Traditional Ethiopian Pottery
These traditional pieces of pottery (see right) were crafted by members of the Beta Israel or House of Israel community of Jews in Ethiopia. Ceramic work and metallurgy became specialties of the Jewish community, as Christians did not want to engage in those types of handiwork. Historically, Christian Ethiopians believed in buda, or the evil eye, and that those who possessed it had the power to change forms. Ironworkers are often labeled as bearing buda, and thus Jews were forced into that cursed profession and barred from other kinds of work.
These small, fragile statues were made in Wolleka, a small village outside of the city of Gondar, the old imperial capital of Ethiopia and the home of most of the country's Jews. The village was often called “The Jewish Window Village,” as in the 1980s it was the only Jewish village accessible by road to tourists.
After the airlift of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991, JDC provided job retraining programs to Ethiopian-Israelis to aid them in becoming self-sufficient. Through this program elderly men and women crafted the traditional figurines with modern materials as a cottage industry in order to sell for profit. Today JDC continues its career advancement initiatives by providing Ethiopian-Israeli young adults with customized coaching, training and job placement, to increase their quality of employment and earning capacity, which tends to be much lower than their peers.
Special Video of Operation Solomon, the 1991 Airlift of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel
Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Operation Solomon, the covert operation to airlift over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours. In the spring of 1991, Ethiopia had been in a decades-long civil war and rebel forces were threatening to close in on Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. The decline in the Mengistu regime’s influence presented a promising opportunity for the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews to realize their dreams of emigration to Israel. There was also fear that the unrest could create a dangerous situation, with Ethiopian Jews being caught in the crossfire.
The Israeli government put a carefully crafted plan into place on Friday morning, May 24th. Originally designed as a 10-to 15-say evacuation and then whittled fown to 48 hours, Operation Solomon was so meticulously executed that by midday Saturday it was done. With 34 Israeli planes making 40 continuous flights over a 36-hour period, just over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were safely airlifted to Israel.
For months prior to the airlift, JDC had played a critical, behind-the-scenes role, working together with the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish community. JDC coordinated the activities of a coalition of major American Jewish organizations, which lobbied the U.S. government for a sustained diplomatic initiative, including the personal intervention of President Bush-to secure the release of Ethiopia’s Jews.
In cooperation with the Israeli embassy, JDC staff monitored food and fuel supplies in the embassy compound, bus transportation to the waiting planes, access to computerized case files, and an outreach system to summon the population to the compound once Operation Solomon had begun.
Joan Finkelstein Shares Her JDC Story
I share this story secondhand, as I heard it over and over again while growing up. When I was only 3 years old, my great-aunt lent our funds to “the Joint” in occupied Warsaw to fund rescue and relief operation for Jews under Nazi occupation. My family and I left the Polish capital soon thereafter in April 1940. Fleeing the Nazis, we arrived in Istanbul, Turkey some months later, where we needed to retrieve the funds to continue our escape farther eastward. My father made a phone call to a Joint representative in Romania, who agreed to forward the funds in the original currency (as requested) and immediately sent them to us in Istanbul. We also received funds in Baghdad, Iraq, and in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. The residual funds were turned over to us promptly when we reached New York City in February 1941. I never knew how my father managed to contact the “Joint” in wartime Europe.
The funds were critical to our survival, as the four of us received our time-limited American visas in Istanbul with only 3 months to reach American soil. We were able to board an American ship, the USS Harrison, in Bombay, India, before the visas expired and thus reached American soil. Without the funds, we would neither have been able to reach India nor to pay for tickets to the United States. In our family lore, "The Joint" was always efficient, effective, and honorable.
This story has been shared with permission from Joan Finkelstein.
Click here to Tell Us Your JDC Story.
Long-Time JDC Staffer Donates Treasure Trove of Images to Archives
Stanley Abramovitch, a lifetime “Jointnik” whose career in Jewish humanitarian relief work began in the Displaced Persons camps in Europe after World War II and whose work with JDC took him to Europe, Iran, North Africa, Israel, and Central Asia, has donated to the JDC Archives his extensive personal photo collection including exquisite albums from his work with JDC. Abramovitch’s work for JDC has spanned over 65 years.
His North Africa albums include stunning black-and-white images of Jewish communities in Morocco and Tunisia where Abramovitch, in his capacity as Director of the JDC Education Dept., helped to develop Jewish schools and teacher training programs. His photos depict life in the mellahs (walled Jewish quarters), Jewish schools, and family life. The images of Iran in the 1950s and 1960s, where Abramovitch served as JDC Country Director, convey the health and welfare and education programs developed by the JDC in pre-revolution Iran, including the opening of over fifty schools across Iran.
The Abramovitch photo collection is presently being digitized for preservation purposes and will soon be accessible on-line to researchers and the public.
Polish Jewish Expellees from Germany (1938-1939) Receiving JDC Aid
This indexed list includes names of Polish Jews expelled by the Nazi government into this Polish border town,who received assistance from the JDC in 1938-39. The list contains more than 3,000 names, and includes the names, birth dates, birth places, professions and former addresses of the Polish expellees. It also contains the names, addresses and marital status of U.S. relatives who are being contacted by JDC. The Names Database can be searched here
The entire 127-page list, which is divided into six sections, can be accessed here as the first entry under the “List from the Nazi Period And Its Aftermath” category.
