American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - History

History

By 1914, approximately 59,000 Jews were living in Palestine, then under Ottoman rule. The settlement—the Yishuv—was largely made up of Jews that had emigrated from Europe and were largely dependent on sources outside Palestine for their income. The outbreak of World War I destroyed those channels, leaving the community isolated and destitute. With disaster looming, the Yishuv’s leaders appealed to Henry Morgenthau, Sr., then U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Moved and appalled by the misery he witnessed, Morgenthau sent an urgent cable to New York-based Jewish philanthropist Jacob Schiff, appealing to the American Jewish community for assistance. Dated August 31, 1914, the Western Union telegram read, in part:

PALESTINIAN JEWS FACING TERRIBLE CRISIS … BELLIGERENT COUNTRIES STOPPING THEIR ASSISTANCE … SERIOUS DESTRUCTION THREATENS THRIVING COLONIES … FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS NEEDED.

The plea found concerned ears in the U.S. In a month, $50,000 (the equivalent of $1 million in the year 2000) was raised through the efforts of what was intended to be an ad hoc and temporary collective of three existing religious and secular Jewish organizations: the American Jewish Relief Committee, the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War, and People’s Relief Committee. JDC was formally established to ensure that relief funds that reached Palestinian Jews were distributed effectively.

In 1915 a greater crisis arouse with the Jewish communities of the Pale of Settlement caught up in the fighting along the Eastern Front. Under the leadership of Judah Magnes the Committee was able to raise five million dollars by the end of the year. In 1921, following the post-revolution civil war in Russia, the Committee was one of only two organisations in America to send aid to combat the famine.

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