May 27, 2010

Unexpected Outcomes

From Steve Schwager, CEO

As you know, PACT (Parents and Children Together) was established to reduce the educational and social gaps between Ethiopian-Israeli and veteran Israeli children by the time they reach first grade. But the following story reminds us that in practice, PACT accomplishes much more—it creates an open channel of communication among kindergarten teachers, parents, and the municipality, while also reflecting a cadre of caring and dedicated professionals who are prepared to go beyond their job description to strengthen—and sometimes save lives in—the Ethiopian-Israeli community. Irv and I want to take this opportunity to thank the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for their support of PACT in Beit Shemesh, which is creating small miracles like this one every day….

Anat, the PACT Coordinator in Beit Shemesh, received a phone call about a month ago from one of the kindergarten supervisors; she had just witnessed a troubling conversation at one of the kindergartens between the parents of an Ethiopian-Israeli boy, the teacher, and Edna, the PACT Ethiopian-Israeli Liaison.

The kindergarten teacher was telling the parents that their child was very unsettled, wasn't able to sit and concentrate, and was being disruptive; the teacher wanted to hear from the parents how the child behaved at home. Edna facilitated the conversation by translating between Amharic and Hebrew.

Edna immediately visited the family in their home. She found a broken family in distress.

The mother and father explained that one evening, five years ago while they were still living in Ethiopia, the mother was bathing her baby son and asked her 12-year-old daughter, Avinu, to go down to the local shop to buy more baby oil.

Avinu went on the errand and never returned. The mother searched everywhere for her, but she had simply disappeared. After a few weeks of constant searching, the parents decided to seize the opportunity to make aliyah to Israel with their other children, but without Avinu or knowing what had happened to her.

From the moment they arrived in Israel, the parents told everyone the story of their daughter and of her disappearance in Ethiopia—but no progress was made.

Every day life in Beit Shemesh was unbearable: ridden with worry about the fate of their daughter, the parents couldn’t sleep at night and therefore struggled to function during the day. They explained that the stress and distress were affecting their son—and so he had become disruptive in kindergarten.

As for Avinu, no one knew her fate. Was she still alive?

Anat, the PACT Coordinator, immediately turned to a contact at the municipality. He, in turn, shared the girl's plight with his contacts in Israel and abroad, urging them to do everything in their power to facilitate Avinu’s return to her family.

A week passed and the kindergarten teacher contacted Anat to say that the parents had shown up at the school elated, hugging her and saying "mazal tov, mazal tov." She didn’t fully understand what had happened because they didn’t speak any Hebrew; Edna, the PACT Liaison, was contacted immediately to translate.

Edna explained that their daughter, Avinu, had been found in Ethiopia. She had been transferred to Addis Ababa and would soon be reunited with her family.

On May 14, 2010 at 1:00 am, the delegation left for Ben Gurion airport where the emotional reunion took place. After so much suffering and heartache, everyone’s sheer joy was palpable. Avinu safely made aliyah. And her little brother, whose involvement in PACT played a transformational role in the life of his family, was thrilled that his big sister had been found!

Avinu’s mother asked to share one thought with the media:

"I wish to the mother of Gilad Shalit that she will be able to feel what I feel at this very moment. I send you my thoughts and wishes, and I am praying for your son, Gilad, that he will return to you like Avinu was returned to her mother."

He who saves one life, it is as if he saved the whole world.

May 25, 2010

JDC Mission Visits with Our Partners on the Ground in Haiti

In April, three months after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, members of JDC's Board of Directors and senior staff traveled to Port-au-Prince to witness JDC's partners in action. Learn about JDC's work with Heart to Heart International and the Afya Foundation, two organizations that are helping to rehabilitate and empower Haitian people, both young and old.

About JDC's partner organizations featured in the video:
JDC's partnership with the Afya Foundation is helping amputees to perform activities of daily living independently by providing them physical and occupational therapy and rehabilitation equipment.

JDC's support of Heart to Heart International is helping to provide medical care, equipment, and services to victims of the earthquake. JDC has also funded the purchase of two trucks and two SUVs to transport Heart to Heart’s teams of doctors, nurses, and other material assistance to communities in need outside of Port-au-Prince such as Leogane and Jacmel where adequate relief has been slow to reach.

