August 31, 2009
New York, August 10, 2009―When Adir Bhastekar told his parents he had been offered the opportunity to leave the bustling, crowded streets of Mumbai this summer to travel to far-off Szarvas, Hungary, they told him to jump at the chance. They wanted him to join the more than 1,800 young Jews from around the world who were experiencing a unique kind of Jewish community at the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation/American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) International Summer Camp in the serene forests of Southeastern Hungary.
“They told me to go, just go!” said Adir, whose family is part of the Bene Israel community in India’s most populous city. “It was a once in a lifetime chance to meet other Jews and let them know how happy and safe we are here in India as Indian citizens.”
Adir is no stranger to Jewish life, having grown up participating in Mumbai’s Jewish community. His grandparents are originally from the town of Awas, on India’s Western coast, and his Mumbai-born parents often attend communitywide Passover seders and Israeli Independence Day celebrations. Adir, and his younger sister, served as volunteers at the JDC-run Jewish Community Center and he was specially selected among his peers to travel to Hungary to get further training as a Jewish community leader. He was also joined by four other Indian Jews – from Thane, Pune, and Mumbai – and he became an ambassador of the Indian Jewish community.
“There are many cultural differences for us,” notes Adir. “Two of us do not eat beef, some of us tend to be far more socially conservative and we certainly do pray slightly differently. But all in all, we just came together. I feel that the youth culture here at Szarvas makes me excited about being Jewish.”
For the past 19 years, the Szarvas camp has not only facilitated opportunities for Jewish life, but has been the catalyst of Jewish identity for countless campers, counselors, and senior staff. Hailing from more than 20 countries, Szarvas participants celebrate many aspects of Jewish culture and religious tradition, including Shabbat, text study, and a beautiful Havdalah service (concluding Shabbat prayers) by the river. The camp is dedicated to pluralism, ensuring that Jews of all denominations are welcomed.
The campers also explore ways to enhance their Jewish communities back home and build models for participating in the larger, global community of Jews. They engage in prayer services and Jewish cultural and educational activities, lectures and strategy sessions, as well as discussions on Jewish identity and programming. Because of the international nature of the camp, in each session around seven languages are spoken, including Hebrew. In addition, the participants hike, canoe, swim, and engage in a variety of sports.
But for Adir, meeting Jews from around the world was especially profound. Of all those he connected with, he most enjoyed meeting the American Jewish contingent, with whom he shared a common language, English, and some unique pop-culture ties. He noted that the only substantial contact he had previously with Jews from other places were the Israelis and Americans who visited the JCC in Mumbai for very short periods.
Outside of the fun he was having with his new friends, Adir noted that coming to Szarvas gave him a chance to prove that India is more than what is shown on television. Since the 2008 terrorists attacks in Mumbai, Adir said that it was important at Szarvas to share that there is “no anti-Semitism in India. There are positive and a few negative consequences about being Jewish, but we are fully protected and happy here.”
Szarvas, which has historically offered defining experiences in leadership development and training, ensures that participants can return to their communities and make important changes to programming and youth activity at the grassroots level. To ensure maximum impact, Szarvas madrichim (counselors) must engage in an intensive two-year training program before they come on staff. In fact, among local Jewish camps in Eastern Europe and the FSU, the majority of camp directors are Szarvas alumni.
And although Adir, at 21, is a recent college graduate and intends on exploring work in finance, he says he will not give up his ties to the Jewish community. In fact, he says the experiences at Szarvas have increased his willingness to stay connected.
"We’ve taken back to India with us the creativity in programming, innovations, case studies and ideas we learned about. The management skills are very valuable," he said, noting in particular his desire to build programs for Indian Jewish children who attend camp at the Mumbai JCC.
Szarvas is one of more than 60 JDC-sponsored retreats throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union that offer an all-encompassing summer excursion, combining Jewish renewal with outdoor fun. Offering programming for toddlers to teenagers and their families, the retreats are based in Eastern Europe in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In the former Soviet Union, retreats take place in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
August 28, 2009
The relationship between his parents, Cecilia and Ernesto, is strained. The couple is separated and the family has been forced to live apart. Dylan stays with Cecilia at her mother’s tiny two-room apartment in Buenos Aires, but since space there is so limited, Dylan’s 13-year-old brother, Maximiliano, has to stay with his father—a situation that causes Cecilia great anguish.
There are other pressures: Ernesto is a part-time caretaker, a job that pays little. Cecilia is employed by a real estate firm but the situation there is tenuous. She suffers bouts of severe depression and sometimes misses work. And her mother, an elderly woman with health problems of her own, can only do so much to help the family.
Fortunately, help does come…from JDC’s Child Help program.
Thanks to Child Help, the family has access to welcome financial assistance through one of dozens of welfare centers that JDC established in partnership with the local Jewish community in the wake of Argentina’s 2001 economic collapse.
Where Child Help is having the biggest impact, however, is on the children’s education: the program covers the cost of transportation, food, and half the tuition of a Jewish day school (with the school itself absorbing the other half). Older brother Max finished Jewish primary school last year on a 90-percent scholarship. Dylan’s future is looking brighter as well. Since 2007, he has been attending a Jewish preschool and kindergarten where he is flourishing in an atmosphere of support and encouragement.
The transition to school was rough at first. Dylan suffered from cognitive problems as a toddler. His teachers report that in his first few months at school, Dylan also had a hard time making friends and would frequently be involved in fights or shouting confrontations with classmates. Fortunately, the patient and strategic intervention of Dylan’s teachers has brought steady improvement in his behavior and his healthier relationships with other children.
Academically, Dylan is also moving forward, with a noticeably enriched vocabulary.
Dylan’s progress and improved behavior is a testament to the dedication of his teachers and the support of JDC through Child Help, according to his mother. “I am really grateful to JDC’s Child Help for giving Dylan the chance to receive a high level of education,” Cecilia said. “At the same time, Dylan has been able to learn about Judaism and our roots. He feels very comfortable at the school. The institution welcomed us with open arms.”
Cecilia also believes that young Dylan will one day be inspired by the generosity that others have shown him.
“One day, when he grows up, he will remember all this and help others in need.”
