American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) |

Harnessing Data to Save Lives and Strengthen Communities

As global crises cascade, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – the humanitarian organization known as “the Global Jewish 9-1-1” – deploys life-saving care and best-in-class solutions to challenges facing Israel and the Jewish world

Ella Lavon
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JDC volunteers in Moldova assist a Ukrainian refugee at a shelter outside Chișinau
JDC volunteers in Moldova assist a Ukrainian refugee at a shelter outside ChișinauCredit: Ilia Bugaevi and Anna Galotonova
Ella Lavon
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It all started with a desperate request for baby formula. It was March 3rd, just a week into the Ukraine crisis, when JDC’s emergency hotline received a call from a desperate mother in Kharkiv. Hiding in a basement with her one-month-old, she was running out of food. JDC’s call center worker immediately uploaded the information into JDC’s emergency response system and connected the woman with JDC’s team in the conflict-scarred city. Within an hour, she had the formula, delivered by one of the organization's volunteers.

This harrowing episode is testament to the impact and dedication of JDC’s brave staff, volunteers, and JDC-supported Hesed social service centers across Ukraine. This organizational infrastructure – which also includes Jewish Community Centers, Jewish Family Services, and dozens of programs providing human services and Jewish cultural activities – was developed by JDC over the last three decades since the fall of the Soviet Union.

People with disabilities receive tablets to help them control the smart features in their homeCredit: Tamir Elterman

It’s the backbone of the organization’s crisis response effort and has been adapted along the way to provide ongoing care to tens of thousands of needy Jews in Ukraine and those who have been displaced, impoverished by the conflict, or who fled to neighboring countries. Each case requires solutions in real time, often driven by JDC’s steady stream of data and information.

Gathering up-to-the-moment data

JDC and Hesed staff work to quickly meet those needs across hundreds of locations in Ukraine. It’s also reported into the Hamal, JDC’s Jerusalem-based situation room, which gathers up-to-the-moment data to help the organization make informed decisions and adapt its efforts to the actual needs on the ground. “On a day-to-day level, someone might need to be evacuated, and someone else might need food, water, or medicine,” explains Shay Kognitsky, who manages JDC’s situation room operations. “The Hamal is responsible for presenting a whole picture from different pieces of the puzzle, thereby assisting our decision-making process.”

The Hamal synthesizes this information and evaluates it to understand trends, where help is needed, and how to prioritize multiple emergency requests with the aim of saving lives. These efforts included the evacuation of dozens of sick or frail Holocaust survivors out of the conflict zone. They were among nearly 13,000 Ukrainian Jews that JDC safely evacuated out of the country. The complex operations for survivors, carried out in partnership with the Claims Conference, required the coordination of dozens of JDC staff, volunteers, and partners in Ukraine, Israel, and border countries like Poland and Moldova.

Leveraging data, they organized transportation, care along the days-long journey, and logistics to traverse bombardment and dirt roads. JDC and its partners provided these Jews and thousands of others with food, medical care, housing, psychosocial support, and connections to local Jewish communities over the border.

“I left Odesa, crossed the border, and immediately my heart calmed down. I wouldn’t be here without JDC,” says Valentina, an elderly Jewish woman from southern Ukraine evacuated by JDC in the early days of the crisis. “I didn’t need to bang my head against the wall waiting for support. I called them, and right away, they told me to leave and helped make it happen.”

Empowering vulnerable Israelis

As JDC rescues Jews in danger in hotspots around the world, it concurrently develops solutions to Israel’s most pressing socioeconomic challenges. JDC promotes optimal aging, social mobility, inclusive productivity, independence for individuals with disabilities, and efficiency of public systems. The organization works in strategic partnership with the Israeli government, municipalities, social and business sectors, global Jewish leaders and philanthropists, and local communities to strengthen Israeli society, close gaps, and promote the welfare of vulnerable populations.

Israeli society still faces vast socioeconomic disparities, and thousands of marginalized Israelis do not have the equipment or the skills to take advantage of the digital revolution that carried over into social service delivery. Given this reality, JDC is now incorporating data and digitization within the social services field.

“Integrating data solutions and digitization into social activity lets us create significant added value,” says Dr. Sigal Shelach, Executive Director of JDC Israel. “This involves developing more efficient services, measuring effectiveness, enhancing decision-making processes, or creating a shared language among stakeholders based on shared data.”