JDC’s partnership with the Prodev Foundation, a local Haitian NGO focusing on education and development, is providing clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands of displaced earthquake victims living in tent villages. More than 400,000 gallons are being accessed daily through 80 water tanks.  JDC has also partnered with Prodev to operate 10 temporary schools for 2,000 displaced children in spontaneous settlements in Port-au-Prince. Already underway, each school has a curriculum, with instruction being provided by Haitian teachers and university students.

For more information about JDC's partnerships and relief efforts in Haiti, please go HERE.
To donate to our relief efforts in Haiti, please visit our DONATE page and choose "Haiti Earthquake Relief" in the drop-down menu. 

May 24, 2010

ASYV Fundraiser Featured in the Press

On May 12, Liquidnet Holdings, Inc. raised $500,000 for the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda at their second annual "Stand Up and Be Counted" gala event.

Liquidnet Holdings, Inc., a New York-based financial technology firm, is the lead corporate partner of the ASYV. The ASYV is the signature project of Liquidnet’s Global Social Engagement program, whereby the company leverages a wide variety of its resources to tackle social challenges.

Read all about the event at Liquidnet Trades for Rwanda Victims.

For more information about the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, visit

Video featured at the first "Stand Up and Be Counted" event in 2009.

May 21, 2010

Reflections on the Jewish Community's Response to the Crisis in Haiti

William Bernstein, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County attended the JDC Board meetings earlier this month, where he heard presentations on JDC's response to the earthquake in Haiti, both from JDC professional staff and representatives from two of our partner organizations on the ground.  On his blog, Bill's Blog, he reflects on JDC's relief efforts in Haiti and the quick and tremendous response by the Jewish Federations in answer to this crisis. 

Read the blog post at A Light Unto the Nations.

May 18, 2010

University of Washington Students Begin Preparations for Volunteering in Ethiopia

Students from the University of Washington Hillel will soon embark on a trip to volunteer with JDC programs in Ethiopia as part of JDC Short Term Service.   

Check out their first blog post about the orientation process for the trip at University of Washington Hillel: Orientation #1!

About JDC Short Term Service:
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is seeking to connect young, North American Jews to the global Jewish community through Short-Term Service Programs for college students and young adults. Through meaningful volunteer projects directly connected to JDC’s global programs, participants take action to meet challenges facing Jewish communities abroad, gain insight into global Jewish needs, connect with local Jewish peers, and explore notions of global Jewish identity and collective responsibility. Participants return home feeling a real responsibility to care for their Jewish “family” overseas, and prepared to take action on behalf of the community they visited.

By the end of 2010, nearly 800 North American Jewish young adults will have experienced a JDC Short-Term Service Program and served in communities around the globe, from Israel, to Kazakhstan, to Argentina, to Rwanda.

For more information on JDC’s service programs, visit

May 14, 2010

Photos of the JDC Ambassadors Circle Global Symposium on May 10 - Part II

On May 10, 2010 Jewish leaders and philanthropists from across the country and around the world joined us at JDC's global headquarters for our JDC Ambassadors Circle Global Symposium. It was a great event featuring JDC's best and brightest who shared their insight and knowledge of JDC's work around the globe.

Danny Pins, Director, JDC's Immigrant Integration Division talks about the challenges of integrating the most vulnerable immigrant populations into mainstream Israeli society. 

Jennifer Kraft, Director of Community Relations and Linda Levi, Director of JDC Archives take participants on a walk through JDC's 96 year history. 

Sam Amiel, Senior Program Officer, gives an overview on the Jews of North Africa.

JDC Board of Directors member Mark Sisisky presents the upcoming JDC mission to Ukraine in June.    

JDC Board of Directors members (from left) Susie Stern, Betsy Sheerr, Alan Jaffe and Mark Sisisky participate in a panel discussion to discuss philanthropy and the Jewish world.

Our keynote speaker, Asher Ostrin, Executive Director of Former Soviet Union Programs shares lessons and values learned during his 24 year career working for JDC. 

Video clips of our presenters coming soon....

May 13, 2010

Photos of the JDC Ambassadors Circle Global Symposium on May 10 - Part I

On May 10, 2010 Jewish leaders and philanthropists from across the country and around the world joined us at JDC's global headquarters for our JDC Ambassadors Circle Global Symposium.  It was a great event featuring JDC's best and brightest who shared their insight and knowledge of JDC's work around the globe. 

Steven Price, JDC Ambassadors Circle Chair welcomes everyone and sets the tone for the day.

Steve Schwager, JDC CEO shares his insight into the Jewish world and the issues that are most relevant to the global Jewish community. 

Mandie Winston, Senior Program Officer, gives an update on JDC's relief efforts in Haiti and shares personal observations and stories from her time in Port au Prince as part of JDC's response team

Will Recant, Assistant Executive Vice President talks about JDC's response after the earthquake in Chile, explaining how and why it was different than JDC's response in Haiti.

Sara Hirschhorn, , Division Director for Strategic Partnerships discusses Israel's most pressing social challenges today and highlights some of JDC's programs that are working to address them. 

Stefan Oscar,  JDC Area Director for Poland and the Baltic States talks about the challenges of Jewish life in the region.

Fabian Triskier, Associate Director of JDC Latin America addresses the issues facing Jewish communities in South America in an ever increasingly complex environment.

Yossi Tamir, Director of Tevet - JDC's Employment Initiative discusses JDC's efforts to fight poverty and foster independence through employment in Israel.

More to come and stay tuned for video clips of our presenters very soon...

May 11, 2010


We would like to thank everyone who joined us in New York City on May 10, 2010
for the JDC Ambassadors Circle Global Symposium.


More pictures and videos to come....

May 7, 2010

Haiti: A Change in JDC's Modus Operandi

From JDC CEO, Steve Schwager

I share with you some startling but basic statistics about Haiti. Prior to the January earthquake, Haiti had a population of 10 million people, two million of whom lived in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The quake killed 250,000 people, while another 600,000 fled the city and haven’t returned. Approximately 700,000 Haitians are now living in tents in Port-au-Prince, afraid or unable to return to their homes.

These statistics—and much more—pounded in my head as I sat in Haiti’s airport last Thursday afternoon waiting to return to the United States. JDC’s International Development Program Chair Trish Uhlmann, as well as Board members Alan Batkin and Dr. Michael Levinson, joined Will Recant, Mandie Winston, and me on this eye-opening Board mission. Throughout the three-day visit and while sitting in the airport, I kept reflecting on how JDC’s traditional approach to disaster relief was not going to work here, given the complete lack of a central government in Haiti. Normally we initiate pilot projects with local NGOs that later take the projects over with their own resources.

But in Haiti, almost four months after the earthquake, there is still rubble from collapsed buildings and garbage everywhere. Not once did we see any heavy equipment or garbage trucks trying to clear away the debris. Occasionally we saw some small groups of workers, paid $5 a day, breaking up concrete by using sledge hammers. These limited efforts are hardly making a dent in what is an enormous task.

Virtually every government ministry building, the presidential palace, and hundreds of schools that were filled with students collapsed. Fifteen percent of Haiti’s children went to public schools, while 85 percent attended private schools which charged tuition. Haiti had a literacy rate of 50 percent.

The government ordered those schools that were still intact to open in early April. Some did open, but others could not, either because the parents could no longer pay tuition due to job loss or because the students no longer lived near the school. Further, most of the 350,000 children living in tent camps had nowhere to learn because the camps are a far distance from the undamaged schools.

Talking about the camps—they are anywhere and everywhere there is open space. The main park of Port-au-Prince is now a tent city with thousands of residents. A center median on a road is now housing tents. Camps generally have no electricity, sparse latrines, and limited fresh water. It takes very little imagination to realize that they rapidly could become frightening sources of disease and discontent.

Medical care is urgently needed but chaotic at best. The earthquake victims have been treated free-of-charge at government and private clinics and by non-Haitian NGOs that have opened free clinics. The ironic result is that as time has passed, Haiti’s private clinics and private hospitals are going bankrupt and closing their doors, since they are no longer collecting the fees needed to pay their medical staff.