August 26, 2009
In the Book of Bereshit, God says to Abraham: “Lech Lecha Mey’Artzecha U’Mimoladitecha, U’miBeit Avicha el Ha’Aretz asher Ar-echa.” – “Go Forth from your native land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Today, I would like to introduce you to the newest members of JDC’s Jewish Service Corps (JSC), the first ten of an anticipated 20 young stars who will spend the coming year serving overseas. These JSC fellows are embarking on journeys that will have a transformative impact on the communities they will serve, as well as on their own identities and commitment to the Jewish people.
Last week, during the group’s pre-departure orientation in New York, Irv and I sat down to lunch and a casual conversation with these ten inspiring young people, who in the coming weeks are heading to locations around the globe: from Israel to Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, Slovakia, Turkey, and India. We were very impressed by the group, which represents communities in Texas, New York, Colorado, California, Ohio, and Mexico City, and felt inspired by their commitment and energy.
As background, the JSC program, which began in 1987 and is now part of JDC’s newly created Next Generation and Service Initiatives Department, places recent college graduates in one-year assignments overseas. JSC fellows are catalysts for change, creating innovative programs that respond to specific Jewish community needs. In turn, fellows are transformed by their experiences, returning home with an enhanced commitment to public service and the Jewish community, and a rich knowledge and understanding of Jewish community and culture in another part of the world.
In keeping with our goal of increasing opportunities for young people to engage with JDC’s mission and work around the world, we are expanding the Jewish Service Corps in 2009-2010, both in numbers and in the variety of locations served. We also hope to enrich the experience through new selection, training, and networking tools. With another group of up to ten JSC fellows set to head to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda in early December, this will be the largest number of JSC fellows placed in one year. Irv and I see Jewish service as a critical element in our plans. We believe these kinds of experiences will ensure that young North American Jews are aware of JDC’s mission, see Jewish collective responsibility as a call to action, and understand global Jewish peoplehood as something to take responsibility for and not just to participate in.
As Irv and I chatted with these remarkable individuals, what really stood out were their questions. They had detailed questions about the impact of the economic crisis on Jewish life, their role as ambassadors of JDC and the American Jewish community, where the future of Jewish life is heading, Jewish identity and affiliation, and gender differences in those who participate in Jewish communal life. Their questions remind us of how their generation sees the world and the Jewish people, while also reflecting their deep commitment toward that same world and the global Jewish family.
What is particularly unique about these fellows is that half of them have a prior connection to JDC. Grandparents and family members of three of the fellows were helped by JDC during or after the Holocaust, and two are alumni of JDC's Short-Term Service programs for college students. I share their bios with you below:
Placement: Kiev, Ukraine
Born in Ukraine, Yelena currently lives in New York. She recently graduated from Baruch College in Manhattan, where she majored in Human Resources Management and minored in Industrial Organization Psychology. She served as president of the Baruch Association of Russian Students.
Throughout her life, Yelena has been involved in JCC programming in the Russian-speaking Jewish community of Brooklyn, New York. In Kiev, she will utilize these skills to develop programming for teens and young adults.
Placement: Jerusalem, Israel (CIMI)
Kate recently graduated from Tufts University, where she majored in English and Latin American Studies. Kate has experience working with immigrant and refugee populations through college internships, study abroad projects in Latin America, and oral history and documentary projects.
In Israel, Kate will be working at the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), which seeks to facilitate effective migration management through knowledge exchange, capacity-building and technical assistance to government and non-government agencies. Kate will be involved in courses, consultations, and project development, in addition to volunteering at one of the grassroots NGOs that work with refugees and foreign workers in Israel.
Placement: Mumbai, India
Jeanine has a multi-cultural Jewish background, having lived in Mexico, Israel, Spain, and most recently the U.S., where she graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a B.A. in Political Science and Theatre. Jeanine spent a semester abroad at La Sorbonne in Paris and a summer studying Torah, Talmud, and Modern Jewish Philosophy at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Jeanine has always been involved in teaching and creating informal Jewish education programs, and she is looking forward to continuing her involvement in Jewish leadership and education while in Mumbai.
Placement: Kishinev, Moldova/Minsk, Belarus
Kitra has a strong personal connection to JDC; her grandfather, originally from Vienna, fled following Kristallnacht and was supported as a refugee in Antwerp by the Joint. In addition, her grandfather's cousins fled to Shanghai, where JDC ensured their survival throughout the war. Kitra grew up in Canada, and recently completed her B.A. in Philosophy and Anthropology at McGill University in Montreal.
Kitra's creativity and award-winning photojournalism have taken her to many locations around the world, including Israel, Italy, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. Kitra interned at The New York Times as a freelance photographer and is currently in Washington, D.C., interning as a photographer for National Geographic.
In Moldova and Belarus, Kitra will utilize her creative skills and talents to enhance the use of online outreach tools, document histories of local Jewish community members, and help with local programming and volunteerism models.
Placement: Berlin, Germany
Molly has a special connection to JDC; her grandparents are Holocaust survivors who were helped by the Joint in Displaced Persons camps in Germany. Molly was raised in Columbus, Ohio, and recently graduated from George Washington University, where she majored in Religion with a focus on Judaism.
Molly has a strong background in both formal and informal Jewish education and has worked extensively on interfaith relations on campus. Molly is finishing up an internship at the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, where she developed her leadership skills working on project management, interfaith exchange programs, and media relations.
Molly's knowledge of German will come in handy as the first JSC Fellow in Berlin. She will work on JDC's programs to connect Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Jewish life in Germany, develop an online newsletter, and support the JDC Activities Center and the Bambinim early childhood education program in Berlin.
Placement: Bratislava, Slovakia
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Michelle graduated from the University of Michigan where she received a B.A. in Psychology, with a minor in Hebrew and Judaic Cultural Studies. For the last two years, Michelle has been living in Washington, D.C., working for the Israeli Embassy to help create new programs that raise awareness and strengthen pro-Israel education on college campuses.
Michelle’s introduction to JDC was through a JDC Short Term Service trip to Ukraine, which left her determined to one day participate in the Jewish Service Corps.
Michelle will be the first JSC Fellow in Bratislava, where she will be working at the Jewish community center developing programs for children and youth, and taking part in outreach activities to attract unaffiliated Jews to the community.
Placement: Mumbai, India
Michael is from Mission Viejo, California, and just graduated from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Religious Studies. Michael has a strong background in informal Jewish education. He worked for many summers as a counselor and senior staff member at Jewish summer camps in California and spent a year abroad at Tel Aviv University studying Informal Jewish Education. He is also a talented musician.
