Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I’m here in Baltimore, escorting my colleague Ofer Glanz, JDC’s Director for the former Soviet Union. 

It’s been a fascinating day, meeting inspiring leadership from the Associated, and sharing our work together in Odessa and across the former Soviet republics.

There was an interesting conversation about how many time-zones we cover in the FSU. In the past we’ve said nine – since the eleven time zones of the Russian federation were reduced to nine in 2010 by then-President Medvedev. But you could still go far East and not everyone “got the memo” about the time-zone change. So even though it was nine, eleven was still a good answer.

But, since the Russian state extends to Kalingrad (the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania) eleven is still, formally, the correct answer. 
But - at the same time - so is nine (since they skip two between Kalingrad and the west of Russia). 
With me so far? Airports follow local time … but all train stations, no matter where they are, follow Moscow time.

But then … as Ofer pointed out in a meeting this afternoon … we work in 24 time zones.
Because what we do in Odessa, for example, has a ripple effect – in Ashkelon, in Baltimore … and around the Jewish world. 
How we build community, empower new role-models, pilot new enterprises – these will ripple throughout twenty-four time zones.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Chance for Success in Afula

The Afula Center for Young Adults is an incredible source of energy and inspiration. 

Avi, the Director of the Center, says that long-time residents used to joke that you shouldn’t bother changing gears when driving in Afula because by the time you shifted gear … you’d already have left the town (it was that small). His father remembers Afula having only two roads.

But the city is now 45,000 strong; it doubled in the 1990s with aliyah from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. There are new neighborhoods now, and young couples.

But there are significant gaps within the city.

One-third of the population is new immigrants, of whom 10% (4,000) are Ethiopian-olim.
Afula is unique because it actively wanted to absorb Ethiopians into the city, unlike some other places.
There are stories of the leaders of Afula going twenty years ago to lobby and recruit in absorption centers.

One of the fascinating new programs that the Center is running is a cooperation with the Emek Yizrael College, for Ethiopian-Israeli women nursing students. I sat at the Center with two inspiring young women, Vered and Almaz, who are in the course.

What strikes you (ok, me, but I’m assuming I'm not the only one) about the impact of this program is that the people that benefit from it aren't just the students themselves. The program “creates a lot of positive feedback in the community,” says Vered. She and Almaz and the other 15 participants have become role models for others in the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Afula.

They get special assistance in English and chemistry, coaching and supplemental guidance and mentoring and loans to help with unique challenges. The name of the program is really apt – it’s a “chance for success.” Not just to promote academic studies in the Ethiopian-Israeli population, but also to prevent dropouts. There’s a huge problem of dropping-out among students who aren't used to studying, how to manage time, study for exams, how to sign up for things, how to succeed in daily student life.
Getting adapted to a framework, learning English, absorbing self-discipline, it’s even harder for young mothers, for women who come from a more traditional society.

Almaz made aliyah at an early age, and explained that “even though my parents understood how important education is, I always knew that I’d be the one to lift myself up. If I left it to them, I’d be stuck there. They have so much desire for me to succeed, but they are limited [in how they can help] because of their education and background. The Center for Young Adults is where I got an amazing guide and a path. I didn't know how to do it, how to ask, how to get advice. I wasn't in the place that I'm in today.”

What's amazing about this program is that the recipients have to give back while they're in the program. Almaz and Vered have to volunteer in the community 120 hours a year for the two years of their course. 

They volunteer in an absorption center, helping newer immigrants. 
They help them study, to understand their options. 

There’s a circle here. They are role models for those who come after them. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Working Men and Women

Some more fascinating research from our colleagues at JDC’s macroeconomic research institute, the Taub Center

Israel’s employment problem cuts across all major population groups. 

The largest employment declines have been among the Muslim, Druze and Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox Jewish) men.

