The World Upended

In 1914, the powerful empires of Europe and the Near East collided in war. More than half of the world’s Jews found themselves caught in the line of fire. Already hampered by discriminatory restrictions and poverty, they now faced mortal danger from starvation, violence, and disease. As the war raged on, American Jewish communities showed generosity, and an unprecedented degree of unity, through a Joint Distribution Committee.

Cries for Help

The Ottoman Empire cut off all contact between Turkish-ruled Palestine and the outside world. Jews there lost access to their sources of income and faced hostile actions such as arrests and confiscations. Immediate relief from a small group in New York was the first step towards American Jewish involvement in the crisis.

A Strong Response

In order to maximize funding for war sufferers, the American Jewish Committee (mostly Reform Jews of German background) formed the American Jewish Relief Committee in October 1914. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (chiefly Eastern European-born Jews) created the Central Relief Committee. Within a year, organized labor and socialist groups formed the Jewish People’s Relief Committee of America.

Strength in Numbers

Worsening conditions abroad required greater fund-raising efforts. Each successful campaign added to a growing sense of unified purpose at home and helped expand JDC’s work abroad.

Raising Awareness in America

Posters, publicity campaigns, and passionate speeches helped broaden support among Jews from every part of the country and economic level. Non-Jews were apprised of the mounting dangers through the press.