Reaching out across the world to young children with cerebral palsy in Jerusalem and to the elderly in Siberia, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Israel and Overseas has helped these and many other at-risk populations with grants that provide food, health care, safety and educational needs in Israel and worldwide.
The center is co-chaired by Gary Erlbaum and Scott Isdaner.
"Helping the most vulnerable members of the Jewish community locally and overseas is a high priority of Federation's strategic initiative," said Betsy Sheerr, a board member of both the center and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
"The center's board is deluged by proposals," she said. "Our responsibility is to answer: 'What are the greatest needs? What grants will have the greatest impact?' "
The center's allocations for 2005 to populations at risk in Israel total more than $500,000. Among the recipients is Israel Elwyn, an institution that serves more than 1,000 children and adults with special needs at sites throughout the country.
Israel Roizman, also a center board member, has given his time and financial support to Elwyn's Dvora Agmon Preschool Development Center in Jerusalem for the last eight years. The center aids children with neurological and communication disorders. Its goal for the approximately 300 children between the ages of 2 and 7 is to mainstream the kids in first grade.
"Because of government cuts and money going mostly to security issues in Israel," Roizman noted that the center's grant is "life-saving."
"It has provided wheelchairs, walkers and computers, as well as physical, occupational and speech therapy – help they would not otherwise have. These kids must have early intervention, or they can fall between the cracks," he said.
"What was happening in Israel was that parents were not dealing with the situation, and not allowing kids to get the services they need," explained Morris Willner, a Philadelphia-area businessman who heads the board of Israel Elwyn. "By developing programs early, young children can realize their potential and have a future in society."
Shut-Ins Way Out in Siberia
In the most isolated corners of the former Soviet Union – Siberia, Russia's far east – a $64,000 center grant has helped JDC provide food packages for shut-ins; Hesed centers for hot meals; and connections to Jewish communal life, medical and home care, and winter-relief packages for 4,000 elderly individuals.
Michael Belman, a past president of Federation and a national JDC board member, visited Siberia this summer on a JDC mission. Among the many Jews he met there was an elderly couple living in two rooms with their dog.
"They were both skinny – only the dog was well-fed. She was well enough to go to a Hesed center for her only hot meal of the day. But he was just too weak and fragile to go, and so received food packages at home."
But programs for the elderly are in jeopardy, according to Belman and Sheerr, who explained that JDC can care for about half of the 232,000 elderly Jews in the FSU with the help of Holocaust restitution funds. For the other half who are not eligible, the agency has had to cut back or, in some cases, discontinue services.
"In Siberia, where 70 percent are not eligible, Federation's grant is a lifeline," affirmed Sheerr. "It can make the difference between life and death."
To learn more, call 215-832-0553.