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Jewish Relief Groups Shift Focus to Help Rebuild Bosnia

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Donors around the world should move away from rescue efforts and toward the rebuilding of Bosnia, the hosts of a recent Paris gathering stressed.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, in conjunction with the Sarajevo Jewish community’s humanitarian aid society La Benevolencija, sponsored the one-day conference here last week.

Both La Benevolencija and the JDC remained neutral during the war in the former Yugoslavia, which allowed them to provide food, medicine and equipment to people of every ethnic background during the fighting.

In addition, Sarajevo’s sole operating synagogue became a symbol of hope for the city during the 43-month war, halted late last year by a military-political accord reached in Dayton, Ohio, under the watch of the United States.

Jacob Finci, the president of La Benevolencija, headed the Paris meeting, attended by representatives of similar aid organizations from across Europe, among other groups.

Proposed reconstruction projects include: * The training of members of the Jewish women’s club of Sarajevo who have been making hundreds of “house call” to those traumatized by the war. Some of these women are Holocaust survivors and have been particularly effective in helping those who have lost family in the war. * A small-business development program in which Bosnians can learn how to set up and run business. The JDC created a similar program in Israel for Russian and Ethiopian immigrants, and JDC trainers will be sent from Israel to Bosnia. * A center for senior citizens, many of whom remained in Sarajevo during the war and have few social contacts. * A small pharmaceutial laboratory that can manufacture basic drugs. Several Jewish community members are professors of pharmacology in Sarajevo and have already assembled a team of chemists anxious to work.

Problems for Bosnians who live in various European countries and who do not wish to return home were also discussed.

For instance, Switzerland is about to end the refugee status it gave to about 20,000 Bosnians. Other countries may not be far behind.

In addition, of the more than 10,000 Bosnians in the United Kingdom, only 55 – nearly all of them Jews – have been accorded semipermanent status.

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