Helping Those in Need

Ah, the holidays!

A time of good cheer and feasting.

A time to enjoy our family, friends and the bounty with which we are blessed.

Indeed, “a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable time…when men and women seem of one consent to open up their hearts freely,” as Scrooge’s nephew observes in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when he comes to invite the old miser to a festive Christmas dinner.

The jewelry industry offers abundant opportunities to combine the enjoyment of feasting and friends with the charitable impulses of the heart. Its fund-raiser dinners, with receipts going for good works, usually focus on a guest of honor from the industry. You’ve probably seen these annual events mentioned in the trade press or received written invitations or phone solicitations to participate. But, you may not know much about them, what they do or whom to contact.

The following article briefly profiles five groups, but many others hold up the torch of charity as well. Whichever you may choose to help, remember the advice of Marley’s Ghost: Humanity, not paper shuffling or gold coins, is our business. So, in the spirit of the season, enjoy – and share.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) calls itself “America’s premier human relations agency.” A small group of American Jews launched AJC in 1906 to defend the rights and freedoms of Jews around the world, making it the first such organization in the U.S.

Its stated mission is to “safeguard the welfare and security of Jews in the U.S., Israel and throughout the world; to strengthen the basic principles of pluralism around the world as the best defense against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, and to enhance the quality of American Jewish life by helping to ensure Jewish continuity and deepen the ties between American and Israeli Jews.”

It does all this through a variety of institutes, programs and research projects on inter-religious and inter-ethnic relations. It also advocates public policy positions based on, it says, “American democratic values and the perspectives of the Jewish heritage.”

One major fundraiser is an annual dinner in October during which someone in the jewelry industry receives the AJC’s Jewelry Division Human Relations Award. Through this award, AJC seeks to recognize individuals who have attained a leadership role in industry and have contributed to the community through civic affairs and philanthropic endeavors. This year’s honoree was William Grayson, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer of Jan Bell Marketing Inc.

The AJC is headquartered in New York City, but has 32 regional offices and four offices overseas. Contact Susan Tanenbaum, American Jewish Committee, 165 E. 65 St., New York, N.Y. 10022; (212) 751-4000, fax (212) 319-6156.

The International Retail Jewelers’ Charity Fund is the industry’s outstretched hand to medical research. Founded 15 years ago by chairman Clyde Duneier, it has raised more than $15 million to find the cause, treatment and cure of some of today’s most devastating afflictions.

It began in 1983 as a fundraising effort for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, but soon increased the charities it aids. Today, the fund supports the City of Hope, the Foundation for Fighting Blindness, The Chemotherapy Foundation, Mother’s Voices, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, The Diabetes Institutes Foundation and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The IRJCF also aids members of the industry, their relatives or friends who need help from any of the eight charities.

The major IRJCF fund-raiser is its annual dinner, long held in February during the Jewelers of America New York show. Two years ago, it moved to Las Vegas in June, during The JCK International Jewelry Show, when asked to take over Sterling Inc.’s “Party with a Purpose,” which raised funds for research on blindness.

Now, the annual event is known as “The Party with a Purpose” sponsored by “The Industry with a Heart.” The 1997 gala honored retailers who’ve assisted IRJCF and its work and featured major retail jewelers donating major-sized checks. It raised $1.2 million, from which $100,000 went to each of the eight charities IRJCF supports.

The fund is working on new ways to raise money for medical research. The next few months will see a musical CD – produced for the IRJCF and sold only in jewelry stores – and a mini-magazine with information about other industry charities and their fundraising events. Next year, the IRJCF may begin distributing $10,000 grants to some smaller, less well known charities.

Many of the industry’s leading jewelers (including 28 of the top 40 chains) and suppliers actively support the IRJCF and its goals. “Now, we’re going after more independents,” says Duneier.

Contact Gerry Lipeles, Administrative Director, International Retail Jewelers’ Charity Fund, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 2200, New York, NY 10036; (212) 849-1388 or (800) 783-6202 (ex.1388).

