American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - excerpt from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, 1986

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This page is an extract, reproduced with permission, from Lee O'Brien, American Jewish Organizations and Israel, Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. [1]

  • Year established: 1914
  • President: Heinz Eppler
  • Executive Vice-President: Saul B. Cohen
  • Address: 60 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10165
  • Publications: JDC Annual Report, JDC World

General Background

The JDC was established in November 1914, following the outbreak of World War 1. From its original name, the Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers, it was known for a long time, especially among Jews from Europe, as the ‘Joint.’ During its first year, it was entrusted with the funds raised by the Orthodox Central Committee for the Relief of Jews, the American Jewish Relief Committee, and the People's Relief Committee.

The JDC was the charitable arm of the ‘non-ideological and nonpolitical’ Jewish establishment; it was known as ‘an organization committed to the principle that Jews should be helped to remain in the countries of their birth rather than to emigrate to Palestine.’ As a result, Zionists considered the JDC a tool of non-Zionist groups such as the AJC, and the pre-1948 period was filled with the virulent clashes between the JDC and the UPA. In 1941, UPA chairman Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver attacked American Jewish philanthropists for giving ‘all aid to the Jewries of Eastern and Central Europe, but only a pittance to that visionary project of impractical idealists in Palestine.’ He charged that such JDC projects as refugee resettlement in Soviet Biro-Bidjan or Santo Domingo were actually attempts to ‘strangle’ the Zionist movement by the ‘single device of starving it to death.’[2]

Despite these conflicts, the UPA and the JDC both joined the central UJA campaign from 1941 outward, though for different reasons: events in Europe and community pressure forced the philanthropic leadership out of their anti-Zionist positions, while for their part, the Zionists knew full well that without the support of the Jewish establishment, sufficient funds for Palestine could not be raised. In 1941, the JDC received 63 percent of the UJA allotment, and the UPA, 37 percent. However, the establishment of Israel dramatically reversed this situation: by 1949, the UPA was receiving approximately half of UJA funds, and its total receipts from all funding sources were $8 million, more than JDC's international budget. In addition, the JDC itself altered its stance toward Israel, as evidenced by its allotments to its Palestine/Israel program, which increased from $2 million in 1946 to $24 million in 1949. [2]


The JDC operates under the motto that ‘Jews in need should be helped and should be helped to live as Jews.’ According to its statement of purpose, the JDC

‘Organizes, and finances rescue, relief, and rehabilitation programs for imperiled and needy Jews overseas; conducts a wide range of health, welfare, rehabilitation, education programs and aid to cultural and religious institutions; programs benefitting 300,000 Jews in 30 countries overseas. Major areas of operation are Israel, North Africa and Europe.’

In its 1982 budget, Israel-based programs received the largest share, about 32 percent. The rest of the budget was divided geographically, with 21 percent for ‘relief-in-transit’ (for emigrants from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe), 19 percent for Eastern Europe, 14 percent for ‘Moslem countries,’ 19 percent for Western Europe, 1.8 percent for ‘Africa and Asia,’ and 2.9 percent for Latin America.

About a third of JDC's 1982 operating budget was distributed to relief and welfare, and over one-fifth to Jewish education; these are the two largest categories. The rest of the budget was distributed, in decreasing order of magnitude, to services for the aged, health services, program management, social development, advanced education and manpower development, and others.

In 1982, the JDC allocated $11.3 million to Israel for over one hundred programs for the aged, the chronically ill, and the mentally and physically handicapped. The JDC supported over 130 community centers, 170 Yeshivat (religious schools), and programs for technical and vocational training through the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT). American ORT Federation, another New York-based tax-exempt organization, provides vocational training for Jews in fourteen countries, principally in Israel. In 1982 it spent over $7.5 million on its programs.) From 1914 until the end of 1982, the JDC spent a total of $1.4 billion, of which about $278 million (20 percent) went to Israel.

Flow of Funding

Since the JDC is not an active fundraising organization, it relies on allotments from the UJA, which provides between 70 and 90 percent of JDC's annual budget. These funds represent 10 to 12 percent of UJA's total allotments, which means that the JDC is the second largest UJA beneficiary, after the UIA. In addition to the UJA, JDC's other source of funds is the U.S. government, which provides financial support for JDC's programs for the resettlement of Jewish emigrants from the Soviet Union, plus donations-in-kind of foodstuffs and clothing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1981, JDC's total revenue was close to $52 million, of which approximately $13 million, or one-fourth, was U.S. government aid; the UJA provided $36 million, and private revenues accounted for the remainder. Of the $40-odd million disbursed by the JDC in 1982, $37.8 million came from the UJA, $1.1 million from the U.S. government, and $1.8 million from donations-in-kind. The JDC also receives relatively small contributions from Jewish communities in Canada, Latin America, South Africa, and elsewhere. [3]


  1. This page is reproduced by permission of the Institute of Palestine Studies, granted on 25 February 2014. The Institute retains copyright of all material.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Halperin: 199
  3. See U.S. Assistance Provided For Resettling Soviet Refugees, Departments of State and Justice. Report to the Congress by the Comptroller General 0/ the U.S., June 20, 1977; Volume) Foreign Aid Programs, 1980 and 1981; and JDC, 1982 Annual Report 0/ the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.