then would never happen again.”
The experience was meaningful for both the teens and the elderly clients – an event to remember for vulnerable Jews who rarely get the chance to leave their homes.
The event was sponsored by JDC and World ORT.
Building Connections Between Jewish Communities in the Former Soviet Union
More than 150 Jewish professionals from across the former Soviet Union recently participated in JDC’s sixth annual Jewish Educators’ Conference, held at the Hesed Eliyahu social welfare center in Tbilisi, Georgia.
The group represented educators and Jewish communal professionals representing 46 cities in seven countries. Over the course of five days, renowned lecturers from across the FSU and Israel spoke on a wide range of topics, like: anti-Semitism, Israeli cinema, symbolism in the Torah, satire in the Talmud, and more.
The summit also continued the cooperation between JDC in the FSU and JDC’s Ashalim partnership in Israel, which works to support and protect at-risk youth through formal education initiatives, youth entrepreneurship and employment programming, alternative learning spaces, community-building models, and programs that will help engender safe home environments and healthy relationships between parents and children.
Iris Finkelstein, an Ashalim staffer from the program’s Volunteer Unit, led a session on creating “volunteer centers” in Jewish communities throughout the FSU, providing participants with practical volunter management tools and motivating them for the hard but important work of training and retaining volunteers.
“This training helped me put together the pieces to create a strategy for starting an effective volunteer center. I also learned that there is a network of people to consult with to help me as I continue this learning process!” said Alex, the volunteer coordinator in Kazan, Russia. “I have received constructive tips from so many people here. It will certainly help me in my day-to-day work moving forward.”
For many participants, the chance to network with colleagues from different countries was a key part of the conference’s success.
“These meetings give me energy for the whole year,” said Irina, a Jewish educator who lives in Taganrog, Russia. “The time spent with other Jewish professionals gives me the spirit to push myself even further in my work to help my Jewish community.”
What Drought Relief Looks Like in Gondar, Ethiopia
As you read this blog, several regions of Ethiopia are witnessing a major drought – the result of lack of rain caused by El Niño weather – leading to malnutrition in rural areas where villagers don’t have adequate access to water, food, or medical care. As this crisis is still evolving and the needs of those affected are growing daily, JDC is working in cooperation with the Ethiopian government and regional authorities to provide assistance.JDC Ethiopia staff members and volunteers recently traveled to the affected region in Gondar to assess and respond to the situation. Below is a dispatch based on the deployment of JDC’s Senior Program Director for Ethiopia Sam Amiel; Dr. Rick Hodes, JDC’s Medical Director in Ethiopia; and Dr. Alexandra Johnson, a family doctor from Colorado and daughter of JDC board member Alan Rothenberg:.On January 26, we flew from Addis Ababa to Gondar and then drove to East Bellessa, located southeast of the Gondar region where much of JDC’s existing development work takes place. It took four hours by jeep to get there. Our mission involved purchasing 1,000 cartons of Plumpy Nut, the peanut-based food ideal for those suffering from severe malnutrition, and then delivering to the affected region so that it can be distributed to those in the most need.We then drove to the local health center to visit the nutrition unit, where babies are admitted for up to three weeks for intensive feeding according to the predetermined malnutrition criteria. We were told that seven babies had just been discharged and only one remained. We examined that baby, the male of a set of twins, and he was receiving appropriate care, and doing OK.The next day, January 27, we drove to Hamusit where they were screening a small group of mothers and malnourished children at a district health center. Hamusit has about 5,000 inhabitants, but the region is populated mostly by small, rural, remote villages.The center – staffed by eight medical workers, who have degrees but virtually no medical training – was fairly chaotic. Our role was that of medical consultants and we engaged in primary care for patients. After hours of evaluating a steady stream of infants, their siblings, and mothers worn down from hunger, with wounds weeping with neglect and their skin stained from traditional poultices applied when no other medicines were available, Alexandra slipped away from the crowd and visited the outhouse.”A woman followed me. