The JDC will be a recipient of the Israel Prize for its achievements and contribution to the state.
By STEVE SCHWAGER
Political observers often note that governments in Israel come and go with growing frequency. Some years ago, when yet another Israeli government was formed and sworn in, an influential Israeli asked me whether or not the JDC would be able to maintain the same partnership with the new cabinet for the benefit of the most vulnerable in Israeli society.
"Why not?" I responded. "The JDC has helped Jews in the land of Israel under the Ottoman government, the British government, and every previous Israeli government. We will be here as long as there are vulnerable citizens in need of assistance."
The JDC is a non-political entity in a politically-charged society. We have successfully maintained this position for generations and it remains the central reason for the JDC's unique partnership with Israel.
The government has recognized the JDC this year by awarding us its highest honor, the Israel Prize, for a "lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the state."
Indeed, ours is a contribution that began in 1914, preceding both the establishment of the State and the 1917 Balfour Declaration. But describing JDC-Israel relationship to American Jews is never simple.
WE ARE a complex, multifaceted entity and can't easily be pigeonholed in the philanthropic world. The JDC does not deliver direct services to individual Israelis, but our work affects the well-being of millions of Israelis - those who may not even be aware of the connection.
In truth, you can examine our work through various lenses and discover a new facet every time.
Through a scientific lens, we are a research and development entity responsible for innovative ideas in social intervention via both the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, an independent social think tank that analyzes and develops policy alternatives on a macro level, and the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, which conducts applied social research to provide social policy makers and practitioners with empirical data on social needs.
Through a business lens, we are venture capitalists of human and social capital: We create and run programs that bring ultra-Orthodox men and women into the job market for the first time, offering them a life-line to financial independence and an opportunity to escape poverty.
Through a financial lens, we are builders who use relatively little seed money to leverage significant funds from partners including the Israeli government. For instance, established in 1968, the country's leading Association for the Planning and Development of Services for the Aged, JDC-Eshel, continues to develop services and facilities that improve the quality of life for elderly Israelis - veterans, immigrants, Jews and Arabs.
Through a political lens, we are liaisons who harness the combined energy of diverse social and governmental agencies who recognize that the JDC has no political agenda and never engages in local partisan politics. We regularly serve as a unifying factor in multiple-member coalitions which require a group effort - for Ethiopian children, for the elderly, for children at risk and other vulnerable populations in need.
SO ARE we being awarded the Israel Prize because we are perfect? Not at all. Our decisions do not always result in public applause. We try and sometimes err; we climb uphill and sometimes fall. We look critically at our organizational face as reflected in the Israeli mirror and are often first to notice our own blemishes.
But if I had to emphasize what makes the JDC unique in Israel, I would humbly point to the following: JDC-Israel is an inseparable part of Israeli society.
Our staff members are Israeli men and women who are challenged daily with the complexities of Israeli living: security, financial hardships, paying taxes, doing their reserve duty, and caring for and nurturing their families. They also savor the uplifting aspects of life: our remarkable heritage, the Jewish pulse of life, and the intoxicating beauty of the country's landscape.
And what finally makes the JDC in Israel exceptional is our ability to see and recognize Israel's centrality in contemporary Jewish life: We learn from Israel, we benefit from the cross-fertilization of Jewish life, and we are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Jewish State.
As Israel celebrates its 59th birthday, it is still fighting a war on two critical fronts. The first is military, securing and defending the state and its citizens.
The second front is the social: bridging gaps in society, creating better options and opportunities for vulnerable populations, and striving for excellence in education and culture.
It is this essential second front where the JDC stands unconditionally and indefatigably with the people of Israel. It is our honor to do so.
The writer is the Executive Vice-President of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
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