Argentina Social Action Packet
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Argentina, home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America, is now in the midst of economic and social disaster. For Jews in Argentina, the current economic difficulties were preceded by a series of terrorist attacks in the 1990s. In 1992, terror hit the Jewish community in Argentina for the first time with the bombing of the Israeli Embassy. Two years later, in 1994, another bomb devastated the Argentine Jewish community, this time at the Jewish community center AMIA (Association Mutual Israelite Argentina) in Buenos Aires.
As the community was recovering from the second bombing, a sudden economic collapse left a once-comfortable working-class populace deprived of their basic needs. Nearly 60,000 Jews are living below the poverty line because of the ravished economy. Many Jewish business-owners have lost their businesses and Jewish families face the daunting task of purchasing food, clothing and the bare necessities to survive.
While the Jewish community in Argentina has come together to support those who are suffering, they cannot meet all of the community's needs. Argentine Jews are in desperate need of assistance. Jewish tradition teaches that all Israel are responsible for one another and we are obligated to respond to cries for help from those in need. Therefore, we have an obligation to join in solidarity with the Argentine Jewish community and answer their call.
In this online packet you will find material on ways to help the Argentine Jewish Community. Enclosed, you will find:
With a population of approximately 200,000 Jews, Argentina is home to the largest Jewish community in Latin America. During the late nineteenth century, a substantial wave of Eastern European and German Jews began arriving in Argentina, and the Jewish community blossomed. As many settled in Buenos Aires, organizations and synagogues were established, and an energetic cooperative spirit was created. For example, members of the community formed an organization to protect the political and human rights of Jews, the Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA) and also a Jewish community center, the Association Mutual Israelite Argentina (AMIA). Argentine Jews have made significant impacts on the broader Argentine society in many fields, including medicine, journalism, and social justice throughout their history. Today, some 160,000 Jews reside in Buenos Aires alone, and the city has more than 70 synagogues.
In the wake of the recent economic collapse, one third of Argentina's Jews have sunk below the poverty level. The combined effects of unemployment and hunger have battered this previously vibrant and self-sufficient community. Businesses have shut down, health services have become unaffordable, and monthly bills have put many families on the verge of eviction. (For personal accounts of the lives of Argentine Jews visit the JDC site)
It has been difficult for Jewish organizations in Argentina to withstand the unexpected impact. Nonetheless, Jewish organizations work vigorously to provide food and clothing and support families with the costs of living. The response of the Progressive Jewish Movement in Argentina has been substantial.
Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a leader of the Progressive Movement in Argentina, has established a critical social welfare program to help ameliorate the impact of poverty on Argentine Jews. Founded in 1963, the Progressive synagogue Congregation Emanu-El now serves as Rabbi Sergio Bergman's headquarters for social action and relief. The main program, called "Chavura," includes medical/pharmaceutical assistance, clothing, employment assistance and small business loans. Congregation Emanu-El provides food for hundreds of people each week, including more than 300 children. In addition to regular meals, Rabbi Bergman instituted a weekly "Rabbi's Tish" where hundreds of hungry Jews are provided with a Shabbat meal and spiritual sustenance. The congregation also operates safe transportation and employment services for impoverished Jews. It has also established a Jewish bakery.
The Reform Jewish Movement in North America continues its commitment to the Jews of Argentina. The Central Conference of American Rabbis has initiated an "Adopt a Family" program. The World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) has sent delegations to Argentina. After one such mission, a task force known as Yad b'Yad was formed to identify community needs through their contact with Argentine community leaders and to publicize those needs in North America.
Likewise, other Jewish organizations in North America have worked to ease the plight of Argentine Jewry. In particular, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has committed extensive resources and funds to provide relief to Argentine Jews and raise awareness and concern abroad. The organization has helped communities rebuild infrastructure and provide for the needs of the poor. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has worked with countries throughout the Americas and Europe in allowing small numbers of Argentine Jews to resettle, and helps Argentine Jews find jobs and obtain legal immigration status authorizing employment in the United States.
In recent years, random acts of anti-Semitic violence have raised alarms throughout Argentina. This heightened antagonism has negatively affected the Jewish community even as it struggles economically. Although much remains to be done, the criminal courts have consistently upheld a 1988 law prohibiting religious discrimination. Those who vandalized Jewish cemeteries, assaulted innocent civilians on religious grounds, and distributed anti-Semitic literature have been prosecuted and sentenced to prison. Nonetheless, according to the 2000 Freedom House report on religious freedom, "Suspected high-level security force complicity in carrying out and/or cover-up of the 1992 bombing by Islamic extremists of the Israeli Embassy and the 1994 bombing of the city's Jewish community center (AMIA) might have been responsible for lack of progress in bringing those guilty of terrorist outrage to trial" (Religious Freedom in the World, 57).
