Jewish groups to help Pakistan flood victims

Organizations raising funds for Muslim nation.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
August 20, 2010 02:13
3 minute read.
PEOPLE DISPLACED by floods fight for blankets as aid is distributed by the Pakistani Air Force in Si

Pakistan Flood 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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Jewish organizations have begun raising funds for flood relief in Pakistan, the world’s second most populous Muslim nation.

In the past week, organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the American Jewish World Service and World Jewish Relief have asked donors to give money to help the estimated 20 million Pakistanis suffering from the effects of the torrential rain and flooding.

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“By harnessing our vast experience in international disaster relief and tapping our network of partners on the ground to assess the most pressing needs, JDC will quickly respond to those affected by the floods in Pakistan,” JDC CEO Steven Schwager said in a press release on Wednesday.

William Recant, assistant executive vice president at JDC, who is charged with overlooking the relief effort to Pakistan, told The Jerusalem Post how his organization planned to distribute donations.

“We’re looking to work with traditional partners such as Heart to Heart, which sends medical volunteers; the Blue Crescent operating out of Turkey, who we’ve helped a few years ago to build a school in a distant region of Pakistan, and the Afya Foundation, which collects medical supplies in hospitals throughout the New York area and sends containers of medical goods,” he said.

JDC has been involved in humanitarian efforts in Pakistan twice before, in response to earthquakes that struck the South Asian country in 2006 and 2008.

The first time JDC reached out to Muslims in need was in 1999, when it helped Kosovan refugees returning from Macedonia after the civil war in their country ended.



Meanwhile, the UK-based World Jewish Relief called donors to help buy the 800 kits containing rehydration salts, mosquito nets, blankets, kitchen equipment, a floor mat and a plastic sheet for shelter it plans to distribute to those in need in Pakistan.

The Jewish organizations’ response to the crisis in Pakistan illustrates the well-established change in the pattern of Diaspora Jewish giving in recent years. There was a time when raising money from Jewish donors for people in need in a predominantly Muslim nation wouldn't have been on the agenda of a Jewish organization.

Up until about two decades ago funds were exclusively related to Israeli or Jewish causes.

However, Jewish organizations across the board now support a large and growing number of non-Jewish causes in Israel and around the world.

Recant cited two reasons for this change. First, he said the media has raised awareness among Jews and non-Jews to international humanitarian crises by “placing it in our faces.”

He said the second reason is the willingness of governments to cooperate and the increased ease in transporting aid around the world.

“Today, unlike 20 years ago, we can get goods into the country,” he said. “There is real coordination.”

Such aid is controversial in certain quarters, with some Jewish leaders arguing Jewish money should be given only to Jewish causes.

Recant said that so far, no Pakistani recipients have rejected Jewish aid on political or religious grounds and the government of Pakistan has willingly accepted and acknowledged support from Jewish organizations.

The JDC added that money raised for Pakistan and other international crises, like relief for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, is entirely separate from its core activities supporting Jewish communities around the world.

He said helping Muslim flood victims in Pakistan complied with the Jewish tenet of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

“Doing this work in an interfaith basis working with Christians, Muslims and others, it’s incredible,” Recant said. “And the fact that the Jewish community is sitting at that table has been tremendous.”

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