On the other hand, in all female populations, we’ve seen significant increases in employment. Among non-Haredi Jewish women, employment rates are now higher than the G7 average. Among all other women, the gaps are closing fast, since their employment rates are rising more quickly than the G7 rates.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mission to Minsk … and more

Lovely article in the Jewish Voice of Rhode Island
By Susan Leach DeBlasio 
Friday, 16 August 2013 20:27

PROVIDENCE – Eddie Bruckner, Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s vice 
president for financial resource development, and I experienced Minsk and Israel 
on a Jewish Federations of North America mission with 96 other lay and professional
 leaders from across the United States and Canada. Missions are peripatetic, 
transformational summer camps for grownups. There’s no sleep, only days and 
nights filled with inspiration, education, training, and bonding with our counterparts
 and instant new friends. The mid-July mission was no different.
Vadim Kheifets, left, Susan Leach DeBlasio, Eddie Bruckner and Vladimir Levitsky clean a cemetery. /photos | Eddie Bruckner
In Minsk and Israel, we visited programs sponsored by the American Jewish Joint 
Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and World ORT. 
Each of these organizations, collaborating on a continuum of services with the dollars 
we (and other donor organizations) raise, ensures the renewal and vibrancy of Jewish 
life all over the world.
Today, about 25,000 Jews live in Minsk, the capital of Belarus (birthplace of Marc 
Chagall, Shimon Peres and Meyer Lansky), the first country invaded by the Nazis 
and the last liberated by the Allied Forces. The Nazis slaughtered 80-90 percent of the 
Jews in Belarus, and the Communists imposed official anti-Semitism for decades after 
the war, obliterating entire generations of Jewish knowledge, tradition and communal 
life. We began our visit to Minsk by exploring Yama (“pit”), a deep depression carved 
out of the earth where 5,000 Jews rounded up from the ghetto were shot to death in 
just one day. There we recited Kaddish and heard from several young leaders of the 
Jewish community as well as its head, Leonid Levin, an architect and sculptor.  
Descending by the stairway into the pit is his statue of 27 soulful figures about to die.  
In his remarks, Levin reminded us, “Each of us could have been in that line.”  
Transporting us from those tragic moments in the pit, where “the ashes of our people” 
are buried, he summed up the successful rebirth of Jewish life in Minsk with his 
dramatic conclusion, “We are few, but we are Jews.”
Jewish life flourishes in Minsk today. There are synagogues, schools, summer camps, 
young leader and cultural enrichment programs, Shabbatons, family retreats, 
newspapers and kosher food, with a robust infrastructure of Jewish social service, 
cultural and philanthropic organizations.  The Minsk Jewish Campus, a thriving 
social, cultural and educational center, is the central address for Jewish communal 
activity.   JDC, JAFI and World ORT are partners in their efforts to promote and 
sustain Jewish identity and care for the community’s needy and vulnerable. Together, 
with support from the Alliance, they are saving a generation of young Jewish adults 
who would otherwise assimilate into obscurity.

JDC’s Hesed Rachamim Welfare Center provides medicine, food, home care, 
cultural life, companionship, winter relief and home repairs for the last generation 
of elderly victims of the Nazis and life under a Communist regime.

As Dov Ben-Shimon of the JDC explained, “Jews don’t need our help getting out of 
any country in the world today. They need our help in staying.”

Their needs arise from hunger and thirst – hunger for food and sustenance, thirst for 
Jewish community and belonging.  Eddie and I shopped for groceries for 86-year old 
Tatiana, who lives alone in a tiny room of a communal apartment. We had an 
allotment from the JDC of 100,000 rubles ($11) to spend. We bought chicken, oil, 
tea, kasha, bread and noodles.  We all contributed to add oatmeal, fruit, potatoes 
and eggs.

Astonishingly, many young people we met exploring and celebrating their Judaism 
did not learn they were Jewish until they were into their teens.  Sometimes a 
grandparent or aunt let them know, or they discovered old family papers or a 
siddur (prayer book) in a shoebox in the attic.  Yoni Leifer went to shul for the 
first time when he was 11.  
After Jewish summer camps and Hebrew school, he made aliyah, and then after 
serving in the Israeli army and attending university, he returned home to Minsk to 
work for the JDC.

In Volozyhn, we visited the world-renowned Volozhyn Yeshiva, the site of the 
Second Zionist Congress and the “Harvard” of yeshivas, attracting the greatest 
Jewish intellectuals of the time (from 1803 until 1939).  There, we met Vladimir 
Levitskiy from Moscow and other Jewish young adults participating in an 
“Expedition” program where they do community service projects across the former 
Soviet Union and learn about their Jewish heritage.  Vladimir is 21 and first learned 
he was Jewish three years ago.  Since then, he has been to Israel on Taglit-Birthright, 
traveled all around the United States, participated in a number of cultural programs 
sponsored by JDC and JAFI, and hopes to return to Israel on a MASA program.  
Together we spent several hours cleaning a Jewish cemetery next to a monument 
memorializing the mass grave of thousands of Jews killed by the Nazis.

