US Jewish groups raise millions of dollars for victims

"This is a very unique disaster and the response has been overwhelming," says JDC's coordinator of disaster relief, William Recant.

haitians reach for aid AP 311 (photo credit: AP)
haitians reach for aid AP 311
(photo credit: AP)
American Jewish groups have raised millions of dollars for Haiti relief aid in the days following last Tuesday's devastating earthquake and are on pace to raise many millions more, according to several organizations.
Among the top fundraisers are the American Jewish World Service, which has received $2 million to date, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which has collected $1.5 million so far.
The JDC's coordinator of disaster relief, William Recant, made a "guestimate" that total donations via the Jewish community could well reach $10 million, as outreach continues over the next weeks and months.
"This is a very unique disaster and the response has been overwhelming," Recant said, pointing to the massive loss of life and destruction, its proximity to America, the presence of Haitians in cities around the US and the sustained media attention. "People want to help."
Recant said the only equivalent event he could recall was the response to the Asian tsunami in 2004.
The JDC and AJWS are unusual among the dozens of organizations that join them under the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief umbrella, which the JDC administers, in that they are already devoted to delivering direct relief on the ground.
AJWS has been funneling aid to local grassroots organizations in Haiti that it has partnered with for over a decade. The groups are located outside of Port-au-Prince, which has been the focus of other aid efforts, given its population density and scale of damage there.
"There's been extraordinary devastation in some of the smaller towns as well," explained AJWS spokesman Joshua Berkman, who noted that the Haitian AJWS coordinator on the ground is living out of his car because his home was destroyed.
"They're getting no international relief, so it's very important that somebody is there providing for the people who are desperately in need."
The JDC, along with other Jewish groups have been distributing aid dollars to Israeli services, including the IDF's field hospital and the IsraAID relief group, as well as other international groups devoted to medical and emergency aid.
"The organization feels that it's part of our responsibility as Jews to care for the world," explained B'nai B'rith International's disaster relief coordinator Rhonda Love, of the decision to raise money in these cases by BBI, a founding partner of IsraAID.
"Our relief efforts are not just being done for the Jewish population in an area."
She added that many members "like to see Jewish hands providing the funding to help those who are in need" out of "the belief that we're part of the world community."
The American Jewish Committee is also helping support IsraAID, according to spokesman Ken Bandler.
"It's something a Jewish organization should do - support an Israeli group that's able to perform these services," he said, but stressed, "The first principle is because we know we know what they're doing. We know if we give them the money we raise, it will very quickly go to those in need."
Indeed, Israeli aid organizations have been some of the quickest and most efficient in setting up operations and distributing goods and services to earthquake survivors.
Reporters in a conference call Monday with US officials in Haiti wanted to know whether the US was matching the medical services provided by Israel.
"We have not brought a field hospital per se as the Israelis have," acknowledged Capt. Andrew Stevermer, commander of the Health and Human Services Incident Response Coordination Team.
"However, we are bringing additional hospital assets," he added. "We have assets on the ground assisting patients."
Stevermer didn't respond to a follow-up question asking what the US was doing to move those needing medical treatment quickly to the facilities that have been set up.
But the officials did address other criticisms raised by reporters, many of them echoing concerns raised by Europeans and other international partners that the US hasn't provided assistance quickly enough, yet has taken charge of the relief effort to the detriment of other aid providers.
During the call, US military spokesman John Kirby responded to complaints that the US has been prioritizing military flights over planeloads of aid and medical supplies from other countries and non-governmental organizations.
He said that there were hundreds of flights trying to come in and just one runway to receive them, and that the US was trying to split the flights 50-50 between military and civilian landings.
"It is a sheer volume issue," he said, using US Vice President Joe Biden's metaphor that "it's like pushing a bowling ball through a straw."
Kirby added that, "We try to balance it as best we can. We do understand the needs and frustrations."