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Archive for : JDC

Repair Interview: Zhanna Veyts on Being a Refugee, Then Helping Others with HIAS

This interview is being shared as part of #SupportforRefugees, Repair the World’s Passover campaign focusing on the global refugee crisis.

What if you had the opportunity to give back to someone or something who made a profound difference in your life? For Zhanna Veyts, that is exactly what happened. In 1989, when she was still a child, Veyts and her parents left the Soviet Union for America with the help of HIAS – the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S. (and our partner in this month’s #SupportforRefugees campaign.)

Today, Veyts works for HIAS supporting refugees going through the same transitions she went through nearly 30 years ago. Repair the World recently spoke to Veyts to find out how her experience shapes her work and how, despite our differences, we all pretty much want the same thing.

Can you tell me a bit about your own refugee experience, and how it impacts your work at HIAS?
I’m originally from Ukraine and came to America with my parents in 1989 with help from HIAS. We went through Vienna and Italy like hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jewish refugees at the time. We had to figure out if we would be able to go to America or Israel. When we arrived in Los Angeles, our experience was not unlike everything that refugees experience today. You get an apartment, it gets furnished, there are social programs, you enroll in school or get a job, you have to learn English, and life starts anew. You get here and very quickly you’re on your own.

The process is quite complicated, but HIAS has been doing it for 130 years. I realized later that some of these big decisions that made a huge impact in my life at different crossroads were directly related to HIAS. It is so interesting to be working on the other side of it now.

What did it feel like to be an adolescent going through this experience?
When we left, we thought we would never see my grandparents again. That happens to so many people today. We did not know that years later, the situation with the Soviet Union would change and we’d be able to bring them here. We really thought we were saying goodbye, and that was really rough.

I also remember the dramatic difference between my life in Ukraine before the Iron Curtain fell, and what I found in Europe. It was Christmastime when we made it to Vienna and Italy. Everything was sparkly and clean, it felt like Disneyland. Before the Internet and with no access to Western television, I’d had no vision of what to expect when I left. Arriving there, I had a definite, “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moment. Soon after we came to America we moved to Los Angeles, and I attended public school the first year. I remember it feeling so much bigger and more diverse than anything I’d experienced. A year later I transferred to a Jewish day school and remember being really aware that there were differences between me and the other kids.

How did you end up working for HIAS?
It was kind of serendipitous. Going to Jewish day school and Jewish sleep away camps had a big part in shaping who I am. In college I attended Hillel events and went on service trips. The service part and social justice part of Judaism always made a lot of sense to me as a person from somewhere else who had been included. When I moved to New York, I got a job at the JDC working for their non-sectarian disaster relief department. I found the work really interesting, and it was in-line with my sense of Judaism to help others beyond our own community. When I got the job here three years ago, everything came full circle.

What do you do at HIAS?
I work in communications and digital media, running social media and our blog. I think of these things as different platforms for story telling. The stories of the people HIAS works with are what makes this work really compelling. This organization facilitates this completely transformative shift in people’s lives. I experienced that myself. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s the beginning of a whole journey that people go on. And it’s difficult and hard for many people. But so many people finally find safety and freedom.

I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to meet a lot of people HIAS works with in different capacities. I’ve seen programs in Africa and met Afghanis, Iraqis, and people from so many different corners of the world who all have their own stories and experiences. But the majority of them, when we ask them what’s the best thing about getting to America, say “feeling safe.” When it comes down to it, people really all want the same thing. They just want to have a nice, warm, safe environment for their families.

Find out more about HIAS’ work, and Repair the World and HIAS’ #SupportforRefugees campaign.

Photo: Veyts (second from right) making a home visit to a family of Ethiopian refugees living in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo credit: Glenna Gordon/HIAS

Remembering Haiti

Two years ago on this day, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake took the lives of over 300,000 Haitians, displacing thousands and thousands more, and causing vast amounts of damage to the region. Like many natural disasters and world-events, the earthquake may have happened two years ago, but its impact is still felt today. Today, one and a half million people are still displaced, 550,000 people continue to live in camps, and the number of orphans nearly doubled. Thanks to the support of devoted volunteers, NGOs and service-workers who rushed down, some progress has been made. According to the The Huffington Post, 50% of the debris has been removed and 20% has been recycled. Nearly 369,000 people have been provided access to clean water, 2.4 million with health services and hygiene education, and 3 million with cholera treatment prevention. But the work is far from done.

As global citizens – and as Jews – we are responsible for helping to alleviate each others’ suffering. Below are some ways you can still give your time and effort to help Haiti in its efforts to rebuild:

Volunteer, Support & Learn

  • AJWS: AJWS’ long-standing partnerships in the region made it possible for them to respond within 48 hours of the earthquake.  Today, AJWS funds 40 extraordinary organizations in Haiti and is a leader in the U.S.-based movement for Haitian-led redevelopment.
  • JDC’s Inside Haiti: Volunteer with JDC in the fields of medical assistance, educational support and humanitarian relief.
  • Tevel B’tzedek’s Haiti Program: The IsraAID – Tevel b’Tzedek delegation began its work in Haiti one month after the quake. They’ve been implementing community development techniques such as women and youth groups and informal education in three villages in the Leogan district ever since.
  • Habitat for Humanity: Habitat’s commitment to Haiti dates back 27 years before the 2010 earthquake. Today, they continue to be a leading organization in helping to rebuild Haiti.
  • Aid Still Required:  “Just because it left the headlines, doesn’t mean it left the planet.” Aid Still Required has helped support Haiti’s growth to self-sufficiency, including women’s empowerment efforts, child services, and reforestation. Use hashtag #AidStillRequired to spread the word about Haiti.
  • American Red Cross: Two years after the Haiti earthquake, the American Red Cross is helping Haitian people rebuild their homes and their lives and improving communities with health, water and sanitation projects.
  • Interested in hosting a text study on disaster relief in general? Check out this resource for texts which explore a moral obligation to respond to humanitarian crises.


