Three R's are displayed atop the stationery of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. They stand for "rescue, relief and reconstruction."
"Those three words sum our organization up. I haven't found any better definition for what we do," explained Michael Schneider, the executive vice president of the New York-based international relief organization.
Schneider was in Baltimore yesterday to brief local Jewish officials about the Joint Distribution Committee's most recent efforts.
He spoke in the afternoon to about 50 members of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and met afterward with reporters.
The JDC was founded in 1914 to provide relief to Palestinian Jews during World War I. Its primary mission continues to be giving humanitarian aid to Jews in more than 30 countries throughout the world, although the organization also helps gentiles in dire straits.
For example, the JDC currently is offering food, medicine and other supplies to sick and starving Ethiopians caught in the middle of their nation's civil war.
Funding for the JDC comes from Jewish groups and communities around the world. However, the bulk of its support comes from the United Jewish Appeal, which in turn is funded by more than 600 Jewish communities in the United States, including Baltimore.
The JDC, which has about 300 employees worldwide, will spend $62.3 million in relief worldwide in 1991, said Schneider.
Of the $22 million that the Associated raises for its programs each year, it gives about $1 million to the JDC, according to Associated spokesman Elana Kuperstein.
Schneider, a 51-year-old British citizen, called Baltimore's Jewish community "an important contributor" in terms of funds and manpower provided to the JDC. He reserved special praise for four Baltimoreans -- Shoshana Cardin, Manuel Dupkin, Jonathan Kolker and Milton Miller -- who are JDC board members. They will make an eight-day JDC mission to Morocco and Tunisia next month to evaluate needs and available services in those countries.
Other international relief organizations, including the Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, sometimes use political pressure to shame stubborn governments into helping their own suffering populations. Schneider said that's not a method of the JDC, which tries to remain "scrupulously apolitical."
"We never interfere with a government's internal affairs," he said. "Our mission is strictly one of supplying humanitarian aid. We stick to the facts on the ground and respect the rules of whatever regime happens to be hosting us. It's the only way for an organization to keep its integrity. Otherwise you don't know whether your mission is politics or aid."
These days, with natural and political calamities occurring one after another in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Bangladesh, Central America and other parts of the globe, relief groups are feeling burned out by what Schneider called "compassion fatigue."
"All relief agencies are wrestling with this question of how to cope with all these disasters," he said. "For our part, we don't try to deal with everything that's going on. We try to help where we can, as best we can."
Schneider joined the JDC in 1978 and has been posted to such locales as London, Iran, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Paris and Ethiopia. Last February, he traveled again to Ethiopia to see for himself the wretched conditions in that eastern African nation, where some 7 million people, including 18,000 Ethiopian Jews, have fallen victim to drought and the general devastation wrought by the civil war.
"It could be another serious famine situation there, like the one in 1985," said Schneider. "The military situation doesn't help at all, what with civil war in Ethiopia and some of the neighboring
Asked how he maintains his spirit in the often somber relief field, Schneider replied with a laugh, "You mean how do I keep my sanity? Who says I'm sane? Honestly, the mission of the JDC is so compelling and uplifting, it's hard not to become uplifted yourself. I remember what David Ben-Gurion once said: 'Any Jew who doesn't believe in miracles can't be a realist.' "