American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, also known as the Joint or the JDC, is a Jewish relief organization based in New York City.[1]


The JDC was founded in 1914, initially to provide assistance to Jews living in Palestine under Turkish rule.[2][3]


By 1914, approximately 59,000 Jews were living in Palestine under Ottoman rule. The settlement—the Yishuv—was largely made up of Jews that had emigrated from Europe and were largely dependent on sources outside of Palestine for their income. The outbreak of World War I destroyed those channels, leaving the community isolated and destitute. With disaster looming, the Yishuv’s leaders appealed to Henry Morgenthau, Sr., then the U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Morgenthau was moved and appalled by the misery he witnessed. Soon after seeing what he did, Morgenthau sent an urgent cable to New York-based Jewish philanthropist Jacob Schiff, requesting $50,000 of aid to keep the Jews of Palestine from starvation and death.

Dated August 31, 1914, the Western Union cablegram read, in part:

The 1914 telegram that prompted the establishment of the Joint Distribution Committee.

The plea found concerned ears in the U.S. In a month, $50,000 (the equivalent of $1 million in the year 2000) was raised through the efforts of what was intended to be an ad hoc and temporary collective of three existing religious and secular Jewish organizations: the American Jewish Relief Committee, the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War, and People’s Relief Committee.

In 1915 a greater crisis arose with the Jewish communities of the Pale of Settlement caught up in the fighting along the Eastern Front. Under the leadership of Judah Magnes the committee was able to raise another five million dollars by the end of the year. In 1921, following the post-revolutionary civil war of Russia, the committee was one of only two organizations left in America sending aid to combat the famine.[4]


The organization is active in more than 70 countries and in Israel.

The JDC main purpose is to offer aid to the many Jewish populations in central and eastern Europe as well as the Middle East through a network of social and community assistance programs. In addition, the JDC contributes millions of dollars in disaster relief and development assistance to non-Jewish communities.

JDC fulfills its mission on four fronts:


The Jewish Distribution Committee finances programs to assist impoverished Jews in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe, providing food, medicine, home care, and other critical aid to elderly Jews and children in need. The JDC also enables small Jewish populations in Latin American, African, and Asian countries to maintain essential social services and help ensure a Jewish future for their youth and youth to come. In Israel, JDC responds to crisis-related needs while helping to improve services to the elderly, children and youth, new immigrants, the disabled, and other vulnerable populations.

In the spirit of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase referring to the moral responsibility to repair the world and alleviate suffering, the JDC has contributed funding and expertise in humanitarian crises such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Myanmar cyclone of 2008, the genocide in Darfur, the escalating violence in Georgia and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.


World War I plunged Eastern Europe into chaos and subjected Jewish communities across the region to intense poverty, famine, and inflamed anti-Semitism. The Russian Revolution and other subsequent conflicts fanned the flames further, and pleas for JDC’s humanitarian intervention increased. JDC responded, always looking for opportunities to go beyond emergency food and medical relief to help establish self-sustainable Jewish life.

One innovation was the establishment of loan kassas, cooperative credit institutions that issued low interest loans to Jewish craftsmen and small business owners. From 1924 until 1938, the capital from kassa loans help revitalize villages and towns throughout Eastern Europe.

Not in the new Soviet Union, however. The communist leadership outlawed businesses upon which Jews were largely dependent, forcing families into poverty. In 1924, the JDC had helped devise a promising program response to the situation in the Soviet Union. It was called the Agro-Joint.

With the support of the Soviet government, JDC pushed forward with this bold initiative to settle so-called “nonproductive” Jews as farmers on vast agricultural settlements in Ukraine, Belarus, and the Crimea. A special public organization, the Society for Settling Toiling Jews on the Land, or OZET, was established in the Soviet Union for this purpose; it functioned from 1925 to 1938. There was also a special government committee set up, called Komzet. Its function was to contribute and distribute the land for the Jewish collective farms, and to work jointly with OZET. By 1938, some 70,000 Jews had been resettled.

The success of the Agro-Joint initiative would turn tragic just two years later. Joseph Stalin's government, having grown increasingly hostile to foreign organizations, arrested and subsequently executed 17 Agro-Joint staff members. By 1941, all the settlers who had not already fled were killed by the Nazis.

