Sunday, May 19, 2013


We start our mission with The Associated, the Jewish Federation of Baltimore, tomorrow here in Odessa

Here’s a brief historic context to what we’re looking at...

In the 1920s after the famine, JDC was helping to feed 600,000 Jews in the Soviet Union. We opened 400 orphanages.

Ukraine was a focal area for our work. The Agro-Joint developed, though many of our staff were later executed for their participation and JDC was finally expelled as a result of the Doctors’ Plot in 1952. During the later communist years, we were able to send in articles for refuseniks and activists, mostly jeans, jackets and sneakers, for them to sell on the market and make a living after they lost their jobs.

In 1988 the Soviet regime turned to JDC and asked us to give support to Jewish elderly.

We demanded a written agreement, mindful of the possibility that we could get kicked out without such a commitment. We received, and have been in these countries since.

The aim at that time was to help Soviet Jews be Jewish.
There were no welfare programs or aims to erect buildings and centers.
The regime took care of peoples’ needs.
The pension was more or less a continuation of the same amount you received as a salary. Anyway, people knew very little and there was very little information.

Some of my colleagues in those first meetings tell a story of how, in one meeting, they opened up a map of the vast territory of the USSR, but didn’t notice that one fold was folded over so for a while they missed the middle section of the territory when they planned the activities in the different cities.

We reached out to Jews where we found them.

We built hundreds of libraries, we brought in over a million books. The library concept didn’t always work – in some places the librarians closed the libraries because they were afraid that people would steal the books, in others they only opened the building for leadership.

But then the economic crisis started in the early 90s.
We were seeing hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands, who were selling everything they had on the streets in order to survive.

That’s when we started developing our welfare services...

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