Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

U.S. Jewish Organization Sponsors $750,000 Mercy Airlift to Mozambique

September 12, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A mercy airlift, sponsored by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), left today with $750,000 worth of gravely needed medical supplies to drought and starvation-ravaged Mozambique, according to an AJWS announcement here at a press conference.

“In 1984 we estimated that four million people of a population of more than 12 million were at risk of famine,” explained AJWS president, Larry Simon. “More than 100,000 people have died of starvation in Mozambique in the past year, ” he said of the ailing country, reported by the United Nations to be one of the six African nations most devastated by drought.

“Millions will die and it is our fault,” asserted Elie Wiesel, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and a member of the AJWS Board. He pointed out that “there is enough food and medicine in this country to help the sick and poor” in distant nations and “if they die, we are guilty.”

This mission, inspired by Dr. Paul Epstein, a physician who was the Chief of Medicine at Central Hospital in Beira, Mozambique in 1980, will be the first major medical relief effort of the AJWS.

Last January, when Epstein returned to Mozambique after a five-year absence, he noted that “There were hospitals and rural clinics that had no medicines whatsoever. I spoke with doctors who could do nothing at all to help the people they were treating… many of whom were dying.”


In response to the emergency conditions in Mozambique, the AJWS designed a twofold project. Simon explained that the chartered aircraft, donated by the London-based Live-Aid Foundation, was part of the short-term plan that would distribute the antibiotics, anti-malarial and anti-parasitic drugs, supplied primarily by pharmaceutical firms, to as many of the victims as possible.

Simon emphasized that the AJWS had worked in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF to assure the speedy delivery — most likely within a matter of days — of the medicines, utilizing various forms of transportation such as light aircraft, truck convoy and boats.

The AJWS is also coordinating a long-term development project to meet Mozambique’s basic needs, including the production of low cost latrines to prevent contaminated water and plans for two intravenous production units which will provide IVs for the entire country within two years. Simon also mentioned the goal of creating an element of self-sufficiency by working on agricultural development and incorporating women into that development. He expressed the hope of preventing a “recurring famine situation” by building longer-term community projects.


Valeriano Ferrao, Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of Mozambique, responded to the AJWS relief project: “The people of Mozambique, in their hour of need, wish to express their gratitude to the American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish community for their generous humanitarian efforts.”

AJWS chairman and president of Phillips Van-Heusen Corporation, Lawrence Phillips, pointed to the Ambassador’s message as showing “the neutrality of the organization” as it prefers to work as “a people to people organization”, primarily non-governmental, as it aims to steer clear of the political rhetoric that could “bog down the humanitarian effort.”

The arrival in Mozambique of the aircraft, named “L’Chayim,” meaning “To Life,” coincides with the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. It is scheduled to land in Mozambique on September 15. Wiesel views the date as symbolic and believes that on these Jewish High Holidays — days of judgement — “we (Jews) are being judged.”

While Wiesel conceded that “the enterprise should have started long ago,” he noted that the first priority of Jewish organizations was to devote all their time to the Jewish cause, “but now we have learned that if one group suffers we all suffer. It’s late but not too late.”

Continuing, he said: “When we see pictures of children dying in the arms of their mothers, robbing us of our sleep and our right to sleep, those victims I recognize as my own brothers and sisters. As Jews we must show we have learned from the past that our suffering has produced a tremendous cry against moral numbness.”

Recommended from JTA