The situation room at JDC’s Jerusalem campus is the nerve center for quick, data-driven decisions about humanitarian responseCredit: Ami Tesler

Among its flagship efforts to forge deeper understanding of socioeconomic mobility challenges, JDC recently launched Social and Economic Mobility in Israel (SEMI) – a data platform that consolidates all Israeli public data on social mobility, giving decision makers and professionals a comprehensive and inclusive perspective on Israeli mobility disparities.

Data is now also being used to empower individuals, and JDC’s Avodata Project is a prime example. Developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor and the Israeli startup retrain.ai, Avodata meets employment challenges through a website which, for the first time, makes comprehensive labor market information accessible as people choose their occupation and career.

By providing the public with reliable information about available jobs – including degree of demand, salary levels, type of work, career development possibilities, and more – Avodata helps individuals focus on professions that are highly sought-after, while tailoring careers best suited to their skills, abilities, and desires.

One of those Israelis is Yossi, a young Haredi man who studied in a yeshiva his whole life but dreamed of becoming a mechanical design engineer. With no access to information on this field in his community, Yossi needed direction and his JDC career guidance counselor sent him to Avodata. Through the website, Yossi discovered that he could achieve his dream and do so in a culturally sensitive environment.

Since using the site – which has had more than 250,000 unique visitors since its launch last year – Yossi has become an architectural engineer and is completing a course to certify him as a mechanical design engineer. Yossi couldn't be happier. “Avodata gave me the knowledge I needed to make the right choice for me!”

Building Europe’s Jewish future by the numbers

Since 2008, JDC’s International Centre for Community Development has conducted the European Jewish Community Leaders Survey to identify the priorities and concerns of Europe’s top Jewish leaders and community professionals. The 2021 survey followed the critical trends and challenges in 31 European countries, including timely topics such as antisemitism, the pandemic, and engaging youth and the unaffiliated.

Conducted every 3-4 years, the survey has established itself as a trusted barometer of key issues facing European communities, providing perspective on each community’s unique needs and development. In recent years, the survey has also contributed to the creation of numerous community-based programs and changed approaches to emerging issues.

In France, for example, leaders have already convened a task force specifically to create policies based on the recent survey findings—with much of the discussion centered on combatting antisemitism. In Germany, leaders completed their own community survey in 2020, which has contributed to a focus on mitigating continued membership decline within the community and efforts to reinvigorate local Jewish communities.

Using information gathered by the call centers, JDC provides care for more than 35,000 vulnerable elderly Jews and at-risk families across UkraineCredit: Konstantin Gerasimenko

JDC has taken that model to the next level by deploying data-driven decision-making in Bulgaria. This past year, at the behest of the local Jewish community, it began to help map the welfare service needs in Bulgaria through a series of questionnaires. The goal: to allocate social welfare resources for maximum impact. Given the slow pandemic recovery and influx of Ukrainian Jewish refugees needing care and community integration, this was critical.

“By ensuring the most effective aid for needy Jews, we’re strengthening communities for future challenges and opportunities,” says Revital Argov, JDC’s Director of Welfare in Europe. Similar to Bulgaria, the Jewish community of Athens, Greece has also taken steps towards data-driven decision-making – working with JDC to map community needs to improve and develop services.

Beyond these efforts, today JDC continues to empower Jewish communities from Buenos Aires to Mumbai to future-proof Jewish life and foster mutual Jewish responsibility. Through JDC Entwine, a new generation of young Jewish leaders are solving global challenges and meeting Jewish needs. And through the organization’s disaster relief and international development unit, JDC is providing a Jewish response to crises impacting our most vulnerable neighbors in South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

A shared responsibility

JDC’s global impact is driven by powerful partnerships with philanthropists committed to addressing the Jewish world’s most urgent needs. JDC receives significant funding for this work from Jewish Federations across North America through cooperation with JFNA and UIA Canada. Major funding partners also include the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Charitable Foundation, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, World Jewish Relief (UK), the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and tens of thousands of generous individual donors and foundations.

“Our ability to simultaneously respond to some of the world’s most devastating challenges and foster innovative and sustainable Jewish life is only possible because of the boundless dedication of these philanthropic leaders,” said JDC President Mark Sisisky and CEO Ariel Zwang. “Our shared work saves lives, affirms life itself, and prepares the Jewish people for a future far brighter and stronger than we can imagine.”

For more information about JDC, visit the website.

in collaboration with American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)