JDC CEO Zwang Thanks Community, Provides Ukraine Update
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COURTNEY BYRNES | STAFF REPORTER
Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee CEO Ariel Zwang visited Cleveland for the first time from Oct. 12 though Oct. 14 as she met with leadership of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
The trip served two main purposes: thanking the community for its continued support and to provide briefings on the JDC’s humanitarian work in Ukraine.
“We’re such close partners that we have many, many things to talk about,” Zwang told the Cleveland Jewish News Oct. 14.
As she met with leaders, she said the conversation expanded to the Federation’s partnership with the Russian Jewish community in St. Petersburg, its support of the JDC’s Camp Szarvas in Hungary, and programs to engage young adults.
Zwang took the helm of the JDC in January 2021 as travel was limited and the organization had to adapt to working remotely. Now in her second year as CEO, she has been tasked with guiding the organization as it responds to the Ukraine conflict and refugee crisis.
“Although I’ve only been the CEO of the JDC for two years, I was a CEO for 20 years before that for other organizations,” Zwang said. “And I’ve had experience leading organizations that were navigating through crisis, for example 9/11.”
She said while crises are terrible, she is fortunate to have experienced what a crisis of such magnitude needs from an organizational response. About a week after the war started, she was in Poland and witnessed the “extraordinary heroism by people escaping with their lives across the border of Ukraine and by those JDC and other Jewish-leading professionals who were receiving those refugees.”
Over the months of the war, she has traveled to Romania, Moldova, Hungary and to Israel, seeing the humanitarian response made possible by the relationships, staff and expertise built over the JDC’s more than 100-year history.
The JDC has brought 13,000 people across the border, housed thousands displaced in Ukraine, helped 40,000 refugees with basic needs, provided 20,000 refugees with accommodations, handled 63,000 hot-line calls, and brought in 600 tons of humanitarian aid, she said.
The JDC is providing ongoing care for more than 35,000 Jews in Ukraine.
“So, this crisis is made up of individual tragedies, one on top of the other, but the response is also made up of a tremendous process and apparatus that allows us to respond to everyone who needed it,” Zwang said. “And that’s what I saw when I was in those places.”
Much of this work has been supported through the funding pulled together by the Cleveland Federation and others across North America through the Jewish Federations of North America, and Zwang said the need is still great and becoming greater as the war drags on and escalates.
As winter approaches and Ukraine continues to experience power outages, the JDC plans to continue sending humanitarian aid, providing beds and helping people stay warm.
“What the Jewish community can continue to do is not forget,” Zwang said. “Don’t let the next crisis or whatever the next news story is distract them from the fact that this need is actually greater than it ever has been, and that we’re still going to need even more support.”