IsraAID Greeting Syrian refugees on a Greek beach..
(photo credit: MICKEY NOAM-ALON / ISRAAID)
The Jewish tradition commands us to respond generously and compassionately to those in need. That principle underlies AJC’s longstanding involvement in humanitarian assistance around the world, most frequently in partnership with Israeli institutions.
For example, in October 1999, AJC CEO David Harris traveled to Adapazari, Turkey, to inaugurate a school for children left homeless by the devastating August earthquake. The AJC-funded school was part of a prefabricated village erected in less than two months by the Israeli government. The Israeli and Turkish prime ministers attended the opening event.
AJC has provided substantial aid to help its nongovernmental Israeli partner IsraAID, which, since its establishment in 2001, has become synonymous with rapid response to humanitarian crises. “It made sense for us to work with AJC because they offered critical support during emergencies and because we share a lot of the same values,” says Yotam Polizer, co-chief executive officer of IsraAID.
He went on to say, “AJC is one of our most important strategic partners. AJC supported IsraAID in all of its key programs, such as the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, the typhoon in the Philippines, the Ebola outbreak, the Syrian and Yazidi refugee crises, and more,” adding, “In each of these operations, AJC provided IsraAID with seed funding that allowed us to respond in less than 48 hours and in the most professional manner.”
This aid, provided without hesitation, is based simply on human need, with no thought of a person’s country of origin or religion. The Israeli NGOs with which AJC partners have not only gone to areas devastated by both man-made and natural disasters, but have also been among the first to respond. These include the humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the seven-year-long Syrian civil war, in which more than 600,000 people have lost their lives and up to 11 million have been internally displaced or made refugees.
It creates a powerful and positive impression when Israeli NGOs provide medical assistance for Syrian refugees in Israel or in other non-border countries, such as Greece.
“We have no hesitation to help Muslims or Christians or whomever in times of crisis. In the massive Turkish earthquake [of 2011], we also gave aid,” explained AJC Israel Director Avital Leibovich. Israel has also sent teams of experts to Nepal to help in the search and rescue effort after the devastating earthquake in April 2015, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 that particularly affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the catastrophic Japanese tsunami in 2011 and even the massive flooding in Houston and Puerto Rico in 2017.
One can also take a broader view of the humanitarian help that Israeli NGOs supply and link it to conveying a more positive image for the country.
“There is the help as a normal human response to catastrophe,” said Leibovich, “but the second thing is that because an Israeli NGO is giving the help, it gives it a whole different perspective and dimension to what Israel is. We are very proud to be assisting that.”
At a time when Israel is too often assailed from different directions, the work of an Israeli NGO that is funded by an American Jewish NGO can make a major impact, and a person whose life has been saved – no matter his or her background – will not easily forget Israel. It is a message, Leibovich argued, that would not only benefit the non-Jewish world, but also Diaspora Jews in general and young, liberal North American Jews in particular. They are given a diet of news both from social media and their peers that is inherently critical of Israel, but there is the other side, the caring, compassionate side, that could help bring them closer to Israel.
This could be a way to help address the problem that Leibovich describes as “a lack of emotional content to young American Jews’ connectivity to Israel.”
The aid that AJC provides organizations such as IsraAID lasts not only for the immediate aftermath of an event or disaster, but it also can power long-term programs and partnerships in each of the countries of operation. Above all, it symbolizes a very Jewish response to the urgency of global humanitarian needs.
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