In October of 1938, Nazi Germany expelled from Germany Jews of Polish nationality who did not hold German citizenship.. Of the 16,000 Jews in Germany with Polish ancestry, half were expelled into the Polish border town of Zbaszyn on the night of October 27, 1938. The Poles refused to allow the Jews to enter the Polish interior, and thus they were concentrated in border towns.
5,500 Jewish refugees were detained in Zbaszyn, greatly augmenting the size of the tiny Jewish population before October 1938. Polish authorities and locals did attempt to provide aid to the Jews who were in limbo, but the needs were great. The JDC Warsaw office made an emergency grant of $250,000 to provide the expellees with shelter and food. JDC also organized a Central Refugee Aid Committee to raise additional funds locally.
Eyewitness reports and correspondence from this period can be viewed here.
Yom HaShoah and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Today we commemorate the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust at the hands of Nazi Germany and its co-conspirators. Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a national memorial day in Israel that is also a day to pay tribute to the Jewish resistance that took place during the Holocaust.
We share with you an excerpt from a letter of Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, a department head of JDC Warsaw who played a major role in providing assistance in wartime Poland and in the Warsaw Ghetto. Ringelblum headed the underground “Oneg Shabbat” archival group that recorded every aspect of ghetto life. Ringelblum was murdered by the Germans in March 1944.
“From the day that Polish Jewry fell under the horrible Hitlerite yoke, the more active elements of the Jewish population began conducting a social program on a large scale with the rallying call of self-help and resistance. Through the active and generous aid of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a large net of institutions for communal welfare was spread throughout Warsaw and in the country. Foremost among them was the Jewish Society for Social Welfare (ZTOS), the Central Organization for the Protection of Children and Orphans (CENTOS), and the Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population (TOZ). The ORT, too, carried on considerable work.
Tens of thousands of children and adults were able to survive for a longer period because of the help of these institutions and because of the ramified network of house committees which cooperated with them. These organizations conducted their self-sacrificing work up to the last minute, as long as even the slightest spark of life still burned in the Jewish group. Under their cloak all the political parties and ideological trends conducted their clandestine activities. Under their cover practically all the cultural activities were organized.
The watchword of the organized groups of the Jewish community was ‘To live with honor and die with honor.’ We made every effort to carry out this watchword in the ghettos and concentration camps. An expression thereof was the wide scope of the cultural work which was undertaken notwithstanding the horrible terror, hunger and poverty, and which grew and spread until the martyred death of Polish Jewry.”
For more information about these men and other JDC heroes who lost their lives in service to JDC and to the Jewish people, see our In Memoriam exhibit.
A Timely Seder
This historic silent footage from the film, "Passover 1947 Vienna," is featured on our web exhibit: “Everything Possible: JDC and the Children of the DP Camps.” The clips depict JDC's extensive efforts to create a memorable Passover for Jews in post-war Vienna. Holiday supplies, from chicken and oranges, to matzos and wine, were distributed to the Viennese Jewish community. JDC also provided for some 30,000 displaced persons in camps.
Two seders are shown in this footage: the first took place at the Rothschild Transit Camp under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Ernst Israel. The second seder, for 700 Jewish Holocaust survivors (many of whom had lost their families), was led by Rabbi Isidor Oehler of Vienna. JDC and community officials took part, as did Cantor Morgenstern and his choir, from the old Budapest Synagogue.
Every effort was made to provide Jewish survivors in DP camps the means to restore their cultural and religious practices. For many children, this was the first opportunity to experience a seder, and to learn the Exodus account, where Jews freed from slavery arrived in Israel, the Promised Land--- a story that resonated with their own difficult journey and, for many, the promise of a future in Jerusalem.
For complete exhibit, click here.
Symbol of Freedom: Seder Plate Distributed in Displaced Persons Camps
Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people. The JDC Seder Plate, produced in 1947 for distribution amongst Jewish Displaced Persons of the Holocaust, served not only as a functional ritual object but as a symbol of postwar revival of Jewish life. By the end of World War II, 250,000 Jewish refugees were living in Displaced Persons camps in Germany, Italy and Austria, and JDC provided matza, wine and other supplies to nearly 1 million Jews throughout Europe.
The plate’s inscription “Next Year in Jerusalem” carried significant meaning, as many European refugees were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to immigrate to Palestine; studying the Hebrew language and working on agricultural training farms in preparation for the pioneering life in the Promised Land. This became a reality for many in the following year, with the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948.
JDC’s program for Passover of 1948 was the greatest and most expansive in the organization’s history, yet it was far from the only instance that JDC provided Passover-related assistance to global Jewry. As early as 1918, JDC provided matza to Jewish soldiers in the Polish army. Providing free Passover food, matza flour, and matza became a JDC mainstay for Jews in need in places as far-flung as Iran, Cuba and Ethiopia.
Yet another hallmark in JDC’s history was Operation Seder in the spring of 1990, the first Passover celebrated after the fall of the Berlin Wall. After seventy years of Communist repression forcing Jews to practice in secrecy, JDC heroically organized public seders for 10,000 Soviet Jews in the Former Soviet Union, where Jews were able to commune together and assert their Jewish identities. JDC trained young Israeli and American volunteers to lead Seders across the USSR, allowing for a point of contact and cultural exchange between Israeli, American and Russian Jews.
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