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Tsunami Funds Now At $23 Million

Tsunami Funds Now At $23 Million

More than seven weeks after the Asia tsunami disaster, donations to Jewish agencies’ relief funds have slowed somewhat as the millions already raised begin to flow to partner agencies in the affected areas.

“There has been a natural trail-off, given that the attention has died down,” said Will Recant, assistant executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which oversees the Jewish Coalition for Asia Tsunami Relief. “But Jewish giving was overwhelming.”

The 37 organizations participating in the coalition have raised more than $24 million to aid victims of the Dec. 26 calamity, including $9 million from the American Jewish World Service. The JDC raised more than $15 million on its own and by pooling funds from Jewish federations across the country and from the Orthodox Union.

Leaders of those 37 groups were to discuss in a telephone conference on Thursday how to disburse some $800,000 earmarked by the coalition.

“We’ll begin a review process for proposals received,” said Recant. After the review, the coalition members will have two or three weeks to digest the data before the allocation process begins.Among those proposals are several from Israel-based organizations involved in relief work from the disaster and seeking reimbursement of costs. The ZAKA organization, for instance, helped identify bodies after the tidal waves struck, while a division of IsrAid is recruiting young volunteers in Israel to spend time in Asia. The Israel Crisis Management Center, which aids victims of trauma, will send three teams to the region in coming months to provide counseling.

While some in the coalition have argued that the Israeli groups should get first crack at the funds because of the benefits to the Jewish state’s image and diplomatic ambitions, others have insisted the money be granted solely on the merits of their proposals.

But outside the coalition, member organizations have already been disbursing funds as they see fit. The JDC has sent $3.8 million to short-term relief and intermediate-term reconstruction efforts throughout the region. They include the Disaster Mitigation Institute and Catholic Relief in India; the International Rescue Committee in Indonesia; Sarvodaya, a psychological support service in Sri Lanka; and Chabad Lubavitch of Thailand, which is providing meals, medicine and clothing to survivors.

The American Jewish World Service has disbursed some $1.5 million to fill immediate needs and is now focusing on funding organizations with whom it has longstanding partnerships for development projects in the region.

“We have five or six years worth of work to do,” said Ronni Strongin, a spokeswoman for AJWS. “Everything we have raised will be invested in the communities.” She said that while fundraising has substantially slowed from the estimated $1 million per week immediately following the disaster, “We definitely have enough for the long haul.”

The American Jewish Committee, which has raised around $900,000, has disbursed more than a third of the funds to organizations active on the ground, including IsraAID, the Indian Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, Magen David Adom, Catholic Relief Services and Church World Service, as well as JDC and AJWS. “Working with the director of AJC’s office in Mumbai we are close to identifying long-term projects to fund in the rebuilding efforts,” said AJCommittee spokesman Ken Bandler. Many of the coalition members have already sent staff members to the region to assess needs and oversee the disbursement. Recant said he expected to make the trip next month.

Howie Katz, an official with AJWS who was vacationing in Thailand when the disaster struck, said he was working with his organization on a plan to live there indefinitely to aid the development efforts, including putting fishermen whose livelihood has been disrupted back to work. “We want to make sure they can rebuild their lives and provide for themselves in the future,” said Katz.

Based on information from the field, Recant said the Jewish and Israeli groups had not only been effective in the relief work but had opened new doors for international relations. “The Jewish professionals and technical experts brought to the tsunami region ultimately serve as unofficial diplomats for Jewish [agencies] and Israel,” he said.

For the first time in operations outside of Israel, workers from Magen David Adom were allowed to wear their own uniforms, featuring red Stars of David. And two visiting members of Congress from New York, Joseph Crowley and Steve Israel, reported that they came across an Israeli team feeding orphaned children in Sri Lanka while the blue and white Israeli flag waved overhead.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.

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