Recognizing that Jewish adolescents and young adults need multiple touch points in 
their lives to concretize their Jewish identity, these agencies sponsor summer camps, 
Birthright trips and Jewish schools, to create a long-term immersive experience in 
Jewish life.  JAFI runs summer camps where children learn local Jewish history, 
Jewish customs and practices. At one camp, I met Kseniye, 19 and a counselor, who 
did not learn she was Jewish until she was 9 and had an opportunity to attend the 
camp.  As they learn to engage young campers in the Jewish community, counselors 
develop their own Jewish identities.
In Israel, we traveled to Haifa, Afula, Jerusalem and other areas where programs 
rescue children at risk, provide services to those in need and integrate immigrants, 
including Ethiopians, into Israeli life.  At a World ORT science and math campus 
focused on “program-based learning,” we launched rockets and enjoyed other 
experiential learning opportunities with 14- and 15-year-old scientists.
One personal highlight was a visit to a JDC-run father/son sports program in Afula. 
Fathers and sons must commit to spend 90 minutes each week together with coaches, 
counselors, and other father-son pairs. Together they practice and play soccer, but 
what they really learn are social skills, teamwork, confidence, self-esteem and
responsibility.  The program successfully strengthens the relationship between father 
and son, and their lessons spill over into all other areas of their lives, generating 
emotional wellbeing, family relationships and better school attendance and grades.
The Alliance has been ensuring a vibrant Jewish community for nearly 70 years 
both domestically and overseas. As the central address of Jewish philanthropy in 
greater Rhode Island, the Alliance provides care for people in need and support to 
Israel and collaborates to develop a strong Jewish community for the next generation.

As the great Lubbavitcher Rebbe Schneerson cautioned, “If you see what needs to be 
repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has 
left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is, then it is 
yourself that needs repair.”

I invite all of you to join the Alliance and me this year to help repair the piece of the 
world left for us to complete.

Susan Leach DeBlasio ( is vice chair for financial resource development of the Alliance.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Not The Same Thing

Time and again in my visit to Hungary this last week I heard members of the Jewish community deplore the move to ‘equivalence.’

Lots of Hungarians supported the Nazis and saw the Soviet occupation as unwelcome. The Jews, on the other hand, saw the Soviets as liberators and life-savers. So there's a debate in Hungarian society on whether there's an equivalency (or worse) between fascist rule and communist rule. When I visited a museum in Budapest there were some fascinating attempts (seen here) to make a direct equivalence between Nazi terror and Communist terror.

The uniforms, rotating between the fascist Arrow Cross and the Communist police, was particularly graphic.
And unjustified.

It’s ok, I think, to insist that there were atrocities committed by the Communists (there were) and to say that the lack of respect for human life in Communist times was appallingly low (it was). But to jump from there to say that, essentially, there was no difference between the Fascists and the Communists, is too far.

To jump even further, and claim that Hungary was the victim of foreign occupiers – ignoring the dedication and enthusiasm of many Hungarians from the right and left to turn to evil – is also pretty unjustified.

So what you have here is a sleight of hand. First you equate Fascism with Communism, and then you say that both are foreign intrusions. Hungary ends up bearing no responsibility.

This is the challenge that the organized Jewish community faces today. If the Holocaust Death Camp is “the same as” the Communist Gulag  - there’s not only a moral failure here, there’s also never going to be a genuine move in Hungary to full reparation of stolen Jewish property and a decent reckoning with their past and responsibility.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Past and The Future

One of the greatest accomplishments we have in Hungary is the revitalization of Jewish life for the "new generation" and the "missing generation."

In 1948 when the communists took power, lots of Jews saw it as a very positive sign, finally they could look to a better future. Those who – on an individual level – emphasized their personal and religious Jewish identity, had already left. Those who wanted to be 'Hungarians' stayed. 

In 1956 there were anti-Semitic outbreaks as a reaction against the Communists. Many religious Jews left. 

Therefore, those who remained were - even more so - those who didn't take their Jewish identity as an important factor and didn't educate their children about their heritage. 
And others left when the regime fell in the 1990s.

