Name: Elie Lowenfeld
Home: New York City
Watch him because: He’s relieving us from domestic natural disasters.
Elie Lowenfeld has always possessed a keen desire to help others. “I grew up in a home [where] volunteering and service to others was important,” he states. As a youth, he delivered food to the elderly and volunteered in a soup kitchen. Following Hurricane Katrina, Lowenfeld traveled to New Orleans on more than one occasion to help with the relief effort.
In 2008, Lowenfeld worked with Americorps in Cedar Rapids, Iowa after record flooding. He saw many Christian volunteers—who came from national organizations, local churches, and as individuals—but, disappointingly, very few people from his own Jewish faith. He says, “In two months, there was not one Jewish group to come to Cedar Rapids to help the community.” As part of a relief effort in which many different commuempty space where my community, the Jewish community, wasn’t.”
To engage more American Jews in addressing such natural disasters, Lowenfeld founded the Jewish Disaster Response Corps (JDRC). The JDRC organizes the American Jewish community to provide hands-on assistance in the wake of domestic disasters. The JDRC is comprised of members who make a one-year commitment to assist in recovery efforts, such as hanging sheet rock, painting houses, removing debris, and clearing trees.
Since its inception, the JDRC has achieved significant mobilization of volunteers. In 2009, 14 JDRC volunteers went to Cedar Rapids to help with flood-recovery efforts, including removing debris from a store in the downtown area and participating in rebuilding projects. In 2010, the JDRC brought over 50 volunteers to Galveston, Texas to help repair the damage caused by Hurricane Ike. “The college kids traded their notebook computers for sledgehammers, paintbrushes, maps, and other implements of recovery as they practiced new skills as home renovators,” the Galveston County Daily News reported. The JDRC has helped recovery efforts in Providence, RI, Louisville, KY, and Nashville, TN, among other places.
The JDRC has recently taken an important organizational step. On September 1, 2010, the JDRC became a part of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University. “This has helped us begin to expand our work and grow institutionally,” says Lowenfeld.
Lowenfeld explains that the mission of the JDRC differs from that of most Jewish service organizations. While these organizations may seek to educate or provide a Jewish experience, the JDRC is focused on helping disaster victims. He states, “The JDRC was founded with one goal: to help people in disasters.”
For Lowenfeld, running the JDRC has been a fulfilling endeavor. He says, “The greatest thing about working on the JDRC is the people that I get to meet.” Those people include volunteers and members of affected communities, who come together to help one another in times of crisis.
For someone looking to start a venture like the JDRC, Lowenfeld says that it is best to take a proactive, leading role. He asserts, “If you see a problem that needs to be fixed… don’t waste your time waiting for others to jump on board... You can start making a difference today.”
Lowenfeld explains the motivation behind his work, “It is the moral and social responsibility of the Jewish community, just as any other American community, to extend a helping hand to these communities during their time of need.” Through his work with the JDRC, Lowenfeld does just that.