Jewish Groups Providing Relief for Bangladesh and the Caribbean

Jewish relief organizations have stepped in to collect funds for areas devastated by Hurricane Gilbert and for Bangladesh, which has been ravaged by flooding.

But unlike CARE, UNICEF and other major relief organizations, which can mobilize massive and immediate relief efforts, the smaller Jewish organizations take a more deliberate approach in assessing the longer-term needs of countries struck by natural disasters.

The Boston-based American Jewish World Service has raised more than $18,000 on behalf of Bangladesh, where flooding that began late last month killed more than 500 and dislocated hundreds of thousands. At one point, nearly 100 percent of the farmland in some regions lay beneath the waters of the swollen rivers of southern Asia.

AJWS has begun working with non-governmental organizations in the country, including the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

Since its founding in 1985, AJWS has set up emergency relief funds for a number of disaster-stricken areas, in addition to its ongoing projects in the Third World.

The organization collected more than $120,000 on behalf of the village of Armero, Colombia, after mud slides killed more than 20,000 there in late 1986.

But rather than join the sometimes chaotic flow of emergency supplies and medicine to those countries, AJWS has chosen to focus on problems that will linger long after the floodwaters recede. They include the destruction of crops, damage to homes and a shortage of drinkable water.

FOCUS ON JAMAICA

The AJWS also will focus on reconstruction programs in Jamaica, where Hurricane Gilbert left 500,000 homeless, and in Mexico, where the destruction was even worse.

“We have to be realistic over what can be done in the first few days that is not already being done by the Red Cross, UNICEF and the U.S. Agency for International Development,” said Dr. Laurence Simon, AJWS president.

“The real contribution that we can make is to find the middle ground between relief and development. Then we can help people rebuild their villages, rebuild their lives.”

Sometimes contributions are not sufficient to fund a separate program, however. In that case, said Aryeh Cooperstock, director of international development at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, organizations may consult with the State Departments’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and locate a likely partner to provide assistance.

With help from private donors, the United Jewish Appeal and federation campaigns around the country, the JDC has funded international relief and recovery efforts on behalf of Jewish and non-Jewish communities for more than 70 years.

When famine again threatened parts of Ethiopia last year, the JDC collected more than $2 million for its own health and agricultural projects there.

Cooperstock said it is too early to tally the monies collected by the JDC on behalf of Bangladesh or the Caribbean. But he said the JDC has been in contact with U.S. officials and the Pan-American Health Organization to monitor those areas’ needs.

Cooperstock said the JDC is interested in working with the Jewish community in Jamaica on disaster relief. When an earthquake devastated Mexico City in 1985, the organization worked with Mexican Jews in rebuilding a public junior high school.

Cooperstock spoke with rabbis about including a pitch for the disaster-stricken areas in their High Holiday sermons. But he stressed that a relief organization like his can only deal in cash, and lacks the facility to distribute donations of clothing, food and other goods.

Earmarked contributions to either Bangladesh or the Caribbean can be sent to American Jewish World Service, 729 Boylston Street, Boston, Mass., 02116; or to American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 711 Third Ave., New York, N.Y., 10017.

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