So the revitalization of Jewish life, in places like the Balint JCC, is critical .... and it's happening on a scale that is unprecedented for Hungary. You can see the future of Jewish Hungary in this video.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Three Secrets of Storytelling (plus an extra one, just in case)

I spent a fascinating day yesterday with colleagues at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, NJ, along with JDC’s CEO, Alan Gill. 
One of the most interesting questions I heard at lunch was about how JDC tells its story, and how can we help our federations equip themselves with the tools and concepts of storytelling.

It’s a really good question, and it’s one we grapple with all the time. 
So ... here are a few thoughts. And I’d be more than happy to hear feedback and comments:

(1)    It has to be personal. You can’t share my stories. Ok, at a pinch, you can say “I just had lunch with Dov from the Joint and he told me this great story about …” But really, the best stories are the ones that are yours, and that show your personal enthusiasm.

(2)    It has to be meaningful to the audience and their values. You can’t just talk about how great you are. You have to show them how great their values and ideals are, through the work that you’re doing on their behalf.

(3)    It has to be good. You’ve got to practice, practice, practice before you stand up in front of an audience. You can’t stand up and say something without having rehearsed it beforehand.

I’ll share some of my favorite blogs and sources at a future post. But for now, I want to make one more point: you have to have some kind of passion for what you’re presenting. 
If you’re standing in front of a crowd and reading “I’m so excited to be here” in a flat monotone … it ain’t gonna resonate.

Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Some things cost more than others

In the United States, it takes, on average, 2.9 years of median income to buy a house. But in Israel it’s much, much more expensive. An Israeli needs 7.7 years of median income to buy a median home, according to JDC’s macroeconomic research institute, the Taub Center.

And what's a median home in Israel? An apartment.

The cost of housing in Israel is one of the reasons why poverty is such a critical issue that we face. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cuba participates in the 19th Maccabiah Games

A report from my amazing colleagues in JDC Cuba ...

It was about a year ago that World Maccabiah got in touch with JDC because they wanted a meeting with the Cuban Jewish community. This year the Maccabiah had the vision to invite small communities in the Diaspora to participate in the games experiencing a world Jewish encounter. They formally extended this invitation to the president of the Jewish Community, Adela Dworin, assuring that the participation of any Cuban athletes would be guaranteed, sponsoring the air fare, meals and accommodations. It was with pure honesty and determination that the vice president of the community, David Prinstein, also present in the meeting expressed “we don`t have any professional athletes in our community, but if you give us six months, we´ll make them”.  After several encounters, the decision was made, the Jewish community of Cuba would be represented for the first time in their history in what might be the biggest Jewish global event, by participating in the 19th Maccabiah Games.

The following steps were made by the local Cuban community that began a research all over the island to look for amateur athletes within community. Each local community`s president would do a thorough search of their congregants and propose them to make up the Cuban teams. As a result, 33 athletes were selected from not only Havana (where the majority of the population and institutions are located) but from different provinces across the country such as Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Santiago de Cuba and Santa Clara. The community put together Table Tennis, Futsal (indoor soccer), Karate, Archery and a Softball team. This last one was made up half by local members of the community that live in Cuba and completed by the other half of former members of the Cuban Jewish community that had made Alia and currently live in Israel and have their own team. In addition, 13 dancers were selected from all over the country to represent the community in the largest Rikkudim (Israeli folk dancing) Dance Festival in Israel known as the Carmiel Festival. The dance troupe would not only participate in the festival but proudly dance in front of the Cuban delegation at the memorable Maccabiah inauguration ceremony.

The months of hard training in the different sports took place and the community had to make the best efforts for their delegation within the possibilities. The community owns no training facilities so the practices took place in public places with the several disadvantages this option carries.  JDC funded essential projects in the important stage of preparation. Projects such as a nutrition complement for the athletes to enhance a healthy diet. The food packet delivered once a month included extra proteins (chicken, beans), pasta, milk among other products.

Another goal was to assure each athlete and dancer with a pair of sneakers which they were lacking of and in some occasions the exact training footwear needed to practice the sport.

It was import to assure refreshments (mineral water and energy drinks) during practice, transportation for the players to reach the practice area and back, and extra transportation and accommodation for the participants living outside of La Habana were the training took place. In average, once a month an intensive training was scheduled were players living in other provinces travelled to La Habana and had a 4 day long training with the team.

In the case of the Futsal team, in joint efforts with Clam and JDC, a coach from the Argentinean team travelled to Cuba for 10 day intensive training and helped in the arrangement and preparation of the team.