The Holocaust

European Jewry was pushed to the brink of annihilation by Nazi Germany. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was the main financial benefactor towards Jewish emigration from Europe and rescue attempts of Jews from Nazi-controlled territories.[7] From the outbreak of World War II through 1944, JDC made it possible for more than 81,000 Jews to emigrate out of Nazi-occupied Europe to safety. JDC also smuggled aid to Jewish prisoners in labor camps and helped finance the Polish Jewish underground in preparations for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto revolt.In addition, JDC was a major channel keeping American Jewish leaders informed—often in detail—about the holocaust.

From Lisbon, JDC chartered ships and funded rescue missions that successfully moved thousands of refugees out of harm’s way. Some made it to Shanghai, China, where JDC sponsored a relief program for 15,000 refugees from Central and Eastern Europe. In Europe, JDC directed funds to support 7,000 Jewish children in hiding. The Joint also worked with Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE) to support and rescue children. For instance, it helped more than 1,000 children emigrate to Switzerland and Spain. Other children fled to America, with help from the Joint and other organizations, such as HIAS.Many of those children who were able to make it to America came without parents making them part of the "One Thousand Children(OTC).

Post-War Rescue of Holocaust Survivors

Allied victory offered no guarantee that the tens of thousands of newly liberated Jews (Sh'erit ha-Pletah) would survive to enjoy the fruits of freedom. To stave off mass starvation, JDC marshaled its resources, instituting an ambitious purchasing and shipping program to provide urgent necessities for Holocaust survivors facing critical local shortages. More than 227 million pounds of food, medicine, clothing, and other supplies were shipped to Europe from U.S. ports.

By late 1945, 75,000 Jewish survivors of the Nazi horrors had crowded into hastily set up displaced person camps throughout Germany, Austria, and Italy. Conditions were abominable. Earl Harrison, dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, asked Joseph Schwartz, JDC’s European director, to accompany him on his official tour of the camps. His landmark report called for separate Jewish camps and for United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) participation in administering them—with JDC’s help. In response, Schwartz virtually re-created JDC, putting together a field organization that covered Europe and later North Africa and designing a more proactive operational strategy.

Supplementing the relief supplied by the army, by UNRRA, and by UNRRA’s successor agency—the International Refugee Organization—JDC distributed emergency aid, but also fed the educational and cultural needs of the displaced, providing typewriters, books, Torah scrolls, ritual articles, and holiday provisions. JDC funds were directed at restoring a sense of community and normalcy in the camps with new medical facilities, schools, synagogues, and cultural activities.

Over the next two years, the influx of refugees from all over Central and Eastern Europe would more than triple the number of Jews in the DP camps. Their number included Polish Jews who had returned from their wartime refuge in the Soviet Union only to flee once again (westward, this time) from renewed anti-Semitism and the July 1946 Kielce pogrom.

During the immediate post-war period, the JDC also worked closely with organizations focused on Jewish cultural property (much of it heirless), such as the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction and the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization.[8]

At the same time, JDC was helping sustain tens of thousands of Jews who remained in Eastern Europe, as well as thousands of others living in the West outside the DP camps in Jewish communities also receiving reconstruction assistance from JDC. In 1946, an estimated 120,000 Jews in Hungary, 65,000 in Poland, and more than half of Romania’s 380,000 Jews, depended on JDC for food and other basic needs. By 1947, JDC was supporting 380 medical facilities across the continent, and some 137,000 Jewish children were receiving some form of JDC aid.

Falling victim to Cold War tensions, JDC was expelled from Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria in 1949, from Czechoslovakia in 1950, and from Hungary in 1953.

Resettlement in Israel

The time came for JDC to shift its focus in Europe from emergency relief to long-term rehabilitation. A large part of its evolving mission involved preparing the Jewish refugee population for new lives in Palestine, soon to be the Jewish state of Israel. Vocational training and hachsharot (agricultural training) centers were established for this purpose.

The goal of resettlement carried its own hurdles. Since before the war, Palestine had been under control of Great Britain, which severely restricted the immigration of Europe’s Jewish refugees. Clandestine immigration went on in spite of the blockades, largely because of the work of Bricha and Aliyah Bet, two organized movements partially financed and supplied by JDC. When the British began interning illegal Jewish immigrants in detention camps on Cyprus, JDC furnished medical, educational, and social services for the detainees.