Michael will use his innovative education and leadership skills and his many talents while serving as a JSC Fellow in Mumbai, where he will be teaching in the Jewish community and help conduct training and informal education programs.
Placement: Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine
Miriam was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and recently graduated from the University of Rochester, where she completed her B.A. with a dual major in Anthropology and Religion. Miriam has a substantial amount of teaching experience and spent a semester abroad at Ben Gurion University in Israel, where she volunteered for a Bedouin Women's Empowerment NGO.
In Dnepropetrovsk, Miriam will continue to develop the Do Good, Ukraine! project, an online infrastructure that connects individuals with non-profit organizations and matches them with volunteer opportunities. The organization aims to develop a culture of volunteerism and an increased participation in civil society.
Placement: Jerusalem, Israel (AMEN/Volunteerism)
Susan is from Denton, Texas, and graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Political Science and a minor in Jewish Studies. As UNT Hillel President, Susan was responsible for a five-fold expansion in membership and the establishment of an Interfaith Relations program. She was also involved in various Israel activism groups on campus.
Susan’s initial connection to JDC came through her participation in a Short-Term Service program in Argentina. Her natural leadership and program development skills, in addition to her love for Israel, will carry over to her new JSC placement in Israel, where she will be working in part to develop a group of young AMEN volunteers in Jerusalem.
Placement: Izmir, Turkey
Shauna has a long connection to JDC; her grandmother was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto who received essential support from and worked for the Joint, reuniting families after the war before starting a new life in America. Shauna grew up in Denver and just graduated from American University with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Communications. Before college, Shauna was the one person selected internationally to be the BBYO Female International Youth President, which exposed her to Jewish communities across the United States, Europe, and Israel. Shauna also worked to create the partnership between BBYO and JDC.
At American University, Shauna was affiliated with several Jewish organizations, interned at the Israeli Embassy in D.C., and studied abroad in Ghana.
While in Izmir, Shauna will work with the Liga Youth Group and the Jewish Sunday School; help with leadership training, curriculum development, and community programming; and take part in outreach efforts to unaffiliated Jews.
Whether this is the beginning of their relationship with JDC, or whether it is bringing full circle their family relationships with the Joint, Irv and I hope that all these JSC fellows will use this one-year opportunity to learn and listen, to innovate and assist.
We are sure that this program will inspire them to increase their commitment to global Jewish life and their involvement with JDC. We encourage those of you travelling over the next year for JDC visits to meet them in the field.
For more information about the JSC program or any of the 2009-2010 JSC fellows, please contact Natalie Szklarz at Natalie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 25, 2009
July 30, 2009
by Judy Flumenbaum and Ben Gittleson
Photo by Judy Flumenbaum
"Can you tell me about your family, your past?" a counselor at a Rwandan youth village for orphans happily asked one of us on our recent visit to his country. He took notes, probing as to how journalism and writing could help his young friends open up and learn about the world. When it came time for the questions about his family, though, his speech slowed and he looked toward the floor. His grandmother, killed by murderous militiamen, his sister, "violated" during the genocide, before she too was murdered. But suddenly his somber expression turned more upbeat as he glanced at his watch and said, "Ah, it's time for dinner. Let's go see everyone!"
For one week in May, we lived and worked at the beautiful Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in rural Rwanda. The youth village, located an hour outside of the capital Kigali, houses 125 Rwandan teenagers who were orphaned by the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A special project of the American Joint Distribution Committee that was officially inaugurated last month, the village provides housing, meals, education and mentorship for these orphans, many of whom as recently as a year ago lacked any semblance of a stable support system.
Our friend the counselor was not the only one having difficulty grappling with the legacy of genocide. An uncomfortable attempt at normality has settled on the villages and farms of the rolling green hills that extend for miles around the youth village and across Rwanda. The African nation now exists as a shining example of progress and modernity, packed with the sounds of its people conducting business as usual -- farmers whacking machetes into the fire-red earth, laughing kids chasing each other on the way to their local wells, the honks of speeding minibuses and motorcycle taxis filling the air.
How far has Rwanda come? A bulwark of its region, the country has emerged from an incredibly complex and unique post-genocidal reconciliation effort and is developing at breakneck speed around one national identity. Still, in some ways it appears as if Rwanda has continued its ancient agricultural routine uninterrupted for centuries. A stroll to a local market on a dusty dirt road reveals the smiling faces of villagers toiling on their patches of land, always stopping their work to say maramutse, "good morning." Yet this same dirt path is now lined with modern utility poles and cell phone towers, connecting the landlocked country to the rest of the world.
The youth village exists as a small but powerful response to an epidemic continuing to cripple Rwanda's social systems: 1.2 million orphans living on the streets -- in child-headed homes or in under-funded orphanages -- with nowhere to go. The genocide -- lasting only 100 days -- killed 800,000 people, displaced even more and ravished the countryside. An unfathomable number of orphaned children were robbed of their families, of their homes and of their communities. But even worse, they no longer had hope for a viable future.
At Agahozo Shalom, though, the dream is that one day the village's graduates will return to their communities across Rwanda and show their friends and neighbors what they, too, might eventually achieve. Whether they become doctors, businessmen, ministers in the Rwandan government or farmers, all of them will shine as beacons of hope for the scores of others like them. The village, too, can serve as a model to be replicated throughout Rwanda and around the world.
But even this safe space is strewn with fleeting -- yet penetrating -- evidence of tragedy and devastation. In the village dining hall, a common area where all meals and group meetings take place, a large purple banner hangs in memory of the genocide and the family members lost. Or, more unexpectedly, a quick, innocent turn of a staff member's head reveals -- ever so briefly -- a 10-inch-long scar from the swipe of a machete. The abruptness of such reminders is often shocking, poignantly preventing anyone from forgetting that the genocide took place unbelievably recently.
Meanwhile, more formal hints of the extermination pervade the country's picturesque landscape. White crosses draped in purple sashes stick out in ubiquitous local memorials. Nearly every village seems to have a monument to the tragedy, an indication of the universal impact the genocide had across Rwanda.
As outsiders, and especially as short-term visitors, it is particularly difficult to understand how one could ever move on in any way from what happened. And yet, on a hilltop overlooking a gorgeous lake in the southeast of the country, orphans trudge up to their morning classes, play soccer after school and struggle with algebra homework. They repeat this routine every day with the hope of someday living a fully normal life in a completely normal country. Life goes on because it has to.