In addition to setting the conditions for proper training, the road to the Maccabiah games was long and at the same time, going by quickly. There were a series of things that had to be considered before the team actually made it to their flight and accommodations in Israel, to begin with uniforms: for each sport and a unifying delegation one. JDC, private donors and the support of other community friends fully funded all the uniforms and costumes of the Cuban Delegation.

Also taken care of by JDC were:
·        Tax fair rate
·        Transportation to and from the Airport for the Delegation
·        Transit Visa in France
·        Cell phones for the Delegation Staff in Israel
·        Transportation of the Uniforms to Cuba
·        Per diem for the 2 Archery  Athletes that received training in Israel 15 days before the games
The commitment was powerful and passionate. The Cuban Jewish community was already full of pride as their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers prepared for the games. In Cuba it was much more than a game, it was the first time a delegation as big as 46 people would leave the country altogether to represent something they are proud to be: Cuban Jews. Some participants had left the island to participate in programs such as March of the Living or Birthright, but many had never had the opportunity of travelling abroad. The 19th Maccabiah games became a theme of growing unity within the community where the children from the Sunday school would prepare videos expressing the support and the adults choir would prepare songs to congratulate a team that were already winners at home.
It was an ambition to have an “intensive training” with all the athletes and dancers together to build the bonds of The Cuban Delegation,  regardless of what sport or what choreography tied each one to the project. The overall project was representing the community they all belonged to. So, JDC developed and supported an overnight camp with the objective to turn the group into a team. Volunteers were chosen to prepare different workshops that would help the participants feel reassured before the games. These workshops varied from: explaining security issues at airport and Israel level, packing and ideal suitcase, expected behavior at hotels including the first experience with Israeli buffet breakfast, history of the Cuban Jewsih community, etc.  The camp altogether set the seed of the Maccabiah games near and real and by the end of the day athletes could dance and dancers could score.

The only thing missing was a grand “good luck” ceremony from the community to the delegation. JDC supported a community Havdala with special guests, including local authorities, community presidents from all over the island, the community Rabi Shmuel Szteinhendler and the associated JDC director for Latin America, Dr. Fabian Triskier. That evening the delegation’s flag bearer was announced and the Cuban community said farewell to a team that aspired to win the medal of dignity, not knowing that they would return having earned another 5 winning medals.

Once in Israel, the delegation was divided in teams to different cities to start the competitions. The feeling of a whole Cuban delegation wasn’t split up and in the little free time, teams would travel to support each other at different games. The inauguration ceremony was a true example of the fervent joy the teams felt of representing Cuba for the first time in the Maccabiah Games. The reception of the Cuban delegation was wild, surprised by the lively entrance of the 13 energetic dancers and a 9 meter Cuban Flag held by the athletes. That night, the thoughts shared were filled with deep emotion when the delegation identified their Cuban flag in the spectacle of the ceremony and realized that they were making history for their community. 

Each player was true to the sprit to fair play and stayed this way outside the completion as well. And in the completion, the teams showed real enthusiasm, reaching results much surpassing any expectation:
·         Bronze medal in Karate: Abel Hernandez (the Delegation`s Flag bearer)
·         Bronze Medal in Karate: Heberto Bedoya
·         Bronze Medal in Archery: Roxana Gonzalez
·         Silver Medal in Team Archery: Roxana and Rafael Gonzalez (siblings)
·         Gold Medal in Team Archery: Roxana and Rafael Gonzalez
Yet the congratulation also goes to the teams that had no wins in their participation and still left the games feeling winners, because they gave their heart and souls with great appreciation of the possibility to play. The dancers also had their share of recognition vibrantly spreading their local music and joy at the Carmiel Festival. 

Now, with all 46 back home, the community is eager to hear about the delegation`s performance and so we are currently planning the occasion where the athletes and dancers can share their meaningful experience. With the spark the 19th Maccabiah Games left, all athletes are willing and excited to continue training and hopefully develop a new Sport Department in the Jewish Community of Cuba.  Perhaps, this may turn into the next program that enhances social and cultural community life while rebuilding the Jewish identity on the island. For the Jewish Community of Cuba to participate for the first time in an world Jewish event such as Maccabiah means many things, but unquestionably strengthens a voice that echoed this last Shabbat when each participant was welcomed home to their community, a clear voice that together sounds like this:  Am Israel be Cuba Chai.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Boston Hungary Mission 2013

From Todd, on our mission ....