Britain’s eventual withdrawal from Palestine set the stage for the May 15, 1948, birth of the State of Israel, which quickly drew waves of Jews not only from Europe, but from across the Arab world. North Africa became an especially dangerous place for Jews following World War II. Jews in Libya suffered a devastating pogrom in 1945.

The 1948 War of Independence in Palestine set off a wave of nationalist fervor in the region, leading to anti-Jewish riots in Aden, Morocco, and Tripoli. Nearly the entire Jewish population of Libya, 31,000 persons, immigrated to Israel within a few years. The JDC and Israel organized Operation Magic Carpet, the June 1948 airlift of 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel. In all, more than 300,000 Jews left North Africa for Israel. Thousands more Iraqi and Kurdish Jews were transported through Operation Ezra, also funded by JDC.

The influx was so massive—and the capacity of the newborn nation to provide for its burgeoning citizenry so limited—that the dream of statehood could have died before it had taken root. Among the new arrivals were 100,000 veterans of Europe’s DP camps, less than half able-bodied adults. The remainder included the aged, sick, or disabled survivors of concentration camps. Tuberculosis was rampant.

The Israeli government in late 1949 invited JDC to join with the Jewish Agency for Israel to confront these challenges. The outcome was MALBEN—a Hebrew acronym for Organization for the Care of Handicapped Immigrants. Over the next few years, MALBEN rushed to convert former British Army barracks and any other available building into hundreds of hospitals, homes for the aged, TB sanitariums, sheltered workshops, and rehabilitation centers. MALBEN also funded the training of nurses and rehabilitation workers.

By 1951, JDC assumed full responsibility for MALBEN. Its many rehabilitation programs opened new worlds to the disadvantaged, enabling them to contribute to the building of the new country. At the same time, Israel’s local and national government agencies were building capacity. With the need for emergency aid receding, by the end of the decade, JDC developed more long-term community-based programs aimed at Israel’s most vulnerable citizens. In the coming years, JDC would become a social catalyst by encouraging and guiding collaborations between the Israeli government and private agencies to identify, evaluate, and address unmet needs in Israeli society.

Social welfare

As its record of accomplishment in Israel makes clear, JDC helped Israel develop social welfare methods and policy, with many of its programs having served as models for government and non-governmental agencies around the world. In the 1950s, institutional care for the aged was replaced whenever practicable with JDC initiatives that enabled older people to live at home in their communities. The Ministry of Health was established in collaboration with the Psychiatric Trust Fund to develop modern, integrated mental health services and to train qualified staff. The Paul Baerwald School of Social Work, first created by JDC in France to train professionals working with refugees from many diverse cultures, was reestablished at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to professionalize social services.

JDC’s social work innovations continued into the 1960s with the founding of Israel’s first Child Development and Assessment Center, which put into practice the then-emerging idea that early detection and treatment optimize outcomes for children with disabilities. A success, Child Development Centers soon spread across the country.

JDC during this period also worked closely with Israeli voluntary agencies that served children with physical and mental disabilities, helping them set up therapy programs, kindergartens, day centers, counseling services for parents, and summer camps. It also advised these organizations on fundraising strategies to help them become financially independent.

In 1969, JDC and the government of Israel inaugurated ESHEL—the Association for the Planning and Development of Services for the Aged—to extend a network of coordinated local, regional, and national services to underserved elderly. Still active today, ESHEL is credited with improving the quality of life of Israel’s seniors.

With these and other like-minded projects, JDC underwent an important transition with regard to its role in Israel. Initially engaged by the government to provide emergency aid to a traumatized and impoverished population of former refugees, JDC had redirected its efforts toward advising and subsidizing a broad spectrum of community based public and volunteer service providers. The evolution was a reflection of a new reality: Israel had come into its own as a nation and had successfully achieved an infrastructure with the capacity to address the needs of its most vulnerable citizens.

By the end of 1975, JDC had transferred its MALBEN facilities to the government and divested itself of all direct services.

Diaspora work

The 1980s and 1990s saw JDC expand both its reach and the scope of its mission. Under the banner of “Rescue, Relief, and Renewal,” the organization responded to the challenges that faced Jewish communities around the world, its emphasis on building the capacity of local partners to be self-sustaining.

