Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Back to Opinion

After the Earth Moved

For American Jews who give generously to charity, there is often an inner struggle: How much should they support other Jews, and how much should they give to causes in the wider world? The response to the tragedy befalling Haiti demonstrates the wisdom of turning that binary dilemma from an “either/or” question to a “both/and” affirmation.

The two main Jewish organizations already in Haiti before it was devastated by the January 12 earthquake — and which no doubt will be there after the cameras and celebrities have left — illustrate both approaches. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has for nearly a century responded to crises within the Jewish world. With few Jews, Haiti was not on its map; the JDC had trained its efforts on neighboring Dominican Republic, which was a haven for Jews fleeing the Holocaust.

But when Hurricane Gustav slammed into the island in 2008, the JDC extended its help, developing relationships with organizations on the ground in Haiti that proved immediately useful in responding to this epic disaster.

The other model is illustrated by the American Jewish World Service, which for 25 years has worked to pursue justice and alleviate poverty and hunger around the globe, regardless of nationality, race or religion. As the poorest nation in the hemisphere, Haiti has been the recipient of AJWS’s attention for years; 10 grassroots organizations there receive its direct support.

One of those organizations advocates for Dominico-Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. As Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS, recalled: “On the day of the earthquake, they called us from the D.R. and said we have three trucks loaded up, ready to go to Haiti. Where shall we go?” Suddenly the people who were being helped were ready to help others, and AJWS was able to direct them to needy recipients.

This is why it is so essential to create and maintain relationships with those closest to genuine need, and not pretend that meaningful assistance can be purchased by good intentions alone. And it is why the Jewish community — an extraordinarily generous community, during this tragedy and many others — must work together, to use Jewish dollars as wisely as possible. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, organized by JDC and comprised of many of our community’s largest national organizations, is now accepting donations and will collectively decide how to best spend that money.

“The tremors of the earth seem to strike a chord in the collective Jewish heart,” said the JDC’s Amir Shaviv. And that chord says: We don’t have to choose between supporting Jews and non-Jews. We can, and should, do both.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.