Here are 3 brief minutes from this amazing mission. We learned about Hungary's hope, joy, promise, need, pain and rebirth by spending time within the Hungarian Jewish community. Thank you CJP and JDC

Saturday, August 10, 2013

My favorite Hungarian anecdote

We had a terrific tour of the Hungarian Parliament for our CJP Mission
And one thing that struck me was the cigar-holders on the window-ledges outside the assembly hall.

Each cigar-holder was numbered. So you'd put your fine Havana cigar in your holder (you could smoke outside the hall) and go listen to a speech. And if it was a really good speech, your cigar would have fully burned to ash by the time you got back. So ... the way to tell a really good speaker is how long the ash was.

And the phrase for a really good speech is "it was worth a Havana."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Szarvas 2013 ... CJP Mission visit

Quite possibly the best mission video to Szarvas (with a minute or two at the beginning with the Balint JCC kids) I've ever seen. Kudos to Todd ...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

556 Calories

We had dinner last night with some inspiring leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community. I was fortunate to sit and chat with Andras Heisler, the newly-elected president of the federation of religious communities.

“Without the Joint,” Andras said, “there would be no Jews in Hungary.”

The largest-ever relief operation conducted by the Joint, by budget size, was the $35 million program to provide food, medicine and clothing to several hundred thousand Hungarian Jews after the Second World War. 
Negotiating with the new communist regime (many of whose leaders were anti-Zionist and extreme Stalinists of Jewish descent, generally hostile to Jewish and humanitarian concerns) meant negotiating with a government that had no desire to protect its own Jews. By the end of 1945, the Hungarian ration card entitled its holder to exactly 556 calories (out of the 2500 a healthy person required).

And … Hungarians had relatives in the countryside. They hadn’t returned from the ghettoes and camps. The Jews had nothing. No strength, no food. No families. 
JDC had to save them from death.

The fact that there’s a thriving community – and a living one – is testament to what happened here almost seventy years ago.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Weight of History

I’m here in Budapest with a terrific group from CJP (Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston). And one of the issues we’re grappling with is the history that’s all around us.

Our (Jewish) guide made a fascinating reference to how she loves going for a swim in the beautiful Danube river … that same river into which were shot and killed so many Jews in 1944.

And we’re walking around a city around homes which belonged to Jews, from where Jews were expelled. So much of the city was built by Jews. So much of the Jewish story here is tragic.

In the building in which the federation of Jewish communities sits, you hear that Adolph Eichmann had his offices there.

As you walk through the central streets you learn how much was built by Jews, who were killed and persecuted (and not just during the fascist period).

The weight of history can be oppressive. Even though so many Hungarian Jews survived. Even though there is a real story of renewal and revitalization. There is also a past.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


I’m on my way to Hungary with a Combined Jewish Philanthropies (Boston Jewish federation) mission. It’s a great group and I’m looking forward to framing our work and telling the story of what we do in a fascinating and revitalizing community.

But first, I wanted to write down something that happened to me in synagogue yesterday, Shabbat morning.

I took my kids, who played (somewhat noisily, it’s true) at the back of the room with two other kids – whose mom was their teacher at the JCC last year. The mom introduced me to her in-laws, and we spoke in a mixture of Hebrew and English. I knew something of their immigrant origins, and these stories always fascinate me. And they asked me about this trip, and about my work at the Joint.

And, as we said goodbye after the Kiddush, the mother-in-law looked at her husband and said to me, “and of course, the Joint rescued him after the Shoah, and put him through the DP (Displaced Persons) Camp in Europe.”

Then I remembered. Last year, as a favor to the teacher, I had found her parents’ JDC emigration cards in our archives. They had been registered with JDC in Europe after World War II. Her father-in-law was in Ferewalt from 1946 to 1949.

“But you,” I said. “I remember you were also in a DP Camp, no?”

“Yes. Fulda [Germany],” she said. “I was saved by the Joint as well. We were both rescued.”

It was a good start to the weekend.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Meet the walkers!

An update from my amazing colleague, Dr. Rick Hodes, JDC's Medical Director in Ethiopia ...

"Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King
What do these 4 patients have in common? Months ago, none of them could walk! And most were incontinent. Melkamu, on the far left, had a spinal cord tumor for 5 years. Berhanu, wearing the striped shirt, had fallen from a building site where he was doing constuction work, and fractured a vertebra. He spent over a year on his back. Alazar and Temesgen had severe spine disease which had affected their spinal cord. The first 2 underwent surgery in Addis Ababa by neurosurgeon Dr. Kee Park of New Jersey.

The other 2 were sent to Ghana in wheelchairs - in fact Temesgen's family is seen here carrying him in the airport in Addis Ababa. They were part of a group of 13 kids in traction in Ghana, then underwent surgery in Ghana. Last week, when 11 patients returned from Ghana, it was a tremendous pleasure to see them walking, with canes, on their own steam out of the airport. Their families cried and kissed us repeatedly. They all happily lined up for airport photos, Merima took out her reading award to show her fans.

Listen to 8 year old Tesfau's story: he grew up in Mirabeti, 120 miles from Addis Ababa. His home was a 12 hour donkey ride from the main road! After a minor injury, his neck, weakened by a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, deteriorated, and he was soon paralyzed. Several months on his back in the university hospital were completely non-helpful. Traditional healers could not help, another hospital also could not help. When Dr. Boachie met Tesfau late last year on his visit to Ethiopia, he advised that the only thing which could save him was traction then surgery in Ghana. His mom carried him to the airport and he joined the group. After months of traction, he underwent two surgeries.

"How do you feel?" we asked. "Take me anywhere," he replied, "I just want to walk." His new goal: to become an Ethiopian Orthodox priest.

And Alazar? This 14 year old from Addis Ababa who had been paralyzed for 6 months. A man in church told him to find our spine clinic. We sent him off in late 2012. After traction and surgery, he started moving his toes for the first time in months.. He will restart 8th grade in September. His goal: "to become a heart surgeon; my best friend has a bad heart."

"What advice do you have for other kids like you?" we asked. “Don’t be scared of surgery,” he said - “you have to believe you can walk.”

Just last week a newly paralyzed girl flew off to Ghana to start the process.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I’m taking a mission from CJP (Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston) to Hungary this weekend, so this was of particular interest …

After Years of Stalling, Hungary Resumes Social Welfare Funding to Holocaust Survivors

Following protracted discussions over the course of several years, the Hungarian government has agreed to release $5.6 million in previously committed funds for social welfare services for needy Holocaust survivors of Hungarian origin living outside of Hungary. These funds will be distributed through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). That organization can now resume its worldwide distribution to social services agencies outside of Hungary that assist Hungarian Holocaust survivors with daily living. Additionally, the Hungarian government committed to continuing negotiations for the restitution of assets.

“Nearly 70 years after the persecution and mass murder of Hungarian Jews by the Nazis and their local collaborators, the government has fulfilled its previous agreement to support elderly Hungarian survivors,” said Greg Schneider, Claims Conference Executive Vice President. “We very much appreciate the critical support of State Secretary Janos Lazar for this significant initiative that will enable elderly survivors in need to live with an added measure of dignity and comfort.”

The money will be a lifeline for survivors who require homecare, medicine, meal delivery, transportation, emergency cash grants, winter relief, case management and socialization programs. Such services enable survivors to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible, a primary goal of the Claims Conference.

Earlier this year, with the appointment of Janos Lazar to the position of State Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, a new tone was taken by the government, which seemed to change course from placing obstacles in the way of transferring the funds, to trying to work cooperatively to resolve whatever issues remained in the way of the funds’ transfer.

In 2007, the Hungarian government pledged $21 million to be distributed over the course of five years to assist Holocaust survivors in Hungary and abroad. The Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment (MAZSOK) – a restitution foundation in Hungary composed of local Hungarian Jews, government officials and the World Jewish Organization (WJRO) – was tasked with administering one-third of the funds to survivors currently living in Hungary, while two-thirds of the funds were transferred to the Claims Conference to fund social welfare services for needy survivors living outside of Hungary.

But in 2010, a new government came to power in Hungary, and the transfer of funds to the Claims Conference in the final two years of a five-year commitment was suddenly suspended in 2012, leaving survivors deprived of the assistance they had come to expect and which they so desperately need. The $21 million represents an advance payment on a hoped-for larger agreement to provide compensation for the heirless and unclaimed formerly Jewish-owned assets confiscated by the Nazis during the Holocaust and/or subsequently nationalized by the Communist regime after the war.