JDC Founding Telegram, 1914
JDC traces its historic beginnings to this urgent telegram, from Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, to his friend Jacob Schiff in New York requesting $50,000 to aid Palestinian Jewry. With the outbreak of World War I, Jews in Ottoman-ruled Palestine were cut off from their traditional sources of support by the European Jewish community. American Jewish donors promptly wired the sum requested.
This and subsequent pleas for help from war-torn Europe led to the founding in New York of the Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers. Later known as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee—and more popularly as the "Joint" or JDC—the new organization was charged with distributing overseas the funds raised by the American Jewish Relief Committee, the (Orthodox) Central Committee for the Relief of Jews and the Jewish People's Relief Committee of America.
In an outpouring of generosity from the American Jewish community, more than $16 million was raised by war's end. JDC found ways to channel the funds to Jews suffering from hunger and malnutrition, many of whom had lost homes and livelihoods in the countries of Europe and in Palestine.
Learn more about JDC’s beginnings in our online exhibition.
For historic images of JDC’s World War I-era aid to Palestine, including child care for orphans, vocational and agricultural training, and health care assistance, view our photo gallery.
Historic JDC Poster
In the early days of World War I, groups representing three diverse communities of American Jews raised funds to aid endangered Jews abroad. To ensure the maximum benefit from these independent efforts, they formed a Joint Distribution Committee of Funds for Jewish War Sufferers (now known as JDC). By the war’s end, JDC had spent $15 million on the crucial work of saving lives. Posters were effective visual tools used by JDC to galvanize public attention and support. This poster of a woman and child stranded in the battle-scarred ruins of Eastern Europe appears in the web exhibit, A Joint Effort: JDC's Beginnings, 1914-1921, a look at the formative years of JDC’s history. U.S., c. 1917, Lou Mayer; Boston Public Library, 07-01-000051.
A Call to Action
One of many unique archival records from JDC’s early years, this document, dated December 1916, is signed by Henry Morgenthau and co-signed by Jacob Schiff, Nathan Straus, and Louis Marshall – all prominent leaders of the American Jewish community and members of JDC. Responding to appeals for aid for Jews in Palestine and Eastern Europe suffering from hunger, dislocation, and the violent excesses of the World War I period, American Jewry mobilized to organize relief committees and raise funds for the needy. On December 21, 1916, a mass meeting was held at Carnegie Hall under the auspices of the three constituent committees of JDC to launch a $10 million campaign.
Woodrow Wilson's Appeal
In this telegram from May 27, 1920, President Wilson urges “all true Americans” to support war victims by contributing to the Greater New York Fund, administered by the Joint Distribution Committee. Collections for Jewish Relief Day, observed throughout the United States on Jan, 27, 1916, in accordance with a U.S. Senate resolution signed by President Wilson, exceeded $2 million. From 1914-1918, American Jewry responded generously to appeals for their destitute brethren overseas, raising some $20 million.