April 18, 2012

The Latest Briefing From Steve Schwager, JDC CEO

Join us on May 8 for our JDC Ambassadors luncheon to hear Will Recant speak more in depth about his work.  The lunch will focus on JDC's efforts in rescue and reconciliation in conflict zones.    

The op-ed  piece below, written by Will Recant, JDC’s International Development Program (IDP) Director and Assistant Executive Vice President, appeared in the Cleveland Jewish News after Will spoke at a Jewish Federation of Cleveland event.  It’s all about tikkun olam, the philosophy of caring, and the partnerships that help make it all happen.   And for Penny and me, it’s also about the very soul of JDC’s non-sectarian mission.

Special to the CJN
Our rabbis and sages taught us that the Jewish people are to be a “light unto the nations.” But what does this mean in 2012, especially in a world wracked by economic instability, war, and natural disasters?

For an organization like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – which every day rescues Jews in danger, alleviates hunger and hardship among the poorest and most helpless Jews, revitalizes Jewish communities outside of North America, and helps Israel provide a better future for its most vulnerable people – it means upholding and continuing our historic tradition of supporting victims of natural and man-made emergencies and disasters.

From our earliest years, JDC has shared its expertise and the very best programs developed in the Jewish world and especially in Israel with others during their hour of need. A look at JDC’s work in earthquake-ravaged Haiti and post-genocide Rwanda gives a picture of exactly how we save lives and put people back on the path of recovery.

Immediately after the massive quake devastated Haiti in January 2010, the Israel Defense Forces sent a mobile field hospital, the first to arrive and set up camp in Port-au-Prince. Having worked directly with the IDF field units during past emergencies, JDC knew what supplies were on hand and what was needed. JDC provided the hospital with special orthopedic equipment for crush victims and incubators for premature infants. Seventy-two hours after the quake, the parents of a little baby were standing around the incubator where their son was lying – the only place in the country where he could have survived his birth. They warmly named him “Israel".

Since those first days, JDC's help has reached nearly 300,000 Haitians, including eighth-grader Fabienne and her fellow students at a new, handicapped-accessible middle school built and opened in the city of Zoranje. This is not to mention the work being done at JDC’s state-of-the-art rehabilitation clinic at l’Hôpital de l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti and nearby prosthetic lab.

For 24-year-old Oscar, dreams of being a professional soccer player or a high-tech mogul might have vanished after losing his right leg during the quake. But today, Oscar and other quake victims have found hope – and the ability to walk again – at the clinic. The facility was developed in cooperation with Israel’s Magen David Adom and the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital.

In 1994 over 800,000 innocent victims were murdered during a violent genocide throughout Rwanda. The Jewish people know and have survived genocide. Following the Holocaust, Yemin Orde established residential Youth Villages in Israel for Jewish orphans of the Holocaust. Seven years ago, the idea of taking that model to Rwanda was conceptualized by Anne Heyman, a Jewish philanthropist who brought the idea to JDC.

This year – with the support of JDC and its volunteers– the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda will celebrate its first graduating class of 125 students. The village includes 32 group homes, a high school, science and computer labs, land for organic farming, a reforestation program, a dining hall, counseling and medical facilities, and recreational fields. This comprehensive living and learning community provides security,  structure, and unconditional support for these young people and instills in them the values of tikkun ha’lev and tikkun olam – repair of the heart and repair of the world.

And if those heartening examples were not enough, in 2011 JDC aided the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami by adapting its renowned post-trauma program — developed for Israeli children during the Second Lebanon War — to treat Japanese children; worked together with the Turkish Jewish community to get heaters to those suffering in the cold after the Van Province earthquake; and distributed blankets and food to Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa.

For JDC, being a light unto the nations in 2012, as it has been since our founding in 1914, means putting into action the Talmudic principle that “to save one life is to save an entire world.” And wherever in the world we are needed, we perform that duty on behalf of the Jews of Cleveland, North America, and the world.

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