After tsunami, Jewish groups ponder how to spend aid

new york | As contributions for Asian tsunami relief through Jewish organizations soared to $13 million and counting, a newly formed alliance with a unified bank account began mulling who will get the money — and not everyone appears on the same page.

Some of the 36 members of the Jewish Coalition for Asia Tsunami Relief are urging that Israel-based organizations working in disaster-plagued areas get first crack at the funds, helping them carry out operations that have generated positive publicity for the Jewish state and opened new diplomatic ties.

But in a conference call last week, other coalition members said such organizations, which include ZAKA, Magen David Adom and IsraAid, should submit the same grant proposals as other groups, participants in the conference reported.

“If they submit the required material, we will make a very serious review of the group,” said Ruth Messinger, executive director of the American Jewish World Service, which put an initial $250,000 of the more than $6 million it has raised as of this week into the coalition’s united fund.

Messinger, who praised the work Magen David Adom was doing in the region, said she hoped the coalition would make it easier for groups seeking help to approach the Jewish community.

Mark Charendoff, executive director of the Jewish Funders Network, which matches charitable foundations with beneficiaries, said he was helping grantors decide whether to address immediate needs in Asia — such as providing food, water and medicine — or fund long-term projects.

“A half-dozen large Jewish foundations I have spoken to in the last week are actively working on long-term strategies,” said Charendoff. “Needs will change. The mental health needs of the families who are left behind are going to be enormous. Dealing with orphans and widows left behind, rebuilding infrastructure — these are the types of long-term investments that are harder to capture in TV sound bites, but they are profound needs nonetheless.”

Another issue preoccupying the philanthropic world is the impact of tsunami relief efforts on other charitable causes, at home and abroad, which may see donations drop.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the massive fund-raising effort, combined with a sluggish national economy, led to difficulties for many charitable groups.

Members of the Jewish Coalition for Asia Tsunami Relief also voiced concern that crises in other troubled areas may fall by the wayside. Many of the same organizations recently forged a coalition to distribute $25 million to aid refugees from genocide in Sudan.

“The issue is, how can we focus more attention on the other areas that require humanitarian relief and assistance,” said Will Recant of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “We need more advocacy, more media attention to make it known that other [crises] exist.”

Charendoff predicted that donors would continue to be generous.

“For the most part, by and large people don’t give to their capacity, people give because they are inspired to give,” he said. “People will dig deep down to give extra, hopefully not at the expense of something else.”


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