Remarks of Former Ambassador Shapiro 100th Anniversary of the Joint Distribution Committee

Mayor Nir Barkat, JDC Board Member Andy Tisch, Alan Gill, Arnon Yossi; JDC President Penny Blumenstein, Members of the JDC Mission, guests.

It is a privilege to welcome so many of you to Israel and join a long list of deeply appreciative individuals, who have recognized the truly remarkable contribution that the JDC has made over a century of achievement.  Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Lew, have each paid eloquent tribute on this extraordinary anniversary.  We salute you and celebrate with you recognizing that the JDC is occupied with the pressing, acute and far-ranging challenges that face, not only the Jewish people, but humanity in the most distant and far-flung corners of the world.

President Obama also sent his greetings, which I’d like to share with you now:

April 30, 2014

I am pleased to join in celebrating the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Centennial.

For 100 years­­, the JDC has worked around the world to support many of the Jewish community’s most vulnerable members and provide aid to those struck by poverty and war, disability and disaster. JDC has lifted up people in times of need and has played an important role in events that have defined the past century. By serving Jewish people no matter where they live, groups like your remind us of the responsibilities we have to one another and challenge us to seek a better, more hopeful tomorrow for all.

Congratulations on this special milestone. As you reflect on the difference you have made in countless lives over the past century, I hope you take pride in the special place you hold in the Jewish community. I wish you all the best for the years ahead.

The history of the JDC is a history of the last hundred years of Jewish life, Jewish social and economic health, response to crises within the Jewish world and far beyond it, and constant and steadfast action in support of Israel’s development and well-being.  Reviewing the program for this festive Board Session, I note that the field trips you plan for tomorrow each define a critical area of attention within Israel. Israel has achieved impressive growth and development in just 66 years, which we just celebrated on Yom Haatzmaut. And still, significant populations face poverty and other challenges.  For example: the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel who contend with unemployment and poverty; and citizens of Israel’s periphery; Arab citizens, who do not yet enjoy full employment and prosperity – your programs identify and address these pressing needs.  You focus energy and resources assisting at-risk populations, such as immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union have sought in Israel a refuge from distressed communities and oppression and who have needed assistance to fully integrate into Israeli society, as well as Holocaust survivors and their families. In many of these efforts, the U.S. government has been proud to be a partner with you.

Beyond Israel, for 100 years the JDC has offered active aid and relief to Jewish communities in crisis; for 100 years you have provided refuge, food, critical care, social service programs, education and welfare.  Even today, JDC programs around the world are long-term responses to crises arising from natural and man-made disasters, from Haiti, to the Philippines, Japan and the refugees fleeing Syria. And there is no organization better positioned to look out for the welfare of Ukraine’s Jewish community during this period of uncertainty and instability.

The American Embassy in Israel is proud to be a partner with JDC on many and varied endeavors here in Israel. Your work in bringing attention and solutions to critical social issues is often in synergy with our own goals.  Therefore, for the second year, we are working together with TEVET (Fighting Poverty Through Employment) to provide English language courses for Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) seeking the skills that will make them more competitive in the labor market. The courses provide beginning and intermediate level English skills to hundreds of Haredi men and women interested in joining or advancing in the workplace.

We continue our cooperation in providing U.S. models and practices in the field of inclusion and diversity.  In just three weeks, six Israeli government and NGO professionals who are developing career advancement models for underserved sectors in Israeli society, will travel to the U.S. on a State Department program to observe and then adapt best practices in vocational training and apprenticeship.

The coming years will bring new challenges we are not able to predict.  The U.S. stands firmly with Israel, committed to its security and the well-being of the Jewish people.  Our broad and deep ties and extensive cooperation lead to a steady stream — sometimes it seems a flood — of U.S. visitors and delegations who meet their Israeli counterparts and develop cooperative plans for addressing regional challenges, promoting cyber security, strengthening missile defense, and increasing economic and trade relations.  Just a few days ago, a delegation led by National Security Advisor Susan Rice held intensive talks with Israeli colleagues to deepen our strategic and security cooperation on challenges ranging from Iran to Syria. Secretary of Defense Hagel departed Israel on Friday after a visit to address our common security challenges. He met with Israel’s security leaders and reinforced our unbreakable commitment to Israel’s safety and security, including on a visit to Hatzor Air Force Base where hundreds of Israeli and American troops are conducting a joint exercise on protecting Israel from ballistic missile attacks.

As you know, under Secretary Kerry’s leadership, we have been intensively engaged over the past several months in an effort to assist Israelis and Palestinians in advancing negotiations toward a final agreement to end the conflict. Despite current challenges in the pursuit of peace, we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the approach that will lead to greater stability, prosperity and that will ensure Israel’s future as a secure, democratic and Jewish state. We are taking a strategic pause to consider ways to bring, and keep, the sides together, and to allow both sides to consider the alternatives, and hopefully, decide they are prepared to make the choices necessary to sustain negotiations and resolve the conflict.

I have been privileged to meet with your leadership, to address your “young generation” leaders, and your partners in government, business and in civil society.  Having done so, I join with you in welcoming and anticipating the next 100 years, because you have so carefully laid that groundwork, preparing a new cohort to take on the challenges that the future will present.   Through your Young Adult Centers and programs such as the Global Jewish Service Corps, through preparing and nurturing rising leadership, we know that the JDC will be in good hands in the coming decades and we wish you success, knowing that every JDC success strengthens Israeli society and creates a better and more inclusive world.

I would like to end with a quote from Pirkei Avot (16:31), which says: “Old age is a crown of beauty, to be found in the ways of righteousness. The beauty of youth is their strength, and the glory of sages is their age.”

JDC is showing the wisdom and righteousness of the old sages, and the beauty, vigor, and energy of the young generation.

I thank you, on this 100th anniversary, for your righteous work and the strength and vision to continue it for the next 100 years.