What was most encouraging was the speed by which the youth have formed very close relationships. In a country and a community where family units have become disjointed -- distant cousins replacing brothers and sisters, friends or neighbors taking the place of parents -- new "families" at Agahozo Shalom have thrived as examples of adaptation. We visited a "family" that consisted of 16 girls and a "mother" figure. This group of people -- strangers before meeting in December -- has truly become a viable family. We saw them hug each other like they had grown up as sisters, laugh like they had known each other for years. For orphans who likely lacked a routine and stability in the past, this village finally gave them the sense of home and security they needed to thrive.
Agahozo Shalom helps these children to learn to deal with the legacy of genocide, their emotions and the feelings and loss with which their country continuously struggles. Listening to the orphans' rap songs describing the importance of family, or looking at beautiful murals of homes and family that no longer exist, we saw how the village provides an outlet for their pain and suffering that they might not have been able to receive elsewhere. As a result, they are able to move on, at least to some extent.
Still, these kids are haunted by their past nearly every day. A memorial ceremony a few months ago aroused intense emotions in many of the students, with some experiencing terrible flashbacks to the moments they and their families were hunted 15 years ago. "I am longing to meet you, my lovely parents," reads their school anthem. "I am missing my lovely parents."
But the orphans, too, are pushing forward. They have no other choice. Their typical Rwandan pragmatism and hope comes through at the close of that same school song: "Not all people are bad. Now I have got other parents, who welcomed me. ... Please let's join hands together to thank them for the wonderful love they show us."
August 23, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
New York City
August 21, 2009
The following letter was sent yesterday to Federation executives across the country:
TO: FEDERATION EXECUTIVES
FROM: DR. IRVING A. SMOKLER, PRESIDENT
STEVEN SCHWAGER, CEO
CC: JDC BOARD OF DIRECTORS, FEDERATION CAMPAIGN, MARKETING AND ISRAEL & OVERSEAS DIRECTORS
RE: URGENT NEEDS OF OVERSEAS JEWRY
DATE: AUGUST 20, 2009
August 21 corresponds this year to the beginning of the month of Elul in the Jewish calendar, leading us to the High Holy Days. Our Traditions teach us that during Elul, we reflect upon the past year, searching our hearts and asking forgiveness for wrongs done to other people. Elul reminds us that Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze Lazeh -- Jews are collectively responsible one for the other. And recognizing that responsibility surely reminds us how tumultuous the last year has been for Jews, locally and overseas.
Tumultuous may be an understatement for Jews and Jewish communities that JDC serves in Israel, the former Soviet Union, and in over 50 other countries throughout the world. Significant reductions in Campaign and overseas allocations have translated into a serious decline in the services we provide to Jews in dire need without alternative sources of assistance. Additionally, the economic downturn in many of the countries where these Jews reside is deeper (and will last longer) than in North America. Most importantly, in most of the countries where the poorest Jews live, there is no social safety net -- no unemployment compensation, no Social Security, no Medicare/Medicaid. Inflation overseas in many countries is unchecked, with local prices increasing by more than 10%. As a result, thousands of Jews throughout the world, whom JDC helped in past years with the assistance of the North American Federation system, are now living below the poverty line.
Because of the significant decrease in overseas allocations and the financial problems in these countries, JDC’s ability to respond to urgent human needs in the field today has been severely compromised.
As we begin the New Year and you prepare to launch your 2010 Annual Campaign, we share with you our most pressing issues and priority unmet needs. We ask that you, in turn, share the serious plight of these poor Jews with your donors.
Former Soviet Union (FSU)
In almost 3,000 cities, towns and villages that span 11 time zones, JDC continues reaching out to each Jew – young and old – who needs basic welfare services of food, medical assistance, homecare, and winter relief. But our ability to sustain these critical welfare programs has been impacted negatively by two developments: (1) Jewish Federations, our largest supporters of welfare services to non-Nazi victims, have collectively reduced unrestricted core overseas allocations by at least 14% (or $5 million); and (2) Because of inflation, the local cost of “doing business” has increased dramatically. The cost of basic services has skyrocketed, but pensions have not kept pace with those increases.
- Who could imagine that today, thousands of destitute Jewish elderly wake up each morning and must decide between eating food or taking medicines?
- Who could imagine that the cost of a whole chicken in Minsk ($1.18 per lb.), for example, would be roughly twice what it is in most US cities? The same is true of virtually all sources of protein. Therefore, poor elderly and too many families with children are forced to live on nutritionally unhealthy diets of carbohydrates – bread, rice, potatoes, kasha – and in insufficient quantities.
- Who could imagine that today over 60,000 indigent elderly Jews are turned away from any Hesed services, and over 20,000 children living in poverty do not receive support from Jewish Family Services, simply because we no longer have sufficient funds to provide for them?
- Who could imagine that $17 monthly food package deliveries to Jews in remote areas would be replaced by deliveries only once every three months, but with 33% less food?
- Who could imagine that we would have no choice but to close over 20 Hesed welfare centers in 2009 -– the only central Jewish address in many smaller cities -- with more closings scheduled for 2010?
- Who could imagine that we would reach the point where the best we can do for our non-Nazi victim clients, who typically must live on a $5 pension per day or less, is to provide them with less than $1 per day in additional critical services?
Surely we can do better.
Thankfully, Holocaust restitution funds are stable in the short-term, so that JDC can provide basic services to Nazi victims who qualify for restitution funds at dignified, minimally adequate levels. We cannot say the same for other very poor elderly, most of whom are survivors of both World War II and decades of repressive Communist regimes, who are not eligible for restitution support.
At the same time, the development of Jewish community life in the FSU has also been effected by the downturn. Local donations and other revenue sources are seeing major contractions. Jewish schools have closed or scaled back services such as transport, meals, and extra hours.
The global recession has hit hard in several countries, especially in the Baltic States, Hungary, and Romania. Developing Jewish communities, and in particular large portions of the Jewish middle class, are suddenly poor. For example, Latvia’s export driven economy is suffering what economists view as a depression worse than what Argentina experienced in the aftermath of its 2001-02 collapse. Many European Jewish families are now turning to JDC for assistance to feed their children and to avoid becoming homeless. And elderly Jews who receive meager fixed incomes are increasingly at-risk, like their brethren in the FSU.