The thawing of the Cold War and subsequent break up of the Soviet Union yielded a formal invitation from Mikhail Gorbachev for JDC’s return to the region in 1989; 50 years after Joseph Stalin brutally expelled the organization, killing several JDC members in the process. The former Soviet Union and its largely isolated and destitute community of elderly Jewish populations quickly became—and remain—the organization’s priority. A growing network of Heseds, or welfare centers, that JDC helped establish in local communities provided welfare assistance to a peak caseload of 250,000 elderly Jews. Today that network is still serving 168,000 of the world’s poorest Jews in the former Soviet Union (December 2008).

JDC has also been instrumental in the rescue of Jews fleeing famine, violence, and other dangers around the world. The saga of Ethiopia’s Jews was perhaps the most dramatic, culminating in Operation Solomon, the massive 36-hour airlift of 14,000 Jews from Addis Ababa to Israel on May 24 and 25, 1991, just as the city was about to come under rebel attack. JDC assisted in the negotiation and planning of that rescue effort, which came on the heels of the comprehensive health and welfare program it had been operating for the thousands of Jews who had gathered in Addis Ababa in preparation for the departure.

Equally compelling were the 11 rescue convoys that JDC operated from war-ravaged Sarajevo during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The convoys succeeded in transporting 2,300 Serbs, Croats, Muslims, and Jews to safety in other parts of the former Yugoslavia and beyond. JDC also supported the Sarajevo Jewish community’s non-sectarian relief efforts in that besieged city, and helped the Belgrade community assist the many Jews affected by Serbia’s economic difficulties as UN-mandated trade sanctions took a growing toll.

Wherever JDC has become active, emergency aid has gone hand-in-hand with local institution-building for the long term. In India, home to an indigenous Bene Israel community, JDC in the 1960s channeled funding to the rehabilitation of local schools and included support for food programs and capital upgrades. It also helped underwrite tuition for teachers and student leaders to study in Israel. In Latin America, where Jews fleeing the Nazis had settled decades earlier (with JDC’s assistance), the organization in the late ’80s created Leatid, a program that trains local lay and professional Jewish leaders to ensure that communities are self-sustaining.

The formalization of JDC’s non-sectarian work under its International Development Program in 1986 marked another milestone. While JDC had always offered assistance to non-Jews in crisis since the organization’s founding in 1914, the formation of the new program was done to ensure a unified Jewish response to global disasters—both natural and manmade—on behalf of U.S. and foreign Jewish agencies. Since then, JDC relief and recovery efforts have assisted tens of thousands of people left vulnerable in the wake of the mid-90s civil war in Rwanda, the Kosovo refugee crisis, the devastating 1999 earthquake in Turkey, and the 2004 tsunami in South Asia. As in its Jewish-specific projects, JDC’s non-sectarian work includes both emergency disaster relief and the building of local institutional capacity to ensure that people at risk continue to be served long after the disaster has passed.

JDC today


JDC has operated in 85 countries at one time or another in the course of its 100-year history. As of early 2009, JDC is conducting projects in 71 countries, including Argentina, Croatia, Ethiopia, Poland, Morocco, Cuba, and throughout the former Soviet Union. JDC also maintains a focus on Israel and has been a humanitarian presence in the Middle East since its founding in 1914.

JDC Entwine

JDC Entwine, the young adult leadership platform of JDC, was launched in 2007 under the name JDC Next Gen, with the goal of empowering young Jewish leaders to continue JDC's legacy. According to their website, "Entwine is a one-of-a-kind movement for young Jewish leaders, influencers, and advocates who seek to make a meaningful impact on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues."[9] The name, Entwine, comes from a quote by JDC leader and Honorary Executive Vice President Ralph I. Goldman: "There is a single Jewish world: intertwined, interconnected”.[10]

Entwine engages Jewish young professionals and college students through its annual series of overseas immersive experiences (Insider Trips), Multi-Week Services Corps, and year-long Jewish Service Corps Fellowship (JSC).[11]


In its mission to support communities in developing their own resources in ways that are both culturally sensitive and organic, JDC partners with local organizations in creating and implementing all JDC projects worldwide. These partnerships enable JDC to most effectively address the unique needs of the communities where it operates and to build the capacity of all of the institutions, professionals, and volunteers so they become equipped with the skills needed to serve their own communities.

