MEXICO CITY (Dec. 16)
A group of leaders of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) visited Mexico last week (Dec. 10 and 11) to present checks totaling $600,000 to government and church officials on behalf of American Jewry, for reconstruction of buildings damaged during the recent earthquakes. Heading the delegation were Heinz Eppler, president; Dr. Saul Cohen, executive vice president; and Sylvia Hassenfeld, member of the JDC Executive Committee.
The delegation coordinated its efforts with the Jewish Central Committee of Mexico, the umbrella organization for Jewish communities in that country. Representatives of the JDC had met with the Central Committee’s leaders in the aftermath of the earthquakes to ascertain how the American Jewish community could best aid Mexico during this trying period. Schools, hospitals, and private homes were the most heavily damaged during the earthquakes.
Ledby Julio Torenberg, president of the Jewish Central Committee of Mexico, the group met with President Miguel de la Madrid and presented him with a check from JDC for $500,000 for the specific purpose of rebuilding a high school that collapsed. The school provided general education to more than 1,800 children in two shifts.
Torenberg said the local Jewish community sought the help of world Jewry in order to help the country get back on its feet, just as the Mexican Jewish community had promised during previous visits with the President.
He added, “this delegation has been able to witness that the infrastructure that can be offered to American tourists was not damaged by the disaster.” The Mexican Jewish community conducted a Kol Nidre Appeal immediately following the disaster and raised $1.25 million.
SYMPATHY OF AMERICAN JEWRY
In presenting the donation, Eppler said the delegation extended to the President and the Mexican people “the sympathy of the American Jewish community and a concrete expression of their support for the ongoing reconstruction efforts in Mexico City.”
Cohen underscored the importance the Mexican authorities place on education and culture. “American Jewry,” he said, “feels it is appropriate that it should help Mexico in this area. The children that will benefit from the school reconstruction are the leaders of the twenty-first century,” he added.
President de la Madrid was deeply moved and thanked the delegation and the Jews of the United States for their moral and economic support.
Later, the delegation met with Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, Archbishop of Mexico, to whom they presented $100,000 for the purpose of providing hundreds of homeless people with a place to live. The project is a joint venture between JDC and the Catholic Relief Services. The funds will be provided to the Fund for Community Aid (Fondo de Ayuda a la Comunidad) which was founded by the Archbishop of Mexico to confront the acute problems caused by the earthquakes.
On behalf of the Jewish Central Committee of Mexico, vice president Mauricio Menache said the delegation’s visit during one of Mexico’s most difficult moments points to the brotherhood that characterizes the relations between the Jewish and the Catholic communities.
“For more than 20 years,” Menache said, “the Jewish-Christian dialogue in Mexico and in other countries has been favored by a climate of mutual respect and tolerance. This act by American Jewry gives it further impetus.”
The participants in the good-will mission also had the opportunity of meeting with leaders of the Mexican Jewish community. Menache spoke about the growing interdependence that exists between the Mexican and the American Jewish communities. “Our Jewish brothers and sisters in the United States … offered their economic and moral support in the best Judaic tradition. Beyond geographical boundaries, we Jews are united through historical bonds and a deep sense of responsibility one for another.”
PREVIOUS JDC AID
In the case of the Mexico City disaster as in previous cases of international calamity, JDC has replied to calls from the Jewish community of the United States for a coordinated response by opening its mailbox to earmarked donations, permitting the amount of money received to determine the scope of the response. To date some $575,000 has been received for Mexico relief and it was this sum that the JDC leadership turned over.
Other examples of the JDC open mailbox were Cambodia in 1980, Italy 1981, Lebanon 1982, Ethiopia 1984 and Colombia 1985. Earmarked donations for JDC work in Ethiopia and Colombia are still being accepted, and may be sent to the JDC at 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017.