JDC’s ability, in partnership with the Israeli government, to forge social innovations in response to poverty is being significantly tested. Every unrestricted $1 that is cut from our Israel budget means the loss, on average, of $4 that is leveraged from our Israel government partners. What does this mean?
- For Ethiopian-Israeli pre-school children, we have fewer dollars to prepare them educationally for first grade. If not, the “catch up” costs will be much, much higher.
- For teens in trouble and on the streets, it means substantially less capability to reach out and effectively reverse the course of their lives. Without our help, many will live in perpetual turmoil and may turn to drugs and crime.
- For post Army graduates from poor immigrant families, it means reduced community resources that will help them get jobs and become financially self-sufficient.
- For the disabled, it means a much slower progress in overcoming barriers to independent living.
In places like Argentina, where there is no prospect of international help if the economy collapses again, the political environment continues to be unstable. JDC will complete its phase-out of crisis assistance in 2010, assuming no sudden deterioration in the situation. In Venezuela, economic uncertainty is compounded by the government’s hostility towards Israel, making the community feel less secure. Thousands of Jews have already emigrated; if the situation deteriorates, many more may decide to do so in 2010.
And so the bottom line for JDC, as we enter the 2010 Campaign year, is that we truly face a crisis in the field. We cannot adequately feed those who need food. We cannot provide sufficient medicines and medical care for those who are sick. We cannot provide enough hours of homecare for those who are homebound. We cannot provide enough nutrition to children who depend on us for proper nourishment. We cannot sustain our ability to partner with Israel in responding to its pressing social needs of its most vulnerable citizens.
JDC’s 95-year history reminds us that we are morally bound to care for global Jewry. But we do not have sufficient means. We have already cut, via attrition and retrenchment, our global staff in 70+ countries from 948 persons to 766, a drop of 24%, with further cuts likely in 2010. We have reduced JDC administrative expenses down to 3.9% of our global budget (and were recognized by Charity Navigator for a second straight year with its 4-Stars ranking). We also will spend down 10% of our unrestricted endowment funds ($11 million) this year, just to avoid an utter disaster in the field. That rate of endowment spending is not sustainable over the long term without compromising our ability to meet unexpected new needs.
Finally, we face the frightening prospect of terminating Jewish renewal initiatives in those places where we have made significant progress in developing the next generation of leadership so that there will be future Jewish communities. Cutting these programs would be short-sighted, but we may have no alternative in order to sustain welfare services globally.
We know you understand. We need you, our Jewish Federation partners, to help us with a significant infusion of new dollars, collectively from your Campaign and/or individually from your donors. In just the FSU alone, if we want to stabilize the reversing fortunes of poor elderly and children, restore last year’s cuts, and make it possible for everyone to receive equivalent levels of welfare services based upon individual circumstances, we have an unmet need which approaches $50 million. That is an enormous amount of money to us; but for poor Jews, the unmet needs translate to under an additional $1 per person per day.
We, along with our professionals who work most closely with Federations -- Michael Novick (Michael.Novick@jdcny.org), Jennifer Kraft (Jennifer.Kraft@jdcny.org), and Solly Kaplinski (SollyK@jdc.org.il) -- stand ready to assist in any way possible to help reverse this situation. We are prepared to visit your communities, to host your leadership in the field or in New York, to organize conference calls with field staff –- to do whatever it takes to change what is a very negative picture.
As Elul approaches, we are determined to be proactive and persevere through these difficult financial times, as we have done for 95 years. In the eyes of the Jewish world, North American Jews are the lifeline that never fails them. Through two World Wars, through the great Depression, overcoming every obstacle, we are the extended helping hand that never closes completely. We are confident that, with your passionate support, we will continue on this path for as long as we are needed. And as we enter the month of Elul, there is no better time to make that commitment together.
Irv and Steve
August 20, 2009
From The Jewish Chronicle
by EricLidji - The Cutting Room Floor
Yesterday morning, I spoke to Edgar Snyder. He called from Ekaterinburg, in central Russia, where he and his wife, Sandy, are looking over the fruits of their SOS program.
The program is sort of a “fund of last resort,” giving small donations to people who can’t get the care they need through the tradition services system. These gifts — usually only a few hundred dollars each — help cover medicine, medical procedures, furniture and appliances.
The Snyder’s have been going to Russia for seven years, but the situation is worse than usual, Edgar said, because the global recession means less money is available at a time when more people need help.
Snyder said the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helps administer the SOS program, is “making Sophie’s Choices every day of the week over here.”
Here is a video from a 2005 trip the SOS program made to Izhevsk. My favorite part comes at around 4:40, when the young woman in the car sings “Kol Haolam Kulo.” The lyrics in English are, “The world is a very narrow bridge, but the thing to remember is not to be afraid.”
In recession battered Russia, the Snyders meet beneficiaries of local dollars
From The Jewish Chronicle
by Eric Lidji
For seven years, Sandy and Edgar Snyder have visited Russia with their SOS program, which gives emergency aide to Jews who have fallen through the cracks of the system.
With the global economic downturn, those cracks are splitting wider, Edgar Snyder said in a Sunday phone call from Yekaterinburg, a Russian city east of the Ural Mountains.
“The recession has hit big-time in Russia,” said Snyder, the well-known western Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer and philanthropist within the Jewish community.
When the Snyders last visited two years ago, rising oil prices were filling government coffers, and the country seemed to have made a complete turnaround from a financial crisis, in 1998.
Over the past year, though, the drop in commodities prices made by the global recession hit Russia harder than most other major economies. The state statistics agency recently said the economy declined 10.9 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago, and the state finance minister predicted inflation could hit 14 percent in Russia this year.
That means the monthly pension many elderly Russians receive — some less than $300 a month — doesn’t go as far in covering food, rent and utilities, let alone emergencies.
“If you don’t have private money, if you’re living off of a pension, in this country,” Snyder said, “you can find yourself not able to get necessary medicine.”
Snyder sits on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helps administer the SOS Program in Russia through its Hesed Welfare Centers.
The Hesed program is a Jewish community building effort where welfare clients become trained volunteers who in turn help other clients by bringing them food, offering home care and running day centers for the elderly. JDC created the Hesed program in 1993, five years after being invited back to the former Soviet Union after a 50-year hiatus.
During those five years, the Soviet Union collapsed, forcing a transition from a fully socialized system to a public-private model, leaving a vacuum in many areas of care.
