BJF Arm Reaches Across Globe
To Help Those In Need
By Richard Friedman,
BJF-LJCC Executive Director
Emails ripple across our screens and phones these days with such rapidity and volume that many of us tend to answer them and delete them too quickly. But then one — or two — catch our eye and we hang on to them to think more about them later.
That’s just what happened to me the other day when two arrived almost simultaneously.
The first was from Ruth Bar-On, Founder and Director of the Israel Crisis Management Center. This agency, which receives funding from the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Israel-World Jewry Bureau, helps immigrants to Israel in times of distress and tragedy.
“To our dear friends in Birmingham,” Ruth wrote, “I’m so pleased to tell you that funds in the amount of $30,000 arrived today. This grant from the Birmingham Jewish Federation is a wonderful gift that will help many people in acute distress.”
“On behalf of all those who will be helped, our volunteers and trauma professionals, and our board of directors, we thank all of you for your efforts and guidance. We applaud your untiring dedication to making the world a better, safer and more just place to inhabit,” Ruth continued.
As I thought about her email, I thought about the lives this agency has touched and the difficulty its clients typically face. People from Birmingham have visited the Israel Crisis Management Center during trips to Israel and are familiar with the work it does and those it helps.
I also thought about the great funding process we follow through the BJF’s Israel-World Jewry Bureau. Volunteers research each funding applicant, provide an analysis of the organization, and then the Bureau overall recommends which ones to fund. In addition, in an era when many Jewish organizations are looking for ways to engage young adults, we’ve done this successfully by continuing to enlist young volunteers in the Israel-World Jewry Bureau funding process.
Finally, Ruth’s email reminded me of one of our Federation’s unique roles — providing people in Birmingham with philanthropic opportunities to enrich the lives of Jews in Israel and throughout the world.
The second email which arrived almost simultaneously with the one highlighted above, reminded me of another important Federation truth — that not only are we dedicated to the well-being of Jews abroad, we are concerned about all people who suffer. (We’ve even raised money to respond to crises in countries where there are few or no Jews and which are hostile to Israel.)
This second email was from BJF staff member Florina Newcomb to one of our longtime donors who was interested in making an additional contribution to help relieve the suffering of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh. I know this donor well and he and his wife, like other Jews, never forget the painful parts of our own history and feel a desire and responsibility to help all people who are oppressed and in physical danger.
“I did some research and found out that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is advocating on behalf of the Rohingya refugees and also helping to resettle them through its resettlement network,” Florina wrote as she connected this contributor with HIAS. Florina explained to him that HIAS has a long history of not only helping Jews abroad but also helping people who are not Jewish.
Then Florina added something that again brought into sharp focus the life-changing and life-saving work Jewish Federations do abroad with the funds we raise.
Explained Florina, “I have a personal experience with HIAS since this organization along with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was crucial in helping Soviet Jews such as my family resettle outside of the former Soviet Union.” Florina was referring to the fact that as a six-year-old girl she and her family immigrated to Birmingham from Moldova in 1989. Funds raised by the BJF’s Operation Exodus Campaign, which were raised in addition to our annual campaign, helped resettle them in Birmingham.
I thought about the two emails and all the people — Jews and others — who our Federation has helped throughout the world, both before and since we brought Florina and her family to Birmingham more than 25 years ago. Helping people abroad is the story told by these simultaneous emails and countless others that continue to flash across our screens.