Miriam Steinberg Weiss Shares Her Father’s JDC Story
Hearing the personal stories of those JDC helped in the past adds invaluable historical context to the Joint's efforts.
This is my father’s story. Helmut Steinberg, also known as Benjamin Steinberg, survived the war as a refugee in Shanghai, together with his parents Otto and Hedwig, and his older sister Hilde. In June 1990 he gave a final speech, before falling ill with cancer. Delivering a speech to the Bais Yaakov School for Girls in Baltimore, with an audience of over 700 students, faculty and family members in attendance, my father, Rabbi Benjamin Steinberg, asked, “Where would I be if not for the food delivered to me, my sister, my parents, and thousands of other refugees in Shanghai, China? During those dark days we had nothing left and could not work; if not for the JDC, thousands of us would have slowly starved to death.” Unfortunately my father became ill at age 58 with pancreatic cancer and passed away several months later. This last speech details his experiences. Clearly his thanks and gratitude to JDC were boundless.
This story has been shared with permission from Miriam Steinberg Weiss.
Click here to Tell Us Your JDC Story.
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 Sound Recording from 1949 Operation Magic Carpet
President of Alaska Airlines and pilot James Wooten shares his moving and colorful account of one of the first flights of Operation Magic Carpet, an effort organized and funded by JDC to airlift Yemenite Jews to the newly established State of Israel. This 1949 flight carried 104 children under the age of twelve.
Alaska Airlines reports on Wooten and the airlift of thousands of Yemenite Jews here.
Bela Schoenfeld Shares her JDC Story
Hearing the personal stories of those JDC helped in the past adds an invaluable personal context to the Joint's efforts.
"The Joint paid for our trip from Shanghai, China to Santiago, Chile, including hotel and food during our three-week interim stay in San Francisco. As Holocaust-era refugees we had no money, but the Joint paid for all the expenses for our family of four.
"In Shanghai my parents, brother and I had shared a 2.5 square meter room with no water and no heat. In San Francisco, the JDC had reserved two rooms for us, one for my parents and one for my brother and me. They also provided enough money for food and incidental expenses. When my father asked why we had been given two rooms, the Joint representative answered, “…because you and your wife have been deprived of privacy long enough!” With that message, the Joint helped us regain a bit of human dignity."
This story has been shared with permission from Bela Schoenfeld.
Click here to Tell Us Your JDC Story.
As Jews Today Celebrate the Siyum HaShas, Remembering the Publication of the “JDC Talmud”
For those who’ve partaken in the custom of reading one page of the oral law every day for seven and a half years, August 1, 2012 marks the completion of the reading of the entire Babylonion Talmud. The compendium of Oral Jewish law is being celebrated today, with tens of thousands of Jews worldwide celebrating the 2,711 pages of commentary and legal writing that govern the traditional Jewish lifestyle.
During the reign of the Nazis, the continuity of Jewish scholarship was threatened with volumes of the Talmud, liturgical books and publications Jewish in content and authorship being ransacked and burned. The Nazis left few stones unturned, and after the war Jews in the Displaced Persons camps seeking spiritual fulfillment and instructive religious learning could not find copies of the Talmud to study.
In 1946, JDC joined forces with the U.S. Army to ambitiously reissue the Vilna edition of the Talmud. The U.S. Army printed 50 sets of the work, and JDC undertook the financing, printing and distribution of an additional 1000 copies. Each set of the “Survivors’ Talmud,” also referred to as “the JDC Talmud,” comprised 19 volumes, distributed to institutions of higher learning and rabbinic scholars. JDC’s financial commitment and logistical know-how saved the day, helping to resurrect Jewish scholarship after Hitler sought to destroy it.
Early Soviet Jewish Life Captured on Film
Rare film clips of 1920’s and 1930’s Jewish life in the Soviet Union can now be seen as part of the JDC Archives web exhibit: Beyond Relief: JDC's Work in the Ukraine and Crimea between the Wars. Scenes of JDC’s innovative Agro-Joint programs are excerpted from two silent films, “Agro-Joint” and “Founding a New Life” (released respectively in 1936 and 1938). Released at the time when JDC first began to use motion pictures to inform the public of their work abroad, the films are a fascinating glimpse of the people, locales, and cooperative work methods involved in Agro-Joint agricultural colonies, industrial factories, and schools. The excerpted footage includes shots of the rigorous, primitive conditions and techniques early colonists first employed. Other scenes, stylistically evocative of Soviet-style social realism of the time, show a fleet of tractors and other improved farming methods made possible by electrification.
The footage below is especially unique because the programs depicted were taken over by the Soviet government the same year "Founding a New Life" was released and JDC ended its involvement in this region.
This video clip and more can be viewed in our online exhibit Beyond Relief.
Water was the most crucial resource for the young colony. Making it accessible was laborious, time-consuming work, as was the first year of tilling the soil, planting, and looking after crops. Settlers learned to farm “in the field.”
For an exclusive look at Agro-Joint footage that does not appear in the exhibit, view the video clip below.
Electrification helped colonists irrigate fields, store silage, and thresh grain. But a certain amount of handwork remained essential for harvesting the fruits of their labor.
The original film elements are at the National Center for Jewish Film.
This Purim broadcast, aired March 17, 1938 on CBS radio in New York, is just a sampling of JDC Archives’ 1,100 audio recordings. JDC Vice Chairman Edward Warburg appeals for aid for the persecuted Jews of Europe, whose lives were threatened much like Jews in the time of Queen Esther.
Postcard from Theresienstadt
In October 1943, the JDC office in Lisbon began sending 1,000 monthly parcels of food to inmates in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Each parcel weighed 500 grams and contained sardines, dried fruits, and biscuits-foods that were readily available in wartime Portugal. By early 1944, the number of monthly parcels sent had grown to 16,000. The parcel shipments were discontinued in August 1944 with the landing of the Allied troops in southern France. During the eleven months that the service functioned, approximately 140,000 parcels were sent, representing 70 tons of food costing $125,000.
In the Jerusalem Archives of the JDC are postcards sent by the inmates of Theresienstadt to the JDC acknowledging receipt of the parcels. Among the postcards is one signed by Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck, the renowned Jewish philosopher and beloved spiritual leader of German Jewry, who was himself an inmate in Theresienstadt from January 1943 to May 1945. Known as the "teacher of Theresienstadt," Rabbi Dr. Baeck survived the Holocaust and spent another decade as a teacher of world Jewry.
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