JDC’s receipt of Israel Prize is tribute to giving


Surprised, pleased and flattered as we at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), were to learn that our Israel operation had won the esteemed Israel Prize this year, we took time to thank our well-wishers, then sat down to ask ourselves: Why JDC?

The answer in part is that the award recognizes the enlightened philanthropy of an American Jewish community that has been helping Israeli society for generations. The JDC is only one representative leader in a modern era of a donor-oriented, recipient-sensitive new philanthropy.

The JDC has been working in Israel for 93 years. We’ve partnered with the Turkish Sultans, the British Mandate and Israeli governments left or right to benefit the citizens of Israel. In recent decades we have developed new partnerships between donors and recipients, Americans and Israelis, nongovernmental organizations and the government. The hallmark of these endeavors is a sincere, honest partnership with mutual respect and appreciation.

And so, while geneticists we are not, we often say that Israel is part of the JDC’s DNA.

What does this mean?

Israel is built into our organizational culture. We recognize the centrality of the State of Israel in Jewish life today and realize that as much as we can teach our Israeli partners about social programs, we have learned from them.

Together with our Israeli partners, the JDC fosters an approach of strategic intervention. We identify the needs, research solutions and respond. In the language of genetics, we believe in a cloning process: If an experiment is successful, we will ensure that the results positively affect a wide range of populations.

We encourage ingenuity by thinking out of the box, adopting an entrepreneurial spirit and daring to experiment with new directions in social services. Our programs draw on the new and the unprecedented.

JDC-Israel uses a “magnetic dollar,” a high-leverage system in which every dollar allocated by American federations is matched by an additional $8 from partners in Israel and America. In today’s world of charitable giving, donors are pleased to realize how far their dollar goes through JDC.

And last but certainly not least, in the politically charged environment of Israel, where partisan interests are paramount to many daily decisions, the JDC stands as a paradigm — a non-political, neutral and unbiased entity.

Trusted by opposing ministries or conflicting parties, JDC can convene forces of social change around the same table and harness their best energies in the service of those in need.

This Israel Independence Day, as Judge Ellen Heller, JDC’s president, and Arnon Mantver, our director-general in Israel, accepted the Israel Prize on our behalf at a ceremony in Jerusalem, the JDC acknowledges that we do so in the name of the entire American Jewish community.

For every federation, every donor and every supporter, JDC is the humble representative.

Steve Schwager is the executive vice-president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.