The Hesed program soon expanded to thousands of communities across Russia, including Yekaterinburg, a city of around 1.3 million people roughly 1,000 miles east of Moscow. Around 15,000 Jews live in the city and 40,000 Jews live in the surrounding region, where the manufacturing sector represents the largest segment of the economy.
Sometimes, though, the Hesed welfare centers aren’t enough.
The Snyder SOS Program provides small, one-time funds to people with emergency medical issues or home repair needs. It might be a few hundred dollars to buy diabetes medicine or to continue chemotherapy treatment; a new gas stove, or a refrigerator.
One client didn’t have clean drinking water because of rotted plumbing. When the Snyders visited, the woman brought out a box of items paid for by the sos fund: a showerhead, a spigot and other piping related items.
“She had tears in her eyes,” Snyder said.
Although the SOS program helps anyone in need, it focuses on the elderly. In Russia, the elderly is a misleading term: the average life expectancy for men is around 60 years old.
Snyder described a woman in her 50s who would be forced to spend her entire monthly pension on medical services without extra money from the fund. The woman made an impression on Snyder because she taught herself to speak perfect English.
“She had osteoporosis at the age of 50, and she was almost blind,” he said, “but she spoke beautiful English.”
In late 2008, the SOS program gave nearly $32,000 to 112 people. The stories are simple, but numerous: a new washing machine for a family of six living in a two-bedroom apartment, eye surgery for a former book store clerk and librarian.
The Snyders travel to Moscow and the Ural Mountain region every few years on these fact-finding missions: to meet the beneficiaries of the program, to thank the workers who implement the funds and to learn what needs still exist in Jewish communities abroad.
These trips inspire complicated emotions: joy in seeing the fruits of the program, exhaustion from traveling, sadness in witnessing misery and gratitude for the comforts of home. Snyder noted that his father chose to immigrate to North America, not Ukraine.
With a different decision, “I would have been brought up living as a Jew in these countries,” Snyder said, “and faced with the issues that these people are faced with.”
The Snyders feel frustrated by increasing needs at a time of declining funds.
“What’s happened in the world, and especially in Russia: The needs have dramatically increased,” he said. “Believe me, we don’t have enough money to supply all of those needs. We’re just catching the people that apply for our loans.”
Like most nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, the JDC is facing “severe funding problems,” said Snyder.
“They’re making Sophie’s Choices every day of the week over here,” he said.
He suggested similar challenges at home. After starting the program in Russia, the Snyders set up a similar SOS Program in Pittsburgh through the Jewish Family & Children’s Service.
Seeing the situation in Russia first-hand gives Snyder information to bring back to Pittsburgh, he said. For the past four years, Snyder has chaired the United Jewish Federation’s Israel and World Jewry Commission, which allocates a portion of the capital campaign for overseas needs.
“I believe this provides me with credibility … I’m experiencing it in some small way,” he said about the trips, which the Snyders pay for out of pocket.
Despite the stories of hardship and illness, which he tells with a catch in his voice, Snyder insists Russia is a hopeful country for Jews. After decades of oppression, Judaism is experiencing a rebirth, he said. Communal life is improving as attendance at Jewish community centers and summer camps rises and more people happily indentify as Jewish.
Walking in the streets, he said, “I see optimistic people. This is not a depressing place.”
August 17, 2009
By promoting the enrollment of every Ethiopian-Israeli youngster in a preschool framework and providing culturally sensitive support, PACT helps the children acquire the social and cognitive skills that Ethiopian-Israeli parents—raised in a rural, oral-based society—cannot provide.
JDC's partnerships with American and Israeli communities have made PACT a pioneer among efforts aimed at closing immigration-related social gaps.
In this short video from JDC-Israel, pre-school children dance to traditional Ethiopian music and learn traditional Ethiopian style of dance at at a kindergarten participating in the PACT program.
August 13, 2009
JDC Short-Term Service Programs are connecting North American young adults to the global Jewish community through 10-day volunteer programs in a Jewish community
overseas. Participants gain a firsthand understanding of the challenges facing a Jewish community overseas and how JDC is addressing community needs.
They have the opportunity to engage in a meaningful service project, connect and build friendships with local Jewish peers , explore what Jewish tradition has to say about service and responsibility to the Jewish people and the world and act as ambassadors for Jewish needs overseas, ready to mobilize friends, family and communities to help.
The most recent trips are in the Former Soviet Union, Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. You can check out what they have been up to by visiting their blogs.
JDC Rocks Dnepropetrovsk
JDC Rocks Kazakhstan
JDC Rocks Kharkov
For more information about JDC's Short Term Service programs, please click HERE.
August 12, 2009
In order to address this issue, JDC introduced the Delet P’tucha curriculum and website in 2007 for teaching Ethiopian-Israeli adults Hebrew and how to enter the workforce.
Website URL: http://opendoor.cet.ac.il/index.aspx
Utilizing culturally appropriate materials and a uniquely designed website that is sensitive to Ethiopian-Israelis cultural background and learning styles, this program focuses on content that is relevant to job seekers and to the newly employed seeking to advance in the workplace.
The Delet P’tucha (Open Door in Hebrew) program is geared towards Ethiopian-Israeli adults that have a wide ranging level of education. After learning Hebrew in class, students are encouraged to use this new website to further their language skills in their own pace at home or in public libraries.
Most websites on the internet today are overflowing with text, links, videos, advertisements, along with all sorts of bells and whistles. All the choices, distractions and such can be very intimidating to someone whose Hebrew reading (and speaking) skills are rudimentary at best. Compare this picture of the Ma'ariv website, one of Israel’s more popular news publications:
When entering the Delet P’tucha website, the user encounters a calm atmosphere. Each box is a clearly marked link and the entire site utilizes both text and sound so users at differing reading comprehension levels can navigate the site easily.
The website also has a series of short video clips, short texts and other relevant vocabulary that is useful in the workplace. Topics discussed in the clips and text include: ‘Why work?’, ‘Why be punctual?’, ‘How to look for a job’, ‘What to expect in an interview’, ‘How to work together’, and ‘Being paid for overtime’.
The Delet P’tucha program, launched in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Education’s Adult Education Department, Israel’s Adult Education Association, and Israel’s Center for Educational Technology, is currently running in 17 cities and thus far 450 adults have completed the program. Though technically still in the initial stages of implementation, Delet P’Tucha has been well received by both students and teachers.
