FROM THE PRESIDENT
By Gary P. Saltzman, B’nai B’rith International President
At some point in time after a tornado, an earthquake, a tsunami or a hurricane devastates an area, people outside the impacted region move on to focus on other things. The media lose interest. And the rest of us — without the constant barrage of videos, photos and social media posts showing us the level of the ongoing trauma — tend to forget as well.
At B’nai B’rith, we don’t forget. We stay to help after first responders have moved on to the next disaster. Disaster relief is a mainstay of our global efforts. In the 1860s, we took our first steps in establishing what is now more than 150 years of disaster aid.
Of course, this fall was busy on the weather front this year. We all have images from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and their aftermath, in our mind’s eye. Those images are hard to shake. Talking to people who lost family, homes, schools and/or houses of worship invigorates our attention to this area of our work.
With weather scientists noting we are likely now in a period of increased weather extremes, the need for assistance will only grow. And our commitment to helping will remain steadfast.
B’nai B’rith major relief efforts focus on long-term rebuilding. by providing funds as well as people power.
Joining with the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity for more than a decade, we have provided key assistance after disasters big and small. Not all natural disasters make the national news. But you can be sure that for a community hit by a tornado or a flood, the level and nature of the impact is all consuming.
The variety of our aid is vast. The level of devastation we assist with is wide.
We joined with AEPi to provide muscle-power to help clean out and rebuild a park after Hurricane Katrina. This boots-on-the-ground work was in addition to the $1.1 million we raised to assist New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after the twin monumental storms, Katrina and Rita, powered through the region.
We sponsored a team from AEPi that visited an Oklahoma community wracked by tornadoes in 2013. There the team helped tear down a severely storm-damaged barn, preserving the wood for the farmer, along with providing other labor. This show of force reduced what could have been a week of labor had only a few hands been involved to just a day to get the job done.
In fact, disaster relief is a big point of agreement with AEPi, which chose our organization to receive a $100,000 grant over five years to continue our disaster relief work.
Our relief work is global. We are a founding partner of IsraAID, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, and we have funded projects and supplied people-power for aid programs around the world. And for nearly 16 years, we have partnered with the Brother’s Brother Foundation, to bring tens of millions of dollars worth of medicines and supplies to Latin America. Our Young Leadership Network has been particularly involved in our disaster assistance programming. From meet-and-greet fundraisers to aiding a community, to hands-on help, our dedicated young leaders know the value of Tikkun Olam — to repair the world. After Hurricane Sandy in New York, for instance, they donned goggles and gloves and hammered, swept, pulled up rotting floor boards and hauled materials to help a community get back on its feet.
Another aspect of our disaster relief efforts is to use contacts we have or we work with in impacted areas to assess needs and create a long-term rebuilding plan. Unmet needs are our specialty.
Between 2000 and 2010, the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund responded to several major disasters by raising and distributing $2.3 million for emergency relief and rebuilding efforts.
We integrate our disaster relief efforts into other aspects of our global assistance work. We organized teams to create and package disaster readiness kits. We distribute these to B’nai B’rith senior housing communities in places such as south Florida, so residents there would have ready access to flashlights, pill kits and water when a disaster strikes.
As we work with local assistance groups, we determine the best use of our resources. In Louisiana last year, it was supplying books and school supplies to children who lost those tools in a flood. Some of our top leaders pitched in, gloves and masks on, to muck out flooded houses to prepare them for rebuilding.
Also last year, we chose to underwrite a disaster relief supply vehicle. Thanks to our gift, the utility truck will be outfitted with tools, supplies and equipment and it will be ready, through NECHAMA Jewish Response to Disaster (our partner on the ground), to move into a disaster area quickly.
Of course, natural disasters know no geographic boundaries. Our assistance spans the globe. In 2004, we
raised $850,000 to help areas affected by the South East Asia Tsunami. In 2010, we raised $250,000 to help after a massive earthquake decimated Haiti. Some of those funds were used to help create a local farming community for residents to have a reliable food supply. In 2010, after the Japan earthquake and tsunami, we provided trauma counseling to people in the regions that were most devastated by the catastrophe.
Natural disasters are truly the ultimate equalizer. They don’t care where you live, if you are rich or poor, what your religion is. They just force people into extreme circumstances.
Our more than 150 years of helping around the world is a point of pride around here.
Join our efforts. To learn more about B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief and to donate to our ongoing funds, visit: http://www.bnaibrith.org/disaster-relief.html and http://www.bnaibrith.org/disaster-relief-newsletter/2017-disaster-relief-report