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, though her face was already deeply lined. Her expression was flat as she approached me, but her eyes were pleading. “Please,” she said as she lifted up her skirt. Behind her were empty, dry plains that this year bore no crops, naked trees parched from drought, and in the distance, arching table mountains, an ancient monastery nestled at the base. But in the foreground she stood, hair covered in cultural modesty, raising her skirt for me behind the latrine and revealing a mass, likely the product of an ill-attended birth.”With this jarring reminder of the myriad of critical challenges in this part of Ethiopia, on January 28, we drove from Hamusit to Taymen, literally the “end of the road.” At this clinic, we were told they had screened a large group of 625 children. The director added that 153 children in the area are moderately malnourished and six are severely malnourished. In addition, he reported that 70 percent of mother’s deliver their babies at home, compared to 30% of births taking place in a health center, a troubling issue given the current conditions, which has been exacerbated by a lack of water provision in the area.We observed this issue during our travels, passing empty water tanks waiting to be filled. To help solve this, we are collaborating with the Gondar Water Authority to dig five deep wells as part of our drought relief effort.There is little doubt that our work here, coordinated with the government, empowering Ethiopians to care for themselves in this time of need can help alleviate the suffering caused by this terrible drought. To that end, it is encouraging to see that our partnership with the Gondar University Hospital to train their doctors and nurses/midwives over the years has proven essential during this drought relief effort. We will work with them on monitoring the needs in drought-affected areas like East Bellessa and continue to monitor the distribution of nutritional support to the neediest.In the face of such overwhelming odds, many choose to look away or to dismiss the possibility that aid can make a difference. This trip has proven otherwise.This sentiment, though simple, was summed up poetically by Alexandra, who noted: “If the woman with the birth injury makes it to the hospital, she can learn to recognize warning signs in other deliveries. When the cleft lips are repaired, those children may be inspired to help others in a similar manner. When we measure a child’s wrist and discover malnutrition, the Plumpy Nut we deliver can help save a life. In a drought of not solely water, but of resources, education and compassion, I pray that our interactions can plant seeds hardyy enough to grow in this desert.”The effects of the drought are expected to continue and get worse for the coming months. JDC will continue to assist by providing critical nutritional support for children and increasing access to water where there is none by digging wells.
Behind the Story: Israeli Arab Tech Expansion Prompted by JDC Partnership
A New York Times story published on January 9 highlights the growing inclusion of Israeli Arabs in the tech industry and job market in Israel.”Israel, with a population of about eight million, has long been a global leader in high technology. But the country’s Palestinian Arab minority, which makes up about a fifth of the population and includes the Bedouins of the arid south, one of the poorest and most neglected sectors of Israeli society, has been largely left out,” the piece said, setting the context for the increasing numbers now being employed in Israel.But what you may not know is that JDC – in partnership with the Israeli government, local NGOs, and Israeli Arab leaders – created the pilot program, Excel HT, that was developed to enable Arab programmers, engineers, and graduates in high tech to become part of Israel’s rapidly growing tech space. JDC was a 50-50 funding partner of Excel HT with the Government of Israel.As part of JDC’s work in Israel designed to empower its most vulnerable citizens, Excel HT solidified relationships with major tech companies located within the country: SAP, AMDOCS, General Electric, Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, Coca-Cola, Cisco, Intel and more, all of them seeking best-in-class talent and employees.What were the results of this innovative program? They’re staggering: 98 percent of program graduates have secured employment, with 86 percent of those employed retaining full-time positions and 50 percent of this group consisting of women.Before the program launched, JDC pinpointed its research, identifying the challenges facing Israeli Arabs. Additionally, JDC was able to leverage its longstanding connections across different sectors of Israeli society and deploy the Excel HT model.JDC’s work in the employment arena has also improved the job prospects of Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews), Ethiopian-Israelis, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. To date, tens of thousands of people who fall into these groups are now gainfully employed, positively impacting Israeli society and economy.Excel HT and these other pilots wouldn’t have been successful without JDC’s spirit of collaboration and its strong partnerships throughout Israeli society, all focused on one goal: inclusive employment.