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Jan 7, 2005 6:46 pm

Federation aid to the Tsunami victims

UJC Leadership Briefing

Jan. 7, 2005

Federations Rally To Aid Tsunami Victims

United Jewish Communities (UJC) and the Jewish Federations of North America are rallying to help victims of the Southeast Asia tsunami, raising $2 million and counting since the Dec. 26 catastrophe.

More than 50 communities of every size have launched mailbox drives to raise funds for non-sectarian tsunami aid by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the overseas arm of the Jewish community that provides relief and promotes Jewish renewal in more than 60 countries. By phone, mail and the Internet, federations have raised more than $2.1 million to date for JDC, and many report donations are steadily continuing.

Nearly two weeks ago a 9.0-magnitude earthquake erupted off the coast of Indonesia that propelled deadly waves into nine countries from Thailand to Somalia, killing at least 150,000 people and devastating coastal communities. Some 5 million people remain homeless, 23 million need food, and tens of thousands risk contracting diseases such as cholera, malaria and typhoid. World Heath Organization officials say another 50,000 may die.

So far the JDC has directly raised $2 million, and began deploying personnel and emergency aid to the disaster area. This week JDC allocated:

· $150,000 to deliver relief supplies to the hard-hit Aceh province in Indonesia;

· $250,000 to Caritas/Catholic Relief and the Disaster Mitigation Institute for clothing, food, and temporary shelter materials in Chennai, India. JDC runs a field office in Mumbai, India, and with the Jewish community there is organizing its response;

· $300,000 worth of medical supplies to India that local partner agencies will distribute;

· $25,000 to Chabad, which is providing clothing, food and medical help in Thailand, where some Chabad emissaries are based;

· JDC also sent regional experts to Sri Lanka to determine what areas have not received aid and to select an aid agency on the ground, which will receive $150,000.

The Jewish community's outpouring of support for tsunami relief has approached a reported $10 million from federations, JDC, national and religious groups and synagogues. That includes $6 million raised by the other major Jewish global relief group, the American Jewish World Service, which works with 24 non-governmental organizations in the disaster area.

In a conference call Thursday led by UJC's Rabbinic Cabinet with rabbis nationwide, JDC officials said that while their immediate concern remains emergency relief, aid groups must plan for the difficult rebuilding and rehabilitation work ahead. The ad-hoc Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, which includes some 44 Jewish groups across North America including UJC and JDC, will convene shortly to discuss strategy for a longer-range response.

Aid for the disaster also came from Israel, with doctors, nurses and psychologists heading to Sri Lanka and Thailand, while the government sent more than 80 tons of medicine, food, water, tents and a portable kitchen. Israeli groups also raised thousands of dollars. The Magen David Adom (MDA) collected food for the homeless, sent blood and blood supplies, and the American Red Magen David Adom for Israel said the MDA will send a field clinic that the Red Cross will help deploy. Meanwhile, as of this week, four Israelis were reportedly confirmed killed by the tsunami; 33 injured; three missing and 30 remain out of contact but considered traveling in an area long popular with Israeli tourists.

Governments around the world have pledged nearly $4 billion in assistance and private non-governmental organizations, corporations and individuals have pledged another $660 million.

Federations and communities told their own stories of giving. Many communities waived any administrative fees, and the JDC said a maximum of 5 percent of every dollar would cover costs such as credit card acknowledgements. By creating their own mailboxes, federations were able to track donors and measure their impact on tsunami aid overall. In Florida, one new donor pledged $10,000. In Pittsburgh, a mother brought her two children's tzedakah boxes. And some proposed new forms of aid as well. The Cleveland federation is considering a significant request to be funded by donor-advised or endowment funds, while the Toronto federation is pursuing a matching-grant arrangement with the Canadian government.

One rabbi in the Phoenix area, who informed a friend from Sri Lanka about the Rabbinic Cabinet call, received this response: "This is truly amazing. I feel as if I am in a dream. I will offer my life any time for any person from [a] Jewish background."

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