The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) kicked off its 100th anniversary celebrations at a 2-day gathering in Washington, D.C. this week. The program included remarks from Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew as well as a Capitol Hill reception and a Centennial dinner event last night hosted by CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer.
JDC was founded in 1914 to aid distressed Jewish communities in Ottoman Palestine and Eastern Europe suffering as a result of the First World War.
The conference highlighted JDC’s century of life-saving care and Jewish community building overseas as well as the challenges and opportunities for JDC’s work in the decades ahead.
In addition to Board meetings and a range of special invitees, the gathering featured participants from JDC Entwine, JDC’s movement of young Jewish leaders, influencers and advocates. Entwine sends more than 500 young Jews a year overseas to contribute 100,000+ hours of service to both Jewish communities and others in need. Through nine Learning Networks across America and the UK run by Entwine service alumni, Entwine fosters meaningful, peer-to-peer learning, combined with socializing and networking, to educate young Jews about issues from Jewish Cuba to social innovation in Israel.
Over the past century, JDC has been a key player in the lives of Jews during some of history’s most tragic and meaningful moments:
- 1910s: In response to World War I, JDC is founded and initiates massive relief projects to sustain fragile Jewish communities in Ottoman Palestine and support Eastern European Jewish communities devastated by the war.
- 1920s: JDC establishes Jewish health and welfare societies in Poland and the Soviet Union and funds public health programs in Lithuania and Romania. In Palestine, JDC extends subsidies to public health organizations and promotes economic and agricultural development.
- 1930s: In the buildup to World War II, JDC is involved in the evacuation of thousands of Jews from Europe to safety in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Before ties were officially severed, JDC sends food and supplies to Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, helping them in their most desperate hour.
- 1940s: During the war, JDC clandestinely cares for Jews under Nazi rule, including funding the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and helping find refuge for the passengers on the doomed S.S St. Louis. JDC’s postwar relief and rehabilitation programs served hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors worldwide, whether in Displaced Persons camps in Europe or forming the first waves of immigration to the new State of Israel.
- 1950s: JDC is extensively involved in supporting every facet of immigration to the newly established State of Israel, from financing dramatic rescue operations to operating programs that facilitate immigrant integration into Israeli society. JDC also continues to assist Jewish communities in Muslim countries and to help with reconstruction in European Jewish communities.
- 1960s: JDC’s partnership with the Israeli government to develop strategic new social service programs for a broad spectrum of populations continues to expand, enabling Israel to meet the needs of its diverse communities. JDC also focused on aiding Jewish refugees in places like France, which received a wave of immigrants from Algeria.
- 1970s: JDC provides relief in Vienna and Rome for Soviet Jews in transit and is able to respond compassionately to a backlog of thousands of Soviet Jewish émigrés awaiting visas.
- 1980s: Permitted to re-enter Eastern European countries to respond to the needs of Holocaust survivors and other vulnerable populations, JDC partners with local Jewish communities to strengthen communal infrastructure and to help the needy. JDC also took a leading role in caring for the well-being of Jews in Ethiopia and in their eventual aliyah to Israel.
- 1990s: The fall of Communism and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union galvanize JDC’s efforts to rebuild and reinvigorate Jewish communities in more than a dozen countries throughout the region and to assist Soviet Jews in rediscovering their Jewish heritage and connecting to their communities. JDC creates an unprecedented network of welfare centers, JCCs, libraries, camps, and other institutions to help achieve these goals.
- 2000s: JDC aids an Argentine Jewish community devastated by that country’s 2001 financial collapse and quickly develops a comprehensive emergency assistance program. JDC rescues Jews behind the lines of the Russia-Georgia war and it responds to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, executing $21 million in relief and reconstruction projects.
- 2010s: JDC leads Jewish efforts to aid Jewish communities in the Baltics, Greece, and Bulgaria beset by Europe’s ongoing economic crisis. It creates a highly successful job-training program to address rampant unemployment among Israeli’s Haredi and Arab populations. JDC provides immediate and long terms responses to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Haiti earthquake, Japan Tsunami, and Syrian refugee crisis.