Jewish Texts and Sample Sermons
If there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements, in the land that Adonai your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsmen. Rather, you must open your hand and lend them sufficient for whatever they need... Give to them readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return Adonai your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you: open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.
- Deuteronomy 15:7-11
Comfort my people, comfort them, says your God.
- Isaiah 40:1
Share your bread with the hungry…when you see the naked, clothe them…do not ignore your own kin.
- Isaiah 58:7
It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
- Pirkei Avot, 2:21
All Israel are responsible for one another!
- Talmud, Sh'vuot 39a
You are commanded to give to the poor according to what they lack. If they lack clothing, you must clothe them, if they lack household tools, you must purchase [tools] for them…Even if these poor people were accustomed to ride on a horse with a slave running in front of them but then become poor, losing all their possessions, you must buy a horse for them to ride upon and a slave to run in front of them, as it is written, "lend them sufficient for what they need." (Deuteronomy 15:8) You are commanded to restore them for what they lack, but you are not required to make them wealthy.
-Maimonides, Mishneh Torah 7:3, Gifts to the Poor
Saying grace is an act of the greatest importance. To be able to eat and drink is a possibility as extraordinary, as miraculous, as the crossing of the Red Sea. We do not recognize the miracle this represents because we live in a world which, for the moment, has plenty of everything, and because our memory is short. Yet those who live in less fortunate countries understand that to be able to satisfy one's hunger is the marvel of marvels…the route which takes bread from the earth in which it grows to the mouth which eats it is one of the most perilous. It is to cross the Red Sea…
-The Open Door: A Passover Haggadah, Emmanuel Levinas
Reform Movement Initiatives in Argentina
NFTY has embraced Argentina's Jews by creating resources for education and action on the NFTY website. In addition to background articles, NFTY has compiled a list of fundraising opportunities for chapters that wish to contribute to the Argentine community. The NFTY site suggests donations for food, summer camp tuition, school tuition, medicines and teacher/rabbi salaries.
KESHER Argentina Ambassadors Program
KESHER Ambassadors are college students from within the Reform Movement who visit Argentina on group missions and actively participate in social action. When they return to America, these students work to publicize the needs that they witnessed in Argentina and to build support for Argentine Jewry. The next KESHER missions are in the early planning stages. To contact the KESHER office and find out about future Argentina Ambassador Programs, visit www.keshernet.com or call 212.650.4070.
- View photos, information and articles about the first KESHER Argentina Ambassadors program in May 2003
- Read an article by the World Union for Progressive Judaism about the program
- Gillian Lindzon was a participant on the first KESHER Argentina Ambassadors program. To read her article about the experience, published in The Canadian Jewish News, click here.
ARZA/World Union North America Initiatives
In August 2002 the World Union of Progressive Judaism sent a delegation to Argentina. Upon their return the Yad B'Yad (hand in hand) task force was created. Through this task force, a number of specific welfare programs that require assistance were identified. The next ARZA/WUNA missions are in the early planning stages.
To make a contribution to the efforts of the task force, send a check made out to World Reform Appeal to the World Union office in New York, c/o ARZA/WORLD UNION, North America, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10017. Please indicate that the funds should be directed to the Yad b'Yad task force effort on behalf of Argentinean Jewry. For further information, please contact the ARZA/WUNA office at 212.452. 6530.
The following are links to an article about and a powerpoint presentation of the ARZA/World Union Rabbinic mission to South America in November 2002.
What You Can Do To Help
- Send funds to meet specific needs described on the following websites:
Your Temple Youth Group or Religious School may choose to allocate tzedakah funds to the Argentine community. The Religious School may also partner with a Jewish school in Argentina and commit to providing lunches for students or sponsoring a teacher's salary.
- Sponsor a Jewish college student as a KESHER Argentina Ambassador for $1000.00. Your donation will enable a Jewish College student to go with KESHER and the UAHC's College Education Department to Argentina. Please make out your check out to KESHER and send donation to:
KESHER Argentina Ambassadors
Union of Reform Judaism
633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
- Visit the Argentine Community personally. College students can participate in the KESHER ambassadors programs and adults can contact ARZA/World Union, North America for information about upcoming missions. The next KESHER mission is in the early planning stages and there is an ARZA/WUNA mission scheduled for December 2003.
- "Adopt A Family" through the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) program. For just $100 per month individuals or congregations can adopt an Argentinean family. Congregations are asked to make a two-year commitment ($2400.00) and preferably to pay it in a lump-sum payment.
- Sponsor a "Rabbi's Tish" at the Libertad Synagogue for $250.00 and help feed hundreds of needy people. Rabbi Sergio Bergman and the Chavurah organize this weekly Shabbat dinner. