‘worst Disaster,’ Says Fisher CJF Says $2 Million in Aid Planned by Federations for Flood-hit Wilkes

More than $2 million in financial aid will be provided by the Jewish Federations of America to the flood-devastated Jewish community of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Max M. Fisher, president of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, announced today. He said the assistance program was worked out in consultation with the Jewish Federation of Wilkes-Barre and the CJF and approved by the CJF executive committee.

Fisher, who visited the Wilkes-Barre community with Philip Bernstein, CJF executive vice-president, said that of the community’s 1600 Jewish families, 1300 were evacuated and that fewer than 100 have since returned to their homes. Most of the 800 Jewish business enterprises, including offices of Jewish professional men and women, were either damaged or destroyed, he said.

He said the approval and the speed with which the aid was given indicated the deep concern of the American Jewish community for the plight of the people and institutions of Wilkes-Barre, which he said was the hardest hit of the communities struck by storm Agnes last June. The CJF immediately asked Jewish Federations to approve and transmit their grants. Even before that official action, he said, $250,000 had been committed by the first ten Federations to respond.

The CJF president said the program for Wilkes-Barre was projected to meet the Jewish community’s needs over a two-year period–individual needs, continuation of Jewish communal services, restoration of Jewish institutions and initial interest payments for business loans. The minimum total to meet these needs amounts to $2,396,396, and, of that amount, the Wilkes-Barre Jewish community is undertaking to provide $295,000, according to the CJF, which is coordinating national assistance to Wilkes-Barre and to the storm-ravaged communities in Pennsylvania and New York State.

More than 200 families have been given immediate counseling and special financial aid and the Jewish Federation’s business and industry committee made loans totaling almost $500,000 in the first seven days of its work. Caseworkers have been provided by Jewish agencies in Philadelphia, New York, Essex County, N.J., Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The aid projections are based on the direct experience of the CJF team of experts who have been working with the Jewish community to define the aid needed on both a short and long term basis. The experts are James Young, CJF director of small cities services, Herbert Katzki of the Joint Distribution Committee, Max Pearlman of the Chicago Jewish Federation, and Mrs. Mollie Spector of the Philadelphia Jewish Family Service.

Describing the Wilkes-Barre Jewish community as “a tragic picture of devastation,” Fisher said “nothing can describe the damage we saw there. It’s the worst disaster in America’s history and the worst destruction was in the Jewish business and residential areas.” He added that “we saw houses swept off their foundations and crushed. People have mortgages on homes that do not exist. The furnishings of many are a total loss–just heaps of debris. The machinery of factories is caked with mud–rusted or crushed, as are the buildings. The synagogues, schools and community center suffered the same way and must be repaired and rebuilt. Jewish families, their livelihoods, their community, must be restored,”

Fisher said the Wilkes-Barre Jewish community was determined to do everything possible through its own resources to help its people and reconstruct the community. He added that the Wilkes-Barre Jewish Federation had resumed operations with the help of the CJF team and that it had set up special emergency committees on individual assistance, business and industry and institutional and organizational requirements, all of which he said are now in operation. Fisher pointed out that whatever special Jewish help is being given and planned is to meet special needs not met by the government, the Red Cross and other agencies and is in no sense a substitute for them.

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