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In the United States and Israel, Jews Raise Money for Tsunami Aid

February 10, 2005
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As millions of Americans tuned in to the Super Bowl on Sunday for a night of football and booze, Chabad-Lubavitch rolled out a different kind of game plan. Administrators at the Chabad house that serves the beaches of Jacksonville, Fla., had realized that almost as many people would converge on the city for the Super Bowl — some 200,000 — as were killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami on Dec. 26.

That simple equation inspired “Tidal Wave of Goodness,” a move to collect some 200,000 signed pledges of good deeds to be done.

“So much negativity was created with the tsunami,” said Rabbi Nochum Kurinsky of Chabad @ the Beaches, which partnered for the project with Chabad of Northeast Florida. “We figured we could try to counteract that a little bit.”

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl and outside the game itself, Chabad had 10 volunteers with clipboards going around the city asking for peldges. They received close to 3,000 pledges.

The effort is just one of many Jewish responses to the disaster.

Both in Israel and in the United States, Jewish groups are working in coordinated campaigns to respond to the crisis.

In this country, the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief’s tsunami response unit is accepting proposals from relief groups to determine how to allocate the $800,000 it has raised so far.

The 37-member coalition plans to make allocation decisions by the end of the month and to give special attention to Israeli organizations working on the ground in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Jewish organizations that have raised funds themselves are making some allocations independently.

The American Jewish World Service has raised some $8.5 million. About $1.5 million has been distributed for immediate needs such as shelter, burials and cooking supplies.

The bulk of the funds will go toward long-term reconstruction projects such as refurbishing devastated fishing industries and trauma counseling, said Ronni Strongin, director of the group’s public relations.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs the disaster relief coalition, has raised more than $15 million, much of it from Jewish federations. The JDC has donated $500,000 to the coalition.

On its own, the JDC has donated $800,000 for immediate relief and is planning another allocation for long-term infrastructure projects.

Several other Jewish groups are continuing to raise funds. They include Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, the Union for Reform Judaism and the American Friends of Magen David Adom.

Organizations and individuals have crafted creative approaches for the cause. The American Jewish World Service, for example, tried to auction a bottle of Thomas Jefferson’s wine on eBay.

The bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787 was estimated to be worth $500,000, but it didn’t sell because the top bid of $7,700 failed to meet the minimum asking price. The group may pursue other auction possibilities.

Chabad of Thailand, which has distributed food, hygienic supplies and cash to villagers, is organizing a toy drive at Some 120 schools across the United States are participating.

Chabad also is creating vocational schools in Thailand to train teens and adults in woodworking, so they learn skills while rebuilding their villages. Chabad, which says it is working closely with local authorities, also is buying vans to transport aid workers in hard-hit regions.

Israel is offering its unique expertise in emergency response. The Zaka service, for example, helped identify bodies in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

The Israel National Emergency Coalition has launched a national fund-raising drive.

A longer-term approach is planned by the Israel Crisis Management Center/Selah, which aids victims of terrorism. The group plans to send three teams to the region in coming months.

The group plans to offer nonverbal therapy for tsunami victims, executive director Ruth Bar-On said.

“Nonverbal methods very often can make people more aware and able to communicate their pain,” and help get around language barriers, she said.

Dr. Esti Galili, who directs the child and adolescent unit of the psychiatry department at Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, also lent her expertise to victims.

She was in Sri Lanka last month with a group of mental health professionals dispatched by Israel’s Health Ministry at the request of Sri Lanka, which has only 35 psychiatrists.

The group tried to both identify with and empower their Sri Lankan counterparts, many of whom were trying to care for others as they suffered through the loss of their own family members.

“Some of my Israeli colleagues explained how they lost their families in the Holocaust, but that they, their descendants, are living testimony of man’s ability to go on with life when so much is destroyed,” Galili said.

In fact, one of the female psychiatrists in Sri Lanka told Galili that she had given her son a copy of “The Diary of Anne Frank” after the disaster.

Israel’s work has been noticed. Workers for the relief agency Magen David Adom were allowed to wear their own uniforms — featuring a red Star of David — for the first time in an emergency relief operation outside of Israel.

U.S. Reps. Steve Israel and Joe Crowley, Democrats from New York, were touring the region when they stumbled on an Israeli flag on a Sri Lankan coastal road.

Israeli relief workers were feeding hundreds of orphaned children and coordinating a sack race, which the congressmen joined, Israel said.

“You saw these kids counting down in Hebrew, laughing,” Israel said. “I don’t know of a single child among them who could ever be affected by anti-Israel propaganda after this.”

(JTA Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.)

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