June 24, 2010

Briefing from Steve Schwager, CEO

This August 31 will mark 96 years since the now famous telegram was sent by Henry Morgenthau Sr., then U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, to New York-based philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff asking for $50,000 to feed starving Jews in Eretz Yisrael. JDC began its work there—and we have never left. Israel is the strategic center of our global operations, which now span more than 70 countries.

Our commitment to Israel is constant, even as our method of operation in Israel and around the world is fluid. As circumstances have changed over the years, so has our work. In Israel, for example, JDC moved from operating a network of old age homes to partnering with the Government of Israel on the development of cutting-edge social service programs for its most vulnerable citizens (the elderly included). Today, JDC spends 40 percent of its global budget in the State of Israel.

In recognition of JDC’s ongoing commitment to Israel’s citizens, we were recently honored by the presence of Isaac “Buji” Herzog, Israel’s Minister of Welfare and Social Services, at our May 2010 Board meetings in NY. The following is an excerpt from his remarks there:

In 1914, JDC was established. A few years down the road you will be celebrating a hundred years. Little did the founders of JDC realize what they had done when they created this institution, combining two great causes that are typified in Jewish writings. One is what we say in the Haggadah: “b’kol dor v’dor”—in each generation, one needs to see himself as if he came out of Egypt. Namely, one needs to understand the challenges of the generation and realize that these challenges never fade away. And secondly, “kol Yisrael arevim ze leze.” All of Israel guarantees. The word is “arevim,” guarantee each other. This is what runs deep through Jewish life wherever we are throughout history. This is what keeps us going. This is what impressed Winston Churchill; in my mind, this is what should impress all nations on earth. Because if you think about it, you are sitting here, and at the end of Siberia, a Jewish family receives your help. This is enormous. This is awesome.

The same applies to Israel. One is very much aware that Israel is in a different context and situation altogether. I must tell you that the challenges never fade away; they can be much greater than people imagine just beyond the horizon. We may again meet challenges of the same magnitude as those in 1948, and for this reason the contribution of JDC to the resilience of the community in Israel—the resilience of the society in Israel in all of its ethnicity, multiculturalism, and mosaic-type structure—is enormous. It’s almost unimaginable. Now, I’m not saying this out of flattery. I’m saying it as one of your most serious partners, who works with JDC, with Joint Israel, on a daily basis, and believes that you are an incredible partner and you exemplify what partnership is all about.

Moreover, you are the greatest successful example of what government should do when they work with communities, and what government should do when they work with the nonprofit sector. This partnership is unique. Governments should not exclude themselves and say, “We know best.” And governments should not say, “We have enough resources. We don’t need you guys.” The other way around. The government needs partners to open its eyes, to come with bright ideas, to develop new ideologies, to think of changing the streams in society, to analyze in-depth and professionally, at arm’s length, and to move forward with partnerships that strengthen the innermost fabrics of society. Our partnerships with you range from the most delicate topic of the life of young children to the most complicated stories of Holocaust survivors. Our partnership ranges from the issue of feeding people—yes, in a modern country you have problems of feeding people, it happens here but it happens in Israel as well—to the most professional analysis as we see with Myers-JDC-Brookdale of where things are going in terms of the future of Israeli society or its current status.

This partnership is really vital; it’s one of the backbones of our services in Israel. And I urge you, those who haven’t yet done so, to come and see it. And those of you who are involved and have seen it, learn more every day. This partnership has taken on a new evolutionary stage, where we simply feel that when there is a new idea, a new phenomenon, a new thought, or a new challenge, we first turn to JDC because we know we will get the best stuff; we will get a very professional corporate culture, and a long-range vision of how things should look in the future while basing itself on past experiences that span sixty-two years.

So, I express my heartfelt thanks to the Board of JDC for all its commitment, to the leadership of JDC for its contribution, and to our fellow friends at Joint Israel for their outstanding work.

Irv and I were deeply impressed with Minister Herzog’s remarks recognizing the critical partnership we have with the Government. Our connection to Israel and to its people is forever. So we at JDC must continue to do our part to help Israel move ahead in its challenging yet inspiring charge to fulfill the biblical command of becoming a light unto nations.

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