Repair Essay: Serving in Argentina with JDC

This essay was originally published on JDC’s In Service Blog (JDC is a Repair the World partner grantee), and was contributed by Ariel Bronstein who served in Argentina with Tufts Hillel and JDC Short-Term Service in May.

On the flight home from Argentina I had a lot running through my mind. As I recalled moments on the trip that really stuck with me, I thought to myself that I must join JDC’s efforts and continue helping the Jewish community in Argentina once I return home. I thought about the homes I visited and life stories people told.

One such story was a single mother living in a small one-room home that she shared with her 5-year old son, Maximo. The room was just big enough to fit two mattresses, a small round table and a small refrigerator. The mother and son had to walk down the hall to the communal bathroom and kitchen.
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Photo Essay: JDC Jewish Service Corps in India

This photo essay was originally published on JDC’s In Service Blog (JDC is a Repair the World grantee), and was contributed by JDC Jewish Service Corps fellows, Rachel Feuerstein-Simon and Geraldine Gudefin who just returned from a youth group summer camp in India, where they organized and led camp programming.

Camp is a critical time for the Indian youth to bond, attend learning sessions and grow with fellow members of the Jewish community, as the chaos of everyday life in Mumbai usually prevents. This past May, the Jewish Youth Pioneers (JYP) – the Indian Jewish community’s youth group – conducted its bi-yearly Youth Camp. The camps are planned in collaboration between the JDC Jewish Service Corps members and the JYP committee, and we have to say it was a resounding success.
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Post Passover Reflections from JDC’s Jewish Service Corps

This essay was originally published on JDC’s In Service Blog (JDC is a Repair the World grantee), and was contributed by Esther Burson who is spending the year serving in Estonia with the JDC Jewish Service Corps. Part of the experience of Jewish service includes learning about the culture where one serves. This essay offers a beautiful example of what it means to celebrate with a new community.

A week before Passover, I asked the Director of Youth Programming at the Tallinn JCC for approval to host a seder for the teen leaders I work with (the madrichim for the Jewish camps and youth groups). The plan: I would introduce the teens, who come from non religious households, to a traditional seder. I organized the seder, and the head madrich helped me plan a budget and invite all the madrichim.
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Service in Pictures

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is perhaps best known for its international charitable work, bringing volunteers, supplies and services to foreign countries where Jews live, no matter how small the population may be in those parts. Their JDC Short-Term Service programs focus not on only those in need but on engaging the younger set – North American college students and young professionals — by sponsoring service trips all over the globe. They have sent missions to Morocco, Cuba and Haiti, just to name a few. But now, after all of this service work abroad, they’re finally coming to a (New York) City near you. At least their pictures are.

From now until January 26th, the Bronfman Center at NYU is hosting a photo exhibit called “Caution: Children at Play.” The pictures were culled from a short-term service trip to Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, which was run in conjunction with JDC’s Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI). In June, 19 student volunteers from NYU, the New School, FIT and SVA traveled to Israel to work with children of parents who are refugees, asylum-seekers, and foreign workers from Sudan, Eritrea, Ghana, the Philippines, and other countries. Though in the late 90s, there were just 100 asylum seekers in Israel, that number has increased many times over and at present, they are over 22,000 such individuals.
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Photo Exhibit Brings North African Jews Into Focus

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is a humanitarian organization that provides long-term development assistance and emergency disaster relief worldwide. For over 95 years, JDC has worked in Jewish communities in over 70 countries, and supports projects in non-Jewish communities around the globe. This past February we traveled to Morocco with JDC and 15 young professionals from around North America.

On this trip we witnessed the work of JDC, the amazing cultural fabric of Morocco and its remnant Jewish community thriving in a unique Muslim country. Although it was our first overseas experience with JDC, we saw the effectiveness and success of the organization in international communities.
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Photo Journal: Tufts Hillel Visits India on JDC Service Trip

Recently, a group of students from Tufts University travelled with their local Hillel chapter to India with JDC Short-Term Service.

They visited India’s tiny but vibrant Jewish community in Mumbai, volunteering at the Bayiti Home for the Aged, visiting local Jewish sites and meeting members of the community. JDC has a significant history working in India (they started back in 1964) and their welfare and cultural programs have helped elderly and impoverished Jews, as well as supported social and religious programming and community building.

The photo journal below shares a glimpse of the meaningful and culturally-rich experience the students shared, as well as the impact they were able to have. All photos were taken by Tufts University student, Adam Shepro. To read his full captioned descriptions, click through to the Flickr page:

Find out more about the work that JDC does in India – and the rest of the world – here.