Beyond our immediate sphere of influence and interest in Jewish Detroit, we often speak of caring for the lives and future of Jews around the world. What does that mean? How do our connections to NEXTGen, JBaby or Jewish Senior Life here in Michigan reach out to the 300,000 Jews living in chaos in Ukraine today? Where were we in relation to the Jewish elderly caught in the crossfires of the war this summer in Israel? How do we support Jewish communities in centers which most of us will never visit in Cuba, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and Asia? And how are we developing the next generation of leaders looking out for the benefit of K’lal Yisrael— our Jewish peoplehood worldwide?
Federation has a hand in supporting the well-being, vitality and security of Jewish communities around the world primarily through the action of three partner agencies: the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), World ORT and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
As times of crisis have pushed societies to their extreme, encouraging solidarity on the one hand and deepening tensions and straining the capacity for tolerance on the other, Federation’s partners overseas are but a few of the Jewish agencies that act as first responders with boots on the ground to address some of the world’s toughest challenges while celebrating Jewish life worldwide.
JDC’s Detroit Connections
An agency almost as old as Federation itself, JDC (often called the Joint) is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian organization, confronting crisis and poverty today in more than 70 nations. As far and wide as the JDC can reach around the globe, it also happens to be an agency as close to home as Bloomfield Hills and the halls of the Max M. Fisher Federation Building where a little Jewish geography always goes a long way. Those who know Penny Blumstein as a passionate community leader, a philanthropist and past President of Federation are particularly heartened to know that she is now at the helm of the JDC as its 16th President.
In addition to her work with JDC and Federation, Penny Blumenstein is a past Chair of The Jewish Fund; serves on the Board of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; is a past member of the West Bloomfield Board at the Henry Ford Health System; and is a Vice Chair of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan.
“IN A WORLD PROVING TO BE INCREASINGLY DANGEROUS. . . JDC’s ability to respond with boldness and immediacy to crises is one of our most compelling—and historically prevailing—features.” So begins a recent message to the community co-signed by Penny Blumenstein and JDC’s Chief Executive Officer, Alan H. Hill. Excerpts follow:
JDC in Israel
These past months, the JDC once again stood shoulder-to-shoulder with all Israelis as much of the country came under missile attack from Hamas.
The JDC immediately mobilized its existing networks and partnerships with Israeli government agencies and local NGOs to care for the homebound and vulnerable, helping frightened elderly and people with disabilities when day centers were shuttered, and organizing alternative activities for children. The critical budget that we have made over time to ensure a future of opportunity for all Israelis consistently have proven to be rallying points in war and emergencies.
Together we are carrying JDC’s mission forward into our second century… embracing every opportunity to forge a stronger, more inclusive global Jewish future.”
JDC partners around the world
At the same time, the roiling crisis in Ukraine, sparked in November 2013 and erupting again in early 2014, reminded us why it is so important for JDC to be there for Jews in danger or need worldwide. Our response for the poorest among Ukraine’s several hundred thousand Jews— which included mobile units, caregivers and community volunteers – ensured the uninterrupted delivery of critical assistance.
Amid this tumult, JDC continued to champion creative opportunities to engage in Jewish life. From the newly opened JCC in Warsaw to the first-ever Limmud Jewish learning festival in Mumbai to a second pan-Asian Jewish conclave in Shanghai, we are helping local activists create new pathways for stronger Jewish connection and a deeper understanding of our shared heritage.
As always, JDC honors that heritage and responsibility by providing life-sustaining aid to the world’s poorest elderly Jews. With support from our restitution partner — the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), the Jewish Federations of North America, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), and other philanthropists and donors, the Hesed network of social welfare centers that we helped establish in the former Soviet Union (FSU) provided food, medicine, home care and other forms of assistance to more than 144,000 elderly Jews in nearly 2,600 locations last year.
Through the IFCJ-JDC Partnership for Children, we are bringing hope for a brighter future to nearly 33,000 children at risk and their families in Europe and the FSU, and we are strengthening their ties to caring Jewish communities.
Thanks to JDC’s flagship Entwine initiative, an ever-expanding movement of young Jewish leaders and advocates are committed to making their mark on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues. Through Entwine, more than 12,000 young Jewish adults in the U.S., the U.K., and beyond have been connected to JDC’s work, and its overseas service opportunities annually involve over 500 young and emerging global Jewish leaders.
JDC’s response to disaster in the Philippines represented another point on the moral compass that has guided JDC since 1914: our Jewish responsibility to help repair the world. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, we provided medical equipment for Israel’s field hospital and distributed emergency supplies to Filipinos whose lives had been torn asunder. Over the past months, we have been rebuilding schools, restoring livelihoods, providing post-trauma support and implementing risk-reduction programs for the Philippines’ most vulnerable islands.
An essential partner of European Jewish communities suffering economic decline and troubling anti-Semitism, JDC launched pioneering employment initiatives for Israelis with disabilities—based on our models for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews and Israeli Arabs; and provided the fundamental community development tools that keep Jewish communities in North Africa and Latin America strong and eager for innovation.
At a time when JDC is needed more than ever, we can all be thankful for the support that comes from Jewish community Federations across North America in partnership with JFNA, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Charitable Foundation, and so many others who have designated the JDC as a pivotal agency in empowering the most vulnerable and embracing every opportunity to forge a stronger, more inclusive global Jewish future.