History

 

AJWS was established in Boston on May 1, 1985 when Larry Phillips and Larry Simon, together with a group of rabbis, Jewish communal leaders, activists, businesspeople, scholars and others came together to create the first American Jewish organization dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among people across the globe.

Since that time, AJWS has remained true to our founders' vision and commitment to tzedakah: empowering people throughout the world to achieve justice and self-sufficiency through the promotion of human rights, education, economic development, healthcare and sustainable agriculture.

Below is an outline of AJWS's growth and key achievements from 1985 to the present.

1985
AJWS is founded by Larry Phillips and Larry Simon.

1986
AJWS responds to the volcano disaster in Armaro, Colombia - its first emergency response. AJWS and the Tibetan community-in-exile in India initiate an agricultural improvement project that develops into a long-term relationship.

1988
The UN World Food Program begins using technology and methods for safe grain storage developed by AJWS and Israeli scientists at the Volcani Center.

1989
AJWS moves its headquarters from Boston to New York City.

1990
AJWS launches five new international development projects in Mexico, Honduras and Haiti, offering training programs in improved agricultural techniques.

1991
AJWS President Andrew Griffel is elected to the Executive Committee of InterAction, a consortium of over a hundred international humanitarian organizations.

1994
The Jewish Volunteer Corps – now the Volunteer Corps – begins with the deployment of three volunteers, two to Honduras and one to Mexico.

1995
Ten young Jewish men and women spend the summer helping villagers in Honduras build a potable water system. As a result of the success of this program, the International Jewish College Corps – now Volunteer Summer – is established.

1998
Project partner Ntataise Trust in South Africa receives an award from former South African President Nelson Mandela for "its exceptional contribution to education in South Africa."

1999
Project partner TOSTAN's campaign to ban female genital cutting triumphs in Senegal, when the Senegalese parliament bans the practice.

2000
AJWS responds to the flood emergency in Mozambique, returning to the site of one of its first emergency shipments of medical supplies. AJWS starts the Alternative Breaks program for college students.

2001
AJWS responds to the domestic attacks of September 11th, receiving donations and making the majority of its grants to groups that provide support to the families of low income workers.

2002
AJWS changes its three-year limit on grants, enabling the organization to develop long-term relationships with NGOs in the developing world.

2003
AJWS launches peer exchange programs in Southern Africa bringing together community-based organizations from the region to exchange best practices in responding to the HIV epidemic.

2004
AJWS responds to the tsunami that devastates parts of South Asia. AJWS's first Rabbinical Students' Delegation — 26 students from five rabbinical seminaries — spends a week working with AJWS project partner La Coordinadora in El Salvador. AJWS co-founds the Save Darfur Coalition.

2006
In partnership with the Save Darfur Coalition, AJWS helps to organize a national anti-genocide rally in Washington, D.C. and a series of other rallies throughout the country.

2007
President Bill Clinton is the honoree at AJWS's gala event. AJWS becomes the first national Jewish organization to promote targeted divestment by launching a divestment initiative against the government of Sudan.

2008
New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof is the honoree at AJWS's fundraising luncheon.

2009
AJWS President Ruth Messinger is invited to the White House to discuss the crisis in Darfur with President Barack Obama. AJWS is instrumental in campaigns to cancel Haiti’s debt to lenders including the U.S., the Inter-American Development Bank and the IMF.

AJWS launches Global Circle—a new community for professionals ages 25 to 40; On1Foot—an online database of Jewish justice texts and teaching tools; and Kol Tzedek (Voices of Justice)—a fellowship placing AJWS spokespeople in Jewish communities across the U.S.

2010
AJWS responds to the earthquake in Haiti, raising nearly $6 million for Haitian-led recovery efforts. AJWS creates the Urgent LGBT Uganda Fund to help defeat the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

AJWS engages American Jews in its food justice work by organizing 200 communities to participate in the first annual Global Hunger Shabbat. Jointly with AVODAH, AJWS launches Pursue: Action for a just world—to mobilize and organize young Jewish activists.

2011
AJWS launches Reverse Hunger: Ending the Global Food Crisis, a campaign to reform U.S. food aid policy. AJWS launches a new organizational blog, Global Voices.

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