Published in celebration of one hundred years of the existence of what is now the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, I LIVE.SEND HELP (the text of a cable) is an album of documents and photos from the archives that were also on display during the summer of 2014 at the American Historical Society in New York City.
Known in all size and far-flung Jewish communities simply as “The Joint”, It has been amazingly able to respond quickly and creatively (as evidenced by the images in this book) to the many crises that have befallen Jews in the last hundred years, with food, water, shelter, and medical supplies.
The roots of the organization –called a “relief agency” go back to the horrific conditions created by the outbreak of World War I, when wealthy New York philanthropists Jacob Schiff and Felix Warburg called a meeting after a cable was received from Henry Morgenthau, Sr., then Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, asking for emergency funds to alleviate the suffering of the Palestine Jewish communities due to the war.
The cable is reproduced along with a photo of a meeting in the office of Felix Warburg of representatives of different relief organizations, including members of both the Orthodox and Reform. A 1916 letter from Morgenthau is also reproduced where he writes “Today in Poland, in Galicia, in Lithuania, in Russia, in Palestine, in Turkey, whole families are being driven back and forth and back again by invading armies, are homeless and dying from hunger and exposure.” Etc., etc.
The Joint organized medical units and a “Transmission Bureau” to provide an avenue for people in America to help their relatives in Europe.
Poignant are the photos of refugees in places such as Siberia and Japan from that period, which includes the displacement of Jews following the Russian revolution.
From the initial mandate to provide relief the Joint expanded its mission to include vocational training programs and agricultural settlements for refugees and people wishing to emigrate so that they would be able to reestablish themselves and be self –sufficient. They established camps and kindergartens following the war to help rebuild lives. Their work before, during, and after World War II is presented in photos and documents.
The mission to help the most vulnerable – the elderly, orphans, handicapped and ill – , is represented in this volume as well.
Unfortunately, the Joint has never had a slow period. After World War II their work concentrated on helping refugees reach pre-state Israel and following the establishment of the state of Israel, in helping communities from Arab lands and North Africa to reach Israel. Eastern Europe continues to reach out to the JDC. as do the border communities in Israel under threat of missile attacks. Wherever possible JDC helps local communities function more expeditiously and that is also one of JDC’s hallmarks.
This volume is a visual testament to how one organization carries out the Jewish tradition of “All Israel is responsible one for the other.” What it is not is a research tool. There is neither pagination, nor archival information, nor an index. It is definitely educational and impressive if somewhat depressing to consider the ongoing tenuousness of Jewish life in so many places.