A century of service

The JDC marks 100 years of global philanthropic work with ‘I Live. Send Help.’

Jewish volunteers sending supplies to the ‘Exodus’ in 1947. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jewish volunteers sending supplies to the ‘Exodus’ in 1947.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In 1914, there were approximately 59,000 Jews living in Palestine – a completely impoverished community. Learning of the harsh conditions, a collective of American Jewish groups raised $50,000 to send to the Palestinian Jews, and ensure it was distributed efficiently.
As World War I plunged Europe into chaos that year, the same grouping of organizations got together to send funds to the Jewish communities in the Pale of Settlement. Thus the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, originally known as the JDC, was born.
Celebrating 100 years of coming to the aid of Jewish communities around the globe, JDC has published I Live. Send Help by Merri Ukraincik, a volume of images and artifacts from the organization’s work over the past century.
While JDC was originally considered a temporary organization, it quickly became clear that the dire needs of world Jewry would keep it busy for decades to come. The title is inspired by a cable sent from Warsaw on July 14, 1945, from Luba Mizne, reading only “I LIVE REQUIRE HELP.”
A beautifully, richly illustrated tome, the book traces the history of JDC’s work from World War I through the Holocaust and efforts to help survivors, the establishment of the State of Israel, assistance to refugees from Arab states, later reaching a population cut off from Judaism until the fall of the Iron Curtain, through its continued efforts today.
From the first cable from Palestine asking New York philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff for aid in 1914, to a photo of a JDC-supported school for the Jewish community of Tunisia in 2005, the organization’s activities around the globe are well-highlighted by photos, telegrams, handwritten letters and other documents.
An early photo of war orphans in 1917 in a JDC-supported children’s home in Lemberg (a.k.a. Lvov), reciting the Kaddish prayer for their parents, tugs at the heartstrings – as does a snapshot of two orphans from Romania, sitting in a field of tulips in the Dutch town of Apeldoorn in 1948, where JDC established the Ilaniah Children’s Village for displaced children awaiting emigration to Palestine.
A photo from 1919 shows JDC loading its first shipment of kosher meat aboard the s.s. Ashburn, bound for Gdansk/Danzig in Poland, providing relief for the starving Jewish population there.
The images and documents illustrate how JDC has supported efforts to help Jews in all four corners of the world. A photo shows a group of hundreds of Jews who fled Russia in 1917-1918 after the revolution, arriving in Yokohama, Japan. In an early collaboration with HIAS, JDC funded their housing and other needs as they awaited more permanent resettlement opportunities.
While many of the photos tell little-known tales, others recount more famous moments in Jewish history.
An image from 1947 shows Jewish volunteers – former DPs granted a haven in France – loading a barge with emergency supplies provided by JDC for refugees on board the s.s. Exodus 1947 in Port-de-Bouc, France, where the ship was sent after its unsuccessful attempt to enter Palestine.
While photos often make the strongest statements, some of the documentation preserved by JDC over the years are among the most moving and heartbreaking artifacts.
In 1918, Berenice Weil McManama of Calhoun, Kentucky, sent an $18 donation to JDC, along with the following note: “Enclosed you will find my check for $18 for the Jewish war sufferers, given through the Joint Dis. Comm. I know you will apply it where it is most needed, I only wish it was more. We being the only Jewish family in this county, it’s rather hard to take up a collection.”
And a radiogram from June 27, 1933, provides the most poignant and heart-wrenching moment in the book’s recounting.
Sent from Rabbi Emanuel Reichert of Prague to Rabbi Jonah Wise, the national campaign chair for JDC, it is a desperate cry for help that we sadly know was too little, too late.
“Concluded comprehensive survey conditions Berlin in Frankfurt Badenbaden elsewhere conferences leading Jews and scores refugees Paris Prague STOP Conditions terrifying utterly hopeless systematic deliberate degradation strangulation mercilessly effective more precarious hourly STOP Rehabilitation unthinkable salvage alone remains STOP Desperately imperative assist hasty migration educate disfranchised.”
After the war, JDC continued to do all it could for the remaining communities, including publishing lists of survivors from different areas in booklets titled “She’arith Hapletah,” a biblical term that came to refer to Holocaust survivors. The organization’s lists of names were also read aloud on Kol Yisrael radio in the hopes of reuniting families.
Long after the end of World War II, JDC has continued and intensified its efforts to reach Jews in need around the globe, as evidenced by photos of Jewish children waiting in line for nutritional supplements at a clinic in Ethiopia in 1991, or a couple participating in a collective Jewish wedding ceremony in Camaguey, Cuba in June 2004.
JDC also works extensively in Israel today, where it first began its efforts in 1914 – from early childhood programs for underprivileged youth to building a network of employment centers to integrate Israeli Arabs, Beduin and Druse into the workforce, to providing assistance to Israelis with disabilities during rocket fire.
Even a quick glance at I Live. Send Help will transmit to the reader the breadth and depth of JDC’s work around the world over the past 100 years. Any lover of Jewish history will value the superbly compiled and presented book for years to come.
The book is available for purchase on the JDC website, and may be shipped internationally.