Turning back the clock, JDC exhibit depicts a century of Jewish humanitarian work

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Click photo to download. Caption: Pictured in 1963, a group of Yemenite men who were residents of a village for the aged maintained through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's (JDC) Malben program in Israel. The photo is among the items featured in JDC's exhibit at the New York Historical Society. Credit: JDC.

Click photo to download. Caption: Pictured in 1963, a group of Yemenite men who were residents of a village for the aged maintained through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Malben program in Israel. The photo is among the items featured in JDC’s exhibit at the New York Historical Society. Credit: JDC.

By Jeffrey F. Barken/JNS.org

The turbulent 20th century witnessed humanitarian crises in all corners of the world. Persecuted, exiled, and deprived of their belongings, Jews in various communities suffered untold atrocities and often had no escape.

Against that backdrop, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) found its calling. First organized in New York City in 1914, the philanthropic group was initially focused on easing the plight of Jews in war-torn Europe. Since then, JDC has taken a leading role in providing relief to Jews and non-Jews alike in regions devastated by war, environmental disasters, famine, and political repression. Now, amid the celebration of its centennial, the organization’s work is embodied by four words.

“I Live: Send Help.” That is the title of JDC’s ongoing exhibit at the New York Historical Society, which opened in June and runs through Sept. 21. The display occupies a long hall on the second floor of the museum. Interactive elements and unique artifacts, including letters, pictures, radio recordings, and newsreel footage, demonstrate the complexity of the humanitarian organization’s work and serve as portals transporting visitors back in time.

In a post-war radio address, legendary singer Eddie Cantor requests canned food donations for Holocaust survivors stranded in Europe.

“You have said to these people that you want them to live, and be happy,” Cantor’s voice crackles on repeat over the museum’s listening devices. Likewise, a recording of James Wooten, former president of Alaska Airlines, summons the drama of the daring “Wings of Eagles” operation that flew refugee Yemenite Jews to safety in Israel. “You had to have faith in this thing,” Wooten says, recalling steering his craft through dangerous airspace where his crew faced both enemy and friendly fire. Upon landing, the 104 children on board his plane sang an emotional verse of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.

Click photo to download. Caption: In 1943, the pictured young refugee who fled Nazi-occupied France to Switzerland through the Alps receives food in a JDC-supported facility. He was then sent to a children's home, also supported by JDC. The photo is among the items featured in JDC's exhibit at the New York Historical Society. Credit: JDC.

Click photo to download. Caption: In 1943, the pictured young refugee who fled Nazi-occupied France to Switzerland through the Alps receives food in a JDC-supported facility. He was then sent to a children’s home, also supported by JDC. The photo is among the items featured in JDC’s exhibit at the New York Historical Society. Credit: JDC.

The exhibit portrays the JDC’s innovative methods for organizing aid. One example is a letter from Morris C. Troper, former chairman of the European Executive Council and negotiator for Jewish aid, to Eleanor Roosevelt, dated June …read more

Source: JNS.org

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