Jewish groups partner with Asians to aid victims, rebuild infrastructure

new york | When it comes to helping victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the American Jewish World Service is taking the adage “teach a man how to fish” quite literally.

As part of its long-term relief efforts for victims of the Dec. 26 tragedy, the group is working with its partner organizations in the region, including the Sanghamitra Service Society in Andhra Pradesh, India, which helps local fishing communities with sustainable development and disaster preparedness.

The philosophy behind the group’s post-tsunami effort is the same as that behind general AJWS operations — long-term efforts through collaboration with groups in the region.

“We don’t just go in and leave. We go in and we develop,” said Ronni Strongin, a spokeswoman for AJWS, which already has raised more than $2 million in online contributions alone for tsunami victims.

The AJWS isn’t alone in this approach: While not ignoring immediate needs, other Jewish groups also are planning aid that addresses the long-range needs of areas affected by the tsunami, which is believed to have claimed at least 150,000 lives.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which by early this week had raised more than $1.7 million, is taking a similar approach.

“Everybody comes in to provide emergency relief, and then they all leave and there’s nobody left behind to help rebuild the infrastructure,” said Steven Schwager, JDC’s executive vice president. “While a portion of our money will go for short-term emergency relief, a larger part of our money will go for infrastructure.”

That approach is likely to influence the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, an umbrella of North American Jewish organizations, expected to convene next week at the JDC’s request. The group provides a central address and decision-making process for disbursement of Jewish relief aid.

Nearly 40 Jewish federations are soliciting funds for the tsunami victims — UJA Federation of New York has raised some $500,000 — and plan to donate the money directly to JDC, according to United Jewish Communities, the coordinating body of the federation system. The JDC is an overseas partner of the federation system.

In the Bay Area, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay are directing donors to the JDC and AJWS. The Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley is accepting contributions for relief efforts; as of Tuesday it had collected approximately $3,400. “That’s in three days, and the phone is still ringing,” said Jan Rose, comptroller.

Like other groups collecting relief money, Jewish organizations report that donors have responded quickly.

“The response has been very good,” said Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, which has collected more than $200,000 so far.