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JDC comes to KC to report on emergency assistance, Rosh Hashanah welfare care for Jewish communities around the globe

Michael Novick (from left), executive director of strategic development at JDC; Dr. Helene Lotman, president & CEO of Jewish Federation; Patricia Werthan Uhlmann, Jewish Federation and JDC national board member; and John Isenberg, board chair of Jewish Federation.

In the past month, a multitude of natural disasters have wreaked havoc across North America and in the Caribbean. During that time, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City has led the charge in Jewish Kansas City to assist victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, as well as those whose lives were devastated during the three recent earthquakes in Mexico. 

Along the way, Jewish Federation has worked closely with the Jewish Federations of North America network to provide rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts with the U.S. and Puerto Rico. It has also worked in tandem with it overseas partner agency, the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC), and its disaster recovery team to provide much-needed assistance to hurricane and earthquake victims outside of the U.S.  

In light of the work being done, it was a timely visit for Michael Novick, executive director of strategic development at JDC, who recently met with Jewish Federation’s board and donors. During his visit, Novick shared information about JDC work happening in the Caribbean and Mexico to help Jewish and non-Jewish populations. 

“We [JDC] determine as quickly as possible the immediate scope of destruction and damage when a natural disaster occurs. We look at the human cost and whether or not any Jewish communities may also have been impacted. Particularly those communities in developing countries,” said Novick.  

JDC’s expansive network of staff and Jewish community partnerships around the world, as well as its local, international and Israeli NGO partners, makes the organization uniquely capable of getting in quickly to assess and assist during emergency situations.

“When disaster strikes, we immediately activate our networks of staff and NGO partners to get information and make assessments quickly. Then, working with a core group of disaster relief organizations, including Kansas City’s own Heart to Heart International, we can bring in the expertise and resources to assist in areas that might be outside the purview of major responders,” Novick said. “That is generally followed by a JDC disaster relief scoping team which assists our existing staff on the ground, or serves as our representatives in places where we may not have a presence. 

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was a good example of how JDC helped during the initial rescue and recovery, and in the aftermath. Working with groups like Heart to Heart and an emergency team from the Israel Defense Forces Field Hospital, JDC was on the ground and operational in a very short time. However, their work left a more lasting impression on Haiti’s survivors:

“Haiti was one of the largest disasters JDC has been involved in, to date. After rescue and basic needs were met, we deployed a longer-term needs response. As a result, Haiti now has a medical facility where amputees can go to receive the array of assistance needed — from medical intake to receiving their prosthetic and getting physical therapy. This didn’t exist prior to the earthquake. Just as with Haiti, if further assistance is warranted, we will provide the same short- and long-term assistance for victims in the Caribbean and Mexico,” Novick said. 

For those who wish to be part of the Jewish response to help victims of the hurricanes and earthquakes, go to www.jdc.org to contribute to JDC’s disaster relief fund. 

Caring for elderly in former Soviet Union

JDC’s work extends well beyond emergency assistance. In fact, it works with thousands of poor, elderly Jews across the FSU to provide basic needs, including food, medicine and home care through its network of Hesed social welfare centers. This Rosh Hashanah, just as every new year, thousands of elderly in the FSU who can live on as little as $2 a day receive extra food, including apples and honey, and attended scores of holiday events to celebrate the Jewish New Year. This wide-ranging effort is made possible through JDC’s partnership with the KC Federation and the wider Jewish Federation system, the Claims Conference, and International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. 

“We’re proud that we can work with JDC to make the Jewish New Year a bit sweeter for these impoverished Jewish seniors in the former Soviet Union,” said Dr. Helene Lotman, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City. 

Novick looks forward to returning to Kansas City to share more of JDC’s work in the future.

“It is so heartening that the Jewish people in North America are at the forefront of supporting Jewish life around the world. Whether that comes in the form of meeting basic needs, emergency assistance, or supporting educational and revitalization efforts in Kansas City’s partner communities of Romania and Bulgaria. I feel fortunate to work in such strong partnership with Kansas City’s Jewish community to give dignity to Jewish people around the world,” said Novick.

Jane Blumenthal Martin is director of marketing & communications at the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.