August 10, 2009
August 7, 2009
Their grandparents survived the holocaust. Their parents survived 50 years of communist dictatorship. While their memories of the collapse of communism are vague (they were around 10 years old), they grew up being taught that the rise of democracy and capitalism would usher in an unprecedented level of opportunity for the well educated and hard working citizens of this brave new world. As they reached their 30’s and started to get married and have families, they knew that their children would enjoy, now more than ever, the freedom of being Jews- and in a climate of rapid economic growth. It is in this very context, on the very brink of an historic shift towards freedom and prosperity, that this young middle generation- the future of their respective communities- has found itself today in a terrible state of fear and disillusionment.
Nowhere has this tragic situation been worse than in Latvia, which has experienced a startling freefall of their economy. For years, a community of 12,000 Jews benefited from a revival through institutions that were built on the JCC’s and camps that JDC helped develop. The advantages that these institutions gave the Jewish community, combined with their own hard work, lead to more opportunities than ever to enjoy the cushy and stable middle class lifestyle that western democracies were providing. Now, everything has changed. Just when their greatest hopes were on the horizon, Latvia has been hit by the steepest decline in the 27 member European Union, and one of the most dramatic meltdowns in the world. So far, their economy has shrunk by a startling 18%. What is even worse news is that experts are unable to see any end in sight. The physical and psychological effects of such a radical change are devastating, and have lead to dozens of suicides since the economic crisis began.
When Latvia jointed the EU in 2004, they not only full heartedly welcomed the psychological exuberance of new democratic hopes; they also literally bought into such hopes by going on a giant lending binge to buy the minimum essentials for a middle class life, such as a car and a small apartment. All of their loans, including small consumer loans to buy essential items such as a refrigerator, were pegged to the Euro. When the global financial crisis began, the bubble burst. Latvia has now seen unemployment skyrocket to 16%, and business and banks closing at an unprecedented rate. IMF and EU assistance has thus far failed to implement any concrete changes on the ground.
The brunt of the burden has fallen on one strata of society in particular- the young middle class. Highly skilled professionals are packing their desks as their companies (many of which are foreign), are closing down. At home, the cost of living has skyrocketed as the government cuts subsidies. Cuts in subsidies for electricity alone have lead to an increase in cost of between 19%-50%. With schools, mortgages, and electricity bills for an entire family to pay, these young families are now in serious distress. Furthermore, while governments around the world are investing millions, if not billions, of dollars into the market in order to stimulate the economy, Latvia is raising taxes in order to balance its deficit. The result is an entire middle class that are now finding themselves in a matter of months with a new identity. They are now called “The New Poor”.
One of JDC’s clients, Elena is a divorced mother of 2 teenagers. Eight months ago, she had a stable position as a manager. She enjoyed an above average salary and a solid middle class lifestyle. However, when the crisis caused her company to downsize, she was let go. While she was able to hold out for a few months, eventually she found herself unable to afford the most basic necessities for herself and her family. She is now a client of JDC’s “supermarket service.” Walking around the supermarket with her two boys, Elena now chooses her food carefully before a trained social worker helps with the payment and moral support. Through shopping “on her own,” Elena feels that she has maintained a part of the routine she had before she became part of the “new poor”- thus maintaining her dignity. As Elena gazed towards the ground though in a failed effort to look the social worker of the program in the eyes when saying goodbye, it’s clear that it’s not always easy. Elena is only one of thousands across Latvia, and the Baltics in general, that have now joined the ranks of the “new poor.” Furthermore, the actual numbers of new poor are difficult to estimate, since many are living off the remainder of their savings and have not come forward yet.
As the economy falters from outside, the Jewish community on the inside is teetering on the brink of a financial meltdown as well. The emerging middle class, which accounted for around 20% of membership fees within the community, are now struggling to cover their most basic needs. Furthermore, while Latvia once lead the way in Eastern Europe in terms of private donations, today we expect a loss of approximately 50% of pledges.
While the “providers” within the community go under, the most vulnerable populations face the greatest danger- children and elderly. In the past the “children in need” programs served only dysfunctional families or the “structural poor.” Today, we are seeing dozens of middle class families asking for support. Many, facing foreclosures and evictions, are requesting housing help. Others need psychological counselling. Bred on the dream that playing by the “new rules” after the collapse of communism would enable them to thrive, and having now tasted the “western lifestyle” only to have the rug pulled from under the feet, they have been driven to high levels of anxiety and depression.
As pensions are cut and their children and grandchildren can no longer help them, the elderly in Latvia and other Baltic countries are the other vulnerable population in danger. “Classic” welfare programs, which provide food and medicine, are now back and in increased demand.
Ida L. (85), for example, was born in the city of Gomel (Belorussia) to a large Jewish family. After a graduation party, she went to Kharkov to visit her aunt. She returned to her home on June 22, 1941 – exactly in a day when the War started. She never met her family again; all of them were killed by the Nazis. She was evacuated to a collective farm, until the liberation of Gomel. When her husband died, she was left as a single mother with one son.
In 1989, when the rebirth of Jewish life in Lithuania started, Ida came to the Jewish community & became the member of Rahamim-Lithuania. As an accountant, she helped the Community as a volunteer. She was very active till 2002, when her son suddenly died. Ida became very sick.
However, the Community did not forget Ida, and immediately came to help her with welfare programs, which today are providing her with home care, meals on wheels, medicines, and winter relief. For Ida, the fact that she has not been forgotten is just as important as the actual food and medicine that she receives.
While this crisis deepens, so must our efforts to aid people like Ida and Elena. The four major categories of need in Latvia are Welfare (food, medicine, housing), Job training and placement, scholarships instead of fee based community participation, and filling in the 10% cuts from the state pension welfare system for the elderly and new poor. Now is the time when we will be tested- when elderly like Ida and the “new poor” like Elena depend on us most. To children in need and the elderly poor like Ida, it is now or never. For the “new poor” like Elena, our efforts towards them now could be the difference between making or breaking the dreams of many in their community, whose future they are an integral part of. They are a temporary caseload, as demonstrated in the Argentinean crisis. When the economy recuperates, so will they; and is so doing, they will regain the hopes and dreams that they believed in and have worked so hard for.
