December 28, 2004
By now we all know about the Indian Ocean earthquake and the tsunamis that it created. More than fifty-two thousand people are dead across southeast Asia, and the damage is unthinkable. (If you'd like to know more, the folks at WorldChanging are maintaining a constantly-updated summary report; you can also read some local responses to the tragedy courtesy of Malaysian blogger Jeff Ooi and Dina Mehta in Bombay.) Anyway, I just got an email from Rabbi Arthur Waskow today telling me that the American Jewish World Service is sending humanitarian aid to the people affected by the tsunami.
AJWS has been partnering with 24 non-governmental, community-based organizations in the region on sustainable community development projects for some years now. As Arthur noted in his email, because AJWS is the only Jewish organization specifically set up to assist non-Jewish communities to develop themselves, it's the only Jewish NGO with grass-roots connections and experience in the region. They're working with local groups to assess needs and provide emergency relief -- food, water, shelter and medicine -- and long-term development support.
Donations can be made by mail or phone, or online: American Jewish World Service, Asia Tsunami Relief, 45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018; 800-889-7146; or make a secure online donation now.
Remember what I was saying yesterday about tzedakah being an obligation that holds regardless of how fat one's wallet is at any given moment? Many of us may be wincing at post-holiday credit card bills, or we may have already given what we'd allotted for charitable causes this year...but the need is so much greater than you or I can imagine, and our tradition makes it incumbent upon us to respond if we possibly can. If you want to donate via a Jewish organization, to send the message that Jews care about what's happened here, AJWS is a good way to go. (The American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are also always good options; and you can also learn about more opportunities to help at the Tsunami help blog.)
Me, I'm praying for my good friend elck, vacationing in India over the holidays. I don't know where his itinerary took him, and don't know if he's okay. It's easier to worry about the one person I know than to grasp the magnitude of so many anonymous dead or grieving. Of course, they're only anonymous to me because my connections with Asia are few; but each of those deaths is its own tragedy. Saying kaddish is all we can do for the dead; making donations is what we can do for the living.
Edited to add: the Union for Reform Judaism has also established a Disaster Fund to send aid to the victims of the tsunami; visit the URJ's emergency relief web page at www.urj.org/relief. And the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is collecting funds for tsunami victims, too: here.
Edited again to add: elck is okay, thank God. And I've just adjusted the death toll from 37,000 (the known number of deaths when I first posted this) to 52,000. I probably won't keep updating this post just to upgrade the number dead; you can track it yourself at Google news. It's hard to feel anything but numb in the face of a tragedy of this magnitude.