American Jews doing mitzvot for tsunami relief

new york (jta) | As millions of Americans tuned in to the Super Bowl for a Sunday of football and booze, Chabad-Lubavitch rolled out a different kind of game plan.

Administrators at the Chabad house that serves the beaches of Jacksonville, Fla., had realized that almost as many people would converge on the city for the Super Bowl — some 200,000 — as were killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami on Dec. 26.

That simple equation inspired “Tidal Wave of Goodness,” a move to collect 200,000 signed pledges of good deeds to be done.

“So much negativity was created with the tsunami,” said Rabbi Nochum Kurinsky of Chabad @ the Beaches, which partnered for the project with Chabad of Northeast Florida. “We figured we could try to counteract that a little bit.”

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl and outside the Feb. 6 game itself, Chabad had 10 volunteers with clipboards going around the city asking for pledges of mitzvot. They received close to 3,000.

The effort is just one of many Jewish responses to the disaster.

Both in Israel and in the United States, Jewish groups, which have raised millions of dollars, are working in coordinated campaigns to respond to the crisis.

In this country, the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief’s tsunami response unit is accepting proposals from relief groups to determine how to allocate the $800,000 it has raised so far.

The 37-member coalition plans to make allocation decisions by the end of the month and to give special attention to Israeli organizations working on the ground in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Jewish organizations that have raised funds themselves are making some allocations independently.

The American Jewish World Service has raised some $8.5 million. About $1.5 million has been distributed for immediate needs such as shelter, burials and cooking supplies.

The bulk of the funds will go toward long-term reconstruction projects such as refurbishing devastated fishing industries and trauma counseling, said Ronni Strongin, the group’s director of public relations.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs the disaster relief coalition, has raised more than $15 million, much of it from Jewish federations. The JDC has donated $500,000 to the coalition.

On its own, the JDC has donated $800,000 for immediate relief and is planning another allocation for long-term infrastructure projects.

Several other Jewish groups are continuing to raise funds. They include Hadassah, the Union for Reform Judaism and the American Friends of Magen David Adom.

Organizations and individuals have crafted creative approaches for the cause. The American Jewish World Service, for example, tried to auction a bottle of Thomas Jefferson’s wine on eBay.

The bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787 was estimated to be worth $500,000, but it didn’t sell because the top bid of $7,700 failed to meet the minimum asking price. The group may pursue other auction possibilities.

JTA Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.