Additional Articles about the Economic Situation in the Baltics and Elsewhere:
"Latvia’s currency crisis is a rerun of Argentina’s" from th Financial Times
"The World's Hardest-Hit Economies" from Forbes Magazine
August 6, 2009
As it is almost the end of July, we are busy producing a draft 2010 budget for the Board to consider at its October meeting. In the absence of new funds, there unfortunately will be significant reductions in our Jewish Renewal activities. There will also be significant changes in our welfare activities. It will be necessary to shift emphasis in most of our welfare programs to simply providing the basics, such as food, clothing, and homecare. The socialization component of the program regrettably will continue to shrink as we close buildings in smaller communities and save funds by reducing or eliminating soup kitchens and Warm Homes. While each of us on staff is acutely aware of what these programs mean to elderly Jews, we see no alternative without additional funding.
I received a very poignant letter from JDC Board member Etta Zimmerman, which she titles “When the Dancing Slows and the Music Stops”. I share it with you here:
I have enjoyed many trips throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the FSU; usually the highlight for me is joining a senior social event. Somehow the bittersweet home visits and all of the budget challenges seem to slip away. The joy I have experienced with the elderly through music and tasty cookies illuminates the unique essence of what JDC provides. When the communist block crumbled, the circumstances in which the Jews lived were often dire. JDC’s mission, especially in the FSU, evolved into nourishing more than just the bodies of the elderly, but also to mending the souls. Warm Homes were established, Yiddish clubs were started, and people would enjoy the company of fellow clients over a warm meal in a kosher soup kitchen. The consistent effort to provide essential services with ultimate attention to the recipient’s dignity captures the very essence of JDC.
I have held hands and embraced seniors from St. Petersburg, Russia to Zaporozhye, Ukraine and many locations in between. Often times I enter a room at the Hesed or JCC filled with seniors and I sing or dance with them. I have seen sad faces transformed by a familiar tune on a tired piano. I have watched slumped over spines somehow straighten and push themselves up with canes to sway to a familiar childhood song. I have seen tears of joy and sorrow flow from cloudy eyes. How rewarding it is to see these otherwise lonely people have each other, combined with a bit of joy. At Yesod in St. Petersburg, I sang and held hands with an 80-plus-year-old woman who smiled at meeting an American; Sofia told me she was sad because her friend died and she almost did not come to the Senior Club, but she was glad she had because now she was no longer so blue. Earlier that day, my husband, Raymond, and I came upon an organized senior “match making” service. They wanted to enter Raymond in the pool of candidates since there are fewer men than women! We nicely explained Raymond was not available for a “match”. So they continued with their activities, knitting blankets and clothing for young children, and were completely invigorated by each other’s company.
In Zaporozhe I danced with Yankie, who is in his 90s and visually impaired, but he has enough sight to brag to his friends that he got to dance with a young blonde girl! I have sung with Valentina, a woman whose only socialization occurs once a month when the HesedMobile drives her from her shtetl to Zhitomir. I have hugged Rosa in Kiev who was happy to meet a “young” lady and she sang beautiful Yiddish melodies for me. I have been told special and very personal stories by Holocaust survivors in Dneprozherzhinsk, because I tell them I am the child of a survivor and so we share a commonality. Many of the seniors share their lives, stories, smiles, and meager snacks. The dignity afforded these frail seniors through these social activities is nothing short of life-sustaining. As always, JDC goes beyond meeting rudimentary needs—a quality that distinguishes this organization from so very many others. These profound and simple acts of loving kindness (G’milut Chasadim) have been part of modern Jewish history. If you ever met anyone who was in a Displaced Person’s camp, they always will remember a liberation dress, a seder, the extra care given by the “great organization” that served warmly, selflessly, and consistently—the Joint.
So I must ask, when we gently say we are shifting services in these challenged times, do we chronicle the short-term or long-term effect of reduced visits to JCCs and Warm Homes or closed soup kitchens on the frail and socially isolated Jewish elderly? Somehow the budget comparisons do not illuminate this issue, because it is so very difficult to chronicle. We know that the population is aging, often requiring a “shift” in services from hot meals to home health care. But what can we say about the widower who will not see friends because the soup kitchen has shut down? Will this lead to social isolation and ultimately bring about depression and poor health? What about the 90-year-old woman who will not get to visit the Warm Home because her residence is in the periphery and the transportation costs are no longer in the budget? How will she celebrate her life—alone with the occasional food or health products delivered at less frequent intervals? Will the seniors who gather in Kharkov on Sunday afternoon be alright when the music stops and when the cookie plate is empty?
JDC has been proactive in working within these very challenging budgetary times. The professionals in the field often must feel as though the weight of the world is upon them. None of these decisions are easy and these challenges are often difficult to quantify. But the essence of what distinguishes JDC is the dignity factor, and hopefully we can stay the course in spite of our current challenges. We can and must keep the socialization of the seniors as part of the very sustenance that is JDC.
Irv and I believe that with your help, we will find the money needed to nourish the body and the soul as JDC has always done. There simply is no other way. We owe it to these elderly Jews who have so little and have suffered so much.
August 4, 2009
A Few Words from Our President
Last week, with a few other members of our community, I had the pleasure to attend a meeting at the American Joint Distribution Committee office in New York. My Rabbi, Bennett Miller, always says that the people who work at the Joint are the, "true heroes of the Jewish people." Everything I have witnessed around the world ceratinly bears truth to that statement. In Cuba I saw how a young couple from Argentina, Ivan and Cynthia, almost single handedly rebuilt the Cuban-Jewish community. In the Ukraine I saw elderly Jews who would starve to death if not for the food distribution work done by the Joint. I saw stroke victims who would never get out of bed if not for visits from the Joint. There are more than 500,000 Jews in the FSU who are reached by services of the Joint.
Everywhere I have been in the world, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the FSU, Israel - the folks of the Joint are working as the on-the-ground representative of us all.
In Israel, the Joint works to improve services and enrich the lives of the country's most vulnerable population. There are 300,000 "at risk" children in Israel. We heard how several "Joint" initiated programs are now run by the government, allowing the Joint to move on to other projects.
Even in such unlikely places as Zimbabwe or Myanmar the Joint has a presence. Wherever there is a Jewish community in distress, regardless of its size, the Joint will respond. The Joint has a presence in 70 countries around the world. Its budget is roughly divided as follows: 40% in the FSU; 40% in Israel, and the remaing 20% in the rest of the world.
Our Federation is proud to support the efforts of the Joint through our Federation/United Jewish Communities system.