Jewish Journal


November 13, 2005

Groups, Shuls Fundraise for Tsunami Aid



Cantor Alison Wissot of Temple Judea felt the pull of the Asian tsunami at a Friday morning meeting of the women's group at her Tarzana Reform shul.

"There was an outpouring of, 'This is so awful,' 'How do we deal with this event?' 'How do we not feel helpless?' 'How do we just do something?'" Wissot said.

"At first, this was something that people have in their nightmares," she continued. "Over the last week, this has become something that has been made real to people."

"This huge act of God came and wiped out a huge number of people," Wissot said. "Of course, people feel helpless."

By watching lifeless, water-logged bodies pile up half a planet away for more than two weeks now, the tugs of Judaism's responsibility to humanity are prompting Jewish community donations and fund-raising efforts.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said this week that its Southeast Asia Relief Fund has brought in $200,000 in donations. That will be part of about $10 million raised by Jewish federations nationwide, plus the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, United Jewish Communities and 35 other groups forming the new Jewish Coalition for Asia Tsunami Relief.

The Jewish response has been strong at the community level, and rather than doing their own fundraising, synagogues are urging congregants to donate to national relief funds.

"Because there's so many opportunities, we are really promoting people to go to the Jewish organizations and give to the Jewish organizations that are already giving, rather than set up our account here," said Howard Lesner, executive director at Westwood's Conservative Sinai Temple, where Rabbi David Wolpe discussed the tsunami in his New Year's weekend sermon.

While encouraging donations to national funds, Lesner said that young donors at Sinai's Akiba Academy want to give, too.

"Some of the school kids are raising ... funds that'll be directed toward some tsunami relief," he said.

An Australian Jewish couple was confirmed dead this week in Thailand. So far, local Jewish connections to the tsunami deaths are minimal, although in Sherman Oaks, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center said that a former Israeli exchange student who worked at its summer camp several years ago was killed in Thailand.

A poll of 1,800 people conducted by the Jewish Web site, www.aish.com, found that about 60 percent of respondents said they believed that God caused the tsunami, with half those surveyed also saying the tsunami increased their belief in God. In addition, 80 percent of those polled said the tsunami prompted them to do good deeds.

Rabbi John Rosove of the Reform Temple Israel of Hollywood said his shul has donated $5,000 from his synagogue's social action fund.

During its Jan. 7 Shabbat service, Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills hosted about 10 members of a nearby Indonesian Christian church, plus the deputy consul general from Indonesia's L.A. consulate. Although Indonesia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, the diplomat was warmly welcomed, and the temple women's group announced a $500 donation.

"If there is any Jewish society that would like to contribute, you can always send donations to Indonesia," Deputy Consul General Handriyo Kusoma Priyo said. "Regardless of the race, at this time of mourning people are coming [to see that] this is one brotherhood."

"I want to give money, and I want to help; I just go basically from my heart," said Kol Tikvah member Brenda Gillis, a mother of two who said she was deeply moved by seeing the tsunami dead. "Those images definitely do sway me as a mother. I gave blood last week."

Roz Rothstein of the Israel advocacy group, StandWithUs, said that friends she has spoken with want to make the right kind of tsunami donation.

"People were worried about giving to reputable organizations and preferred to trust their money to Jewish groups with reputations for two reasons," Rothstein said. "They wanted the money to come through Jewish organizations as a show of love from the Jewish community, and they are worried about stories they heard following 9/11, when groups that received money didn't release the funds in a timely way."

During the Indonesians' visit, ignored were the Kol Tikvah's sanctuary's fundraising cans for the Sudan's Darfur genocide victims. Reform Rabbi Steve Jacobs said the tsunami "did blow Darfur off the map," but that Jews can and should maintain simultaneous compassion for two distant, seemingly non-Jewish issues in Asia and Africa.

"It's not either/or," Jacobs said. "It's both."

On Jan. 19, Israeli folk dance instructor David Dassa and Wilshire Boulevard Temple will host a midweek, combination tsunami/Sudan fundraising dance class at the temple's West L.A. campus on Olympic Boulevard.

The Workmen's Circle will host a Jan. 16 fundraising concert for the American Jewish World Service's tsunami efforts, featuring an anti-Bush comedy troupe.

National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, under the direction of the Consulate of Sri Lanka, will ship donations of clothing, sheets, blankets, tents and first aid kits to tsunami relief programs over the next few weeks via their seven thrift store locations.

Temple Judea's Wissot said her synagogue has been reminding people "that the Sudan situation is still going on" and to not "leave behind whatever it is we were dealing with a month ago."

Wissot knows Asia's tsunami and Darfur's genocide touch different parts of the Jewish soul.

"One is an act of God, one is an act of people; it's just a different sense of helplessness," Wissot said.

She added that any clergy comparisons of the tsunami to the Bible's flood story should reiterate that event's ending -- about redemption and God's promise never again to destroy the Earth.

"The world hasn't been destroyed, and there are people to rebuild," she said. "The world isn't destroyed by this. Be partners with God in rebuilding, so the promise remains. There are some tragedies that just need time."


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