History of JDC: 1914-1919

1914: War and Emergency Relief— Establishment of the JDC

The May 15, 1948, birth of the State of Israel represented the fulfillment of the dreams and yearnings of thousands of generations, and it brought massive numbers of new olim (immigrants) from both Europe and the Muslim countries whose needs quickly threatened to overwhelm the capacities of the newborn—and newly besieged—Jewish State.

Among the Jews arriving from Europe were some 100,000 veterans of the displaced-persons camps, including many thousands of aged, sick, or disabled survivors of concentration camps whose broken bodies made them utterly dependent on assistance. TB was a scourge of alarming proportions, and less than half the newcomers were able-bodied adults.

By late 1949, the government of Israel had invited JDC and the Jewish Agency to join forces with it to confront these challenges. The outcome was MALBEN—a Hebrew acronym for Organization for the Care of Handicapped Immigrants.

Over the next few years, MALBEN rushed to construct a network of a hundred institutions, converting former British army barracks and any available building into homes for the aged, hospitals, TB sanitariums, sheltered workshops, and rehabilitation centers. MALBEN also funded the training of nurses and rehabilitation workers. In 1951, by agreement of all parties, JDC assumed the entire obligation for MALBEN, while the Jewish Agency took on all responsibility for immigrant transportation and resettlement, tasks it had previously shared with JDC.

MALBEN rehabilitation programs opened new worlds to the disadvantaged, enabling them to contribute to the building of the new country. Disabilities once deemed hopeless responded to treatment and therapy. During the 1950s, as hundreds of thousands of new olim continued to stream into Israel from Europe and North Africa, MALBEN accounted for almost 50 percent of JDC’s worldwide annual relief budget.

At the same time, Israel’s local and national government agencies were building capacity, and by the end of the decade—with the emergency relief phase receding—JDC began to chart a fresh course. Pressing challenges that had been overshadowed could now come to the fore.

JDC became a social catalyst by encouraging and guiding Israeli government and private agencies to join forces in order to stimulate awareness of unmet needs, evaluate those needs, and develop programs, skills, and services to address them. JDC’s original mandate—to serve disadvantaged olim—broadened to a concern for all of Israel’s aged, disabled, at-risk, or vulnerable populations, and JDC seed money fueled many innovative projects.

Institutional care for the aged was replaced whenever practicable with initiatives that enabled older people to live at home in their communities. In 1958, JDC and the Ministry of Health established a joint Psychiatric Trust Fund to develop modern, integrated mental health services and to train qualified staff. That same year, the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work, first created by JDC in France to help those working with refugees from myriad cultures, was reestablished at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to professionalize social services.

In 1964, JDC engaged a Harvard University consultant to survey the needs of children with disabilities, and the concept of the Child Development and Assessment Center was born. Based on the principle that early detection and treatment optimize outcomes, Child Development Centers spread all across the country.

Throughout the 1960s, JDC worked closely with the Israeli voluntary agencies that were serving children with physical and mental disabilities, helping them set up therapy programs, kindergartens, day centers, counseling services for parents, and summer camps. It also advised the organizations on fund-raising strategies to help them become financially independent.

Increasingly in that decade, JDC’s programming was being redirected from the operation of specialized institutional services to subsidization of a broad spectrum of community-based programs. A growing number of local public and voluntary agencies began coordinating their activities with JDC in order to create and expand services in areas of unmet needs.

By 1969—20 years after creation of the State of Israel—more than 1.3 million olim had arrived. JDC had assisted more than 250,000 people. The population of aged had risen sharply. That year JDC and the government of Israel inaugurated ESHEL—the Association for the Planning and Development of Services for the Aged—to extend a network of coordinated services to underserved elderly by pooling resources locally, regionally, and nationally. ESHEL has since transformed the quality of life available to Israel’s seniors.

The trend in JDC’s role in Israel was clear. By the end of 1975, JDC had transferred its MALBEN facilities to the government and divested itself of all direct services.

JDC’s ethos of social pioneering continued into the next period in Israel, when JDC would turn its attention to the economically and socially disadvantaged sectors of Israel’s society.