In spite of all these difficulties, life is returning to Port-au-Prince. Food and other goods are being sold by peddlers on the street and in the camps as well. Cars and motorcycles are everywhere and traffic is impossible. I wondered what traffic was like before the quake.

Into this horrible situation comes JDC. Our model has always been to create pilot programs which can be taken over by others and replicated throughout the country. We usually partner with the government or large local NGOs, but this simply will not happen in Haiti in the near future. Our role will be to create niche projects with local NGOs and fund them for as long as we have resources available.

So for now, we change our modus operandi. Irv and I recognize that our focus has to be helping individual Haitians in the hope they will take their learning and make a difference in the future. So what are we doing?

We have partnered with a Haitian NGO to run 10 schools in the tent cities in greater Port-au-Prince. That translates to 2,000 children receiving an education.

In partnership with another NGO, we are helping amputees resume a normal life. We sat with a number of people who lost arms or legs or both in the earthquake. They shared that when their limbs were amputated, they thought their lives were over. But with the help of physical therapy and the use of a prosthetic, they were smiling and talking about the future.

At a medical clinic we are operating with a third NGO, I watched infants receive critical treatment that literally means the difference between life and death for them.

The more than $3.5 million dollars allocated by JDC to various projects is having real human impact and is a meaningful beginning. The American Jewish community should know, and be proud, that on their behalf we are touching the lives of literally thousands of individual Haitians. Our approach, for now, is helping to rebuild Haiti one person at a time.

You may recall that after the earthquake hit, I wrote a column remarking that the world Jewish community owed a debt to the people of Haiti for their changed vote at the United Nations in 1947, which resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel. At dinner one evening on my recent trip, I was retelling the story of the debt the Jews owed the Haitian people. A local banker stopped me—and then finished the story. He shared with all of us that it was his father who served as Ambassador to the UN in 1947 and he was the one who cast the vote to give us a homeland. I was amazed—what a remarkable coincidence that we met in Haiti so many years later, and how appropriate that we were there to offer our assistance in the people of Haiti’s time of need. This was one of those times when I was so vividly reminded that what goes around truly does come around.

May 4, 2010

Looking to the Future in Djerba, Tunisia

From Steve Schwager, CEO

Decades ago, when malnutrition still afflicted Jewish children in Djerba, Tunisia, JDC ran a school canteen serving approximately 200 meals per day. Early each morning JDC also served glasses of milk—and with each glass came a piece of Swiss chocolate. Those willing to drink a second vitamin-packed glass received a second piece of chocolate.

Sweet moments are rarely forgotten—even amidst great change.

Recently, a young teacher in Djerba told Yechiel Bar Chaim, JDC’s Country Director for Tunisia, that his father “still remembers the tasty olive oil” that JDC used to distribute to the poor 35 years ago. Even the current community president, Youssef Ouezzen, who is now a prosperous businessman in his mid-forties, reminisces fondly about the “incredibly durable shoes” and “long-lasting trousers” the Joint would hand out to the needy when he was a boy.

Over the years, as the Jews of Djerba have become better educated (with the help of JDC-supported schools) and living conditions have generally improved, JDC closed the canteen and no longer distributed goods-in-kind. A community tax imposed on the sale of kosher meat soon enabled our local partners in Djerba to take over the discreet payment of monthly cash assistance to needy Jews. And just recently, the community took the initiative to build and furnish a small one-room apartment for the last of the Djerban Jewish beggars.

These developments, made possible through JDC’s work with the local community, have allowed us to shift our priorities toward the community’s future—the flourishing Jewish education system. Largely funded by designated gifts, JDC’s Djerban agenda focuses on training teachers and modernizing the curricula for the 300 children who now study in the Jewish kindergarten, schools, and yeshivot.

The only other remnant of JDC’s welfare activities on the island is that we reimburse the community’s bikkur holim fund (bikkur holim literally means visiting the sick) half the cost of medications for Djerba’s neediest Jews.