The recent war in Georgia may no longer be the lead headline in the newspapers or on television, but JDC is still focused on the conflict and its devastating effect on the region. As the situation unfolded, UJC recognized that Jews were in danger and began accepting donations through its web site. To my recollection, this is the first time—other than for funds needed for crises in Israel—that UJC has accepted donations on its website for a Jewish rather than a non-sectarian crisis. Unfortunately, this new reality is a by-product of the continually declining core unrestricted dollars flowing overseas from the annual campaign.
According to a recent UJC bulletin, only 30 federations so far have posted the notice about the mailbox on their own web sites. To date, few dollars have been raised, which does not bode well for JDC. We will have no choice but to use our precious and continually declining unrestricted annual campaign dollars for the life saving work expected of us. We currently estimate that we will need to spend about $600,000 over the next four months to care for the 300 displaced Jews evacuated from their homes in the war zone and who are now living in over-crowded quarters with relatives and friends in Tbilisi. A report on our needs can be read on:
Our mission today and for over 94 years has remained constant; JDC has three goals: Rescue, Relief, and Renewal. Our lay leadership and our staff firmly believe that every Jewish life is precious. So while the world may have moved on to other global events, JDC continues to provide rescue and relief to the displaced Jews of Georgia. We are—and will continue to be—the 911 of the Jewish world.
At the end of last week, I received the following report from Alan Gill, who was on assignment in Georgia and I would like to share it with you.
Today we traveled 70km from Tbilisi, through the Russian army lines, to Gori as part of a small Georgian Red Cross convoy. Our mission was to deliver humanitarian supplies for the 27 Jews remaining there and to evacuate a gravely ill elderly woman. Special permission for our journey had been secured through diplomatic channels.
We crossed a number of Russian army checkpoints and the aftermath of battles was evident—bombed out buildings, vehicles, and tanks. The streets were nearly empty as people fear the Ossetia militiamen who roam the city.
We met up with International Red Cross officials (in, of all places, Stalin Square) and quickly unloaded our humanitarian supplies, most importantly medicines that are direly needed in Gori. JDC and Hesed staff had worked throughout the night to secure and pack the supplies.
An old woman, very fragile and deathly ill, was taken from the Gori hospital and we gently transferred her, on her hospital bed mattress, into one of our two JDC vans, which we converted on the spot into a makeshift ambulance.
Our goal was to return as quickly as possible through the Russian checkpoints to a hospital for the elderly in Tbilisi, where the woman could receive intensive and specialized medical care. Medical personnel accompanied us, led by two Jewish physicians, to care for her en route to Tbilisi.
Our JDC representative in Georgia, Sergey Vlasov, directed today's operation. Shauli Dritter, Yitzhak Averbuch, and Amir Ben-Zvi, who have been here with Sergey from the onset of JDC's emergency operations, rounded out the JDC field team. It was a true privilege to join them today.
We are now sitting quietly over coffee. We remind ourselves that, when we enter the JDC lobby in Israel, we see the quote from the Midrash Raba that serves as our daily compass: "He who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the entire world."
Ellen and I offer our special thanks to Sergey Vlasov, Shauli Dritter, Yitzhak Averbuch, Amir Ben-Zvi, and the entire JDC team in the field, as well as to the worldwide staff supporting this effort.
Regardless of whether or not the media continues to cover the war, JDC will be in Georgia and in over 70 other countries around the world to ensure that Jewish communities that need our help will get it—as quickly as possible. We encourage you to ask your federation to advocate for this mailbox or make direct grants for the needs outlined above. Simply put—every dollar counts.
Fortunately, our Federation partners often "step up to the plate" quickly and effectively. Yesterday morning, I received an e-mail from Steve Nasatir, the President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, informing me that his Executive Committee allocated $160,000 for the emergency needs of our people caught up in the war in Georgia. Thank you, Steve and the Chicago Federation, for this leadership gift.
Until next time,
Steve Schwager, JDC Chief Executive Officer