Tucsonan Fran Katz joined a national Jewish Federation of North America fact-finding tour to Haiti, from July 5 to 7, to see firsthand how American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee funds have aided Haitians since the January earthquake, which killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced more than 1.2 million.
Among places the nine-member U.S. group visited, says Katz, was a rehabilitation center at Haiti’s University Hospital. She noted that the estimated number of amputees in Haiti has more than doubled, from around 2,000 to more than 4,000, since the earthquake.
“The JDC partnered with Magen David Adom and a hospital in Port-au-Prince [Haiti] to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation program for amputees because, unfortunately, Israel is so good at this through its wars and terrorism,” said Kim Rosenberg of Portland, Oregon, a trip participant with Katz.
Through JFNA and generous individuals, JDC has raised more than $7.3 million to assist quake victims.
Rosenberg said that prosthetics and rehabilitation for amputees were virtually nonexistent in Haiti but both were sorely needed. The JFNA group’s visit to Haiti’s University Hospital was extremely moving, she said.
“We saw Georgio, a handsome, 25-year-old man, working with a physical therapist,” said Rosenberg. “He was so happy to see us and was so joyous to be able to walk. Without rehabilitation and prosthesis, his productive life would be ended. Because of us, this handsome young guy is able to continue life.”
Rosenberg said the JDC representative in Haiti, Gideon Herscher, partnered with a German prosthetic company to create a manufacturing facility on site. In addition to providing the needed prosthetics, the project has also provided jobs for Haitians, she said.
“Living conditions are deplorable in Haiti. There was no infrastructure before [the earthquake]. Now there’s even less,” says Katz. “In downtown Port-au-Prince there’s so much congestion; there’s stuff in the middle of the street. I saw a woman washing on the side of the street where she found some water.”
Amid all the rubble, “what was amazing to me was to see how people adapt,” she says. “We saw children going to school in nicely pressed uniforms” and wondered how they do that, where they get water for cleaning.
The JDC was the only Jewish organization in Haiti among 14 relief organizations, notes Katz. Herscher, she said, had commented that Haitians were curious about why Jews were sending aid to Haiti, when there are no more than 25 Jews in the country.
“Jewish organizations believe in tikkun olam (repair of the world),” she says, adding, “Jewish organizations partner with anyone who wants to help people.”
For her personally, “it’s important to see how the Jewish community stepped up after the earthquake,” says Katz, who will be offering educational programs about her trip this fall. “Even when I was chair of the [Federation’s] Women’s Division more than 15 years ago, I wanted to get the women out of the board room, to feel and touch and see.”
Katz is currently on the JFNA National Women’s Philanthropy board and chair of the Tucson Jewish Community Center board. She is past chair of the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council and past co-chair of the JFSA Campaign.
Reflecting on her extensive involvement with Jewish organizations, including a 2007 mission that followed impoverished Ethiopian Jews on their journey to Israel, Katz says, “I’ve been very blessed. Jeff [Katz’s husband] and I have built a very nice life together — and I want to give back.”
Deborah Moon of the Jewish Review of Portland contributed to this article.