A FEW years ago, Melissa Port was about to visit one of Havana’s old synagogues when she received an unusual request.
“Can you please bring your suitcases full of toiletries… Panadol and toothpaste?”
When she arrived with a full suitcase, she was directed upstairs to a former women’s section, which had been turned into a pharmacy where any Jew could enter and take what they needed.
Port would later discover that the free pharmacy was created by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – the global organization that has served as a lifeline for Jews around the world for more than a century.
As the new executive director of The Joint NSW, she hopes to use her experience in events, public relations and marketing to bring people together to raise awareness of the JDC’s work.
From its beginnings in 1914, supporting “the starving Jews of Ottoman-era Palestine,” the JDC has played a key role in humanitarian missions, including airlifting “16,000 Ethiopian Jews out of Sudan”; and bringing hundreds of thousands of refugees out of Europe after World War II. The JDC brought the “Dunera boys”, along with 25,000 others to Australia.
A current focus is the crisis in Ukraine, which is leaving families without heating in the middle of the northern European winter; and ensure that 80,000 elderly Jews from the former Soviet Union are properly cared for.
The JDC also strives to remain forward-looking, connecting students with educational opportunities at any age, wherever they are in the world.
Port highlights include working with Max Markson to bring Bill Clinton to Australia; and the Shared Table Project, which grew out of her food startup — it “brought Jewish and Muslim women together, and we had some amazing experiences breaking down those barriers between communities.”
“My passion is food and diversity,” said Port, whose primary goal is to make people aware of the breadth of work The Joint does.
Looking to the near future, she wants to “highlight the diverse Jewish communities we support in India, Morocco, Cuba, Greece and Argentina.” She also encourages anyone whose family arrived in Australia as Jewish refugees to search the JDC’s online archives.
Explore your family history: archives.jdc.org
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