The National Conference, founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, is a non-sectarian human relations organization dedicated to fighting bigotry, bias and racism in America. Its 60 offices promote religious, racial and ethnic inclusiveness through year-round education programs. These include community forums, elementary and junior high school programs, leadership training for high school and college students, teacher training, interreligious dialogs, intergroup training for police and community leaders and training of human resources professionals.

“We work with kids in schools, from elementary to college, and in police academies, the community and the workplace,” says Zita Dorn, director of financial development, who oversees the group’s events. The major fund-raiser for its jewelry and watch division, established 47 years ago, is a dinner held each December in New York. Last year’s event raised some $250,000.

Independent jewelers can contribute by attending the dinner or by sending a donation. Write or call The National Conference for information, including a history, annual report, calendar of events and details on how individuals or organizations can get involved. Contact Zita Dorn, The National Conference, 71 Fifth Ave., Suite 1150, New York, NY 10003; (212) 807-8440.

ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation through Training) traces its roots to 1880, when a group of wealthy Jews in St. Petersburg, Russia, set up a fund for vocational and agricultural schools to teach Jewish farmers and craftsmen. ORT became a formal organization in 1906 and went international in 1921, shifting its focus to Jews around the globe.

ORT set up vocational training in Jewish refugee camps after World War Two. Once Israel was established, ORT intensified its work in North and South America, western Europe, Iran, India and other countries. American ORT became a vital monetary resource. Much of the aid went to Israel and evolved into the Israel Network, which has produced roughly 400,000 graduates in the past 50 years.

ORT currently provides comprehensive and technical education to more than 262,000 men, women and children in Israel, the U.S. and 58 other countries. This includes some 100,000 students in 138 ORT schools and colleges in Israel, where one fourth of the labor force is ORT graduates. It trains more than 10,000 students in the U.S., including immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Iran.

Students learn skills in more than 100 trades and professions, from computer-aided design to auto mechanics. “Our schools run the gamut from high technology to basic vocational schools,” says Gary Perl, senior field director, “from schools for advanced science and mathematics to those for ‘last-chance’ students.”

American ORT, the umbrella organization for ORT activities in the U.S., is a major funder of tuition costs, learning facilities, tools and equipment. A group committed to ORT’s programs of educating people established the jewelry industry chapter of American ORT in 1967, shortly after the end of the Six-Day War in the Middle East. Today, its year-round program raises $200,000 to $300,000 a year. The major fundraiser is an annual charity dinner, held in October or November, which honors a major industry figure. (This year’s event honored Harriet Schreiner, executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Sterling Inc.) Individuals in the jewelry industry also have been generous with capital gifts, notes Perl, contributing well over $1 million in the past decade.

Contact Gary Perl, American ORT Jewelry Industry Chapter, 817 Broadway, New York, NY 10003; (212) 353-5822.

The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York is the largest local philanthropic organization in the world. The Federation was founded more than 75 years ago as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of Greater New York to provide for the basic human needs of immigrants to New York City. The United Jewish Appeal of New York began in the early 1940s to rescue and relieve people from the horrors of the Nazi regime. The two merged in 1986 to form the UJA-Federation.

UJA-Federation is a major source of funding of special services for Jewish communities in New York, Israel and 50 other countries. Its campaigns and activities raise some $200 million annually on behalf of such services as nursing homes, hospitals and aid for the disabled and homeless, as well as cultural and educational programs. Funds are allocated through a worldwide network of 100 local and overseas agencies.

The Diamond, Jewelry and Watch Division, formed some 40 years ago, is one of the oldest of more than 100 industry fundraising divisions of the UJA-Federation. It also is one of the most active, running educational programs year-round and holding winter cocktail receptions and spring dinner fund-raisers. Terry Burman, chairman and CEO of Sterling, will chair the next dinner, to be held April 8 at the Hotel Pierre in New York City. The honoree will be Jefferey Comment, chairman and CEO of Helzberg’s Diamonds. The division expects to raise more than $1 million at the year’s upcoming events.

Contact Nurit Seri-Pokart, jewelry division executive, UJA-Federation of New York, 130 E. 59 St., New York, NY 10022; (212) 836-1115.