Programs and priorities

Relief, Rescue, Renewal –Aiding Jewry Worldwide is JDC’s mission to alleviate suffering and enhance the lives of Jews has taken it across geographic, cultural, and political borders on five continents. Currently, the regions drawing the greatest amount of JDC effort include the following:

JDC Israel

In 1976, JDC Global established JDC Israel (also known as "The Joint", הג'וינט) with its headquarters in Jerusalem. Since then, JDC Israel has been developing programs and services for Israel's most vulnerable populations through its partnerships with the Israeli government, associations and non-profit organizations. JDC Israel operates through several departments:

Israel Unlimited - People with Disabilities

Israel Unlimited develops services to promote and integrate Israelis with disabilities into the community. Israel Unlimited has been a leader in the field of disabilities since 2009.

All programs are built upon the following values:

Statistics about people with disabilities living in Israel:

Numbers at a glance:

JDC institutions

In the course of its long history, JDC has helped create lasting institutions that do much of the research and policy development that inform JDC programs and advance its goals. In fact, the work of these institutions is highly regarded well beyond the Jewish community and can arguably be said to have raised the bar on social service delivery, globally.

Public policy making

The Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, a partnership between the JDC, the Israeli government, and the Inez Myers Foundation, was established in 1974. Its role is to conduct applied social research on the scope and causes of social needs—specifically those related to aging, health policy, children and youth, people with disabilities, and new immigrants—and assesses various approaches to addressing them. The data produced by researchers has proven a powerful tool for Israel’s policy makers and social service practitioners. Among other examples, MJB researchers:

Other JDC-affiliated institutions include The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, an independent think tank that analyzes and develops social policy alternatives, and the recently established JDC International Centre for Community Development, which supports JDC’s efforts worldwide to enhance and support Jewish communal life.


Leadership training is a JDC core value. To that end, JDC founded Leatid, the European center for Jewish leadership. The Leatid training program, with its focus on management and community planning, helps expand the pool of outstanding professional Jewish men and women committed to the continued well being of their communities. Jewish leaders from all parts of Europe have taken part in Leatid training seminars, including most of the current presidents of European Jewish communities, executive directors, key board members and rabbis. Indeed, those leaders who aren’t Leatid alumnus almost certainly underwent Buncher Community Leadership Training, another JDC effort in partnership with the Buncher Family Foundation and the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. Since its start in 1989, Buncher Leadership Training has conducted seminars in the former Soviet Union, the Baltic States, Poland, Germany, Former Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria as well as India and Latin America.

Finally, the Moscow NGO Management School, founded by JDC in 2005, effectively strengthens the Russian nonprofit sector by providing professional training to managers of nonprofit organizations. The curriculum is crafted to provide opportunities for nonprofit leaders to gain skills to help their organizations succeed.

Disaster relief

JDC’s role as a non-sectarian disaster relief agency is motivated by the spirit of tikkun olam, the traditional moral obligation of Jews to improve conditions for the entire human family. Working with local partners, JDC has provided emergency aid and long-term development assistance to communities devastated by such catastrophic events as the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, and the South Asia tsunami in 2004. More recent relief efforts include:

See also


  1. Beizer, Michael (19 August 2010). "American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee". The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  2. "American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Refugee Aid". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  3. "American Jewish Organizations: Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 1 May 2015.
  4. Bentwich, Norman (1954) For Zion's Sake. A Biography of Judah L. Magnes. First Chancellor and First President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia. Library of Congress Number: 54 7440. Pages 99–108.
  5. "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) - Recipient's C.V.". Archived from the original on 2009-08-01.
  6. "Israel Prize Official Site (in Hebrew) - Judges' Rationale for Grant to Recipient". Archived from the original on 2009-08-01.
  7. Patrick Henry (20 April 2014). Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis. CUA Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-8132-2589-0.
  8. Zweig, Ronald (2009), "Holocaust: Restitution, Reparation, and Indemnification", YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, retrieved 2013-08-29
  9. "About Entwine". Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  10. "About Ralph I. Goldman". Joint Distribution Committee. Retrieved 2016-01-20.
  11. "Serve + Travel Abroad with JDC". Retrieved 2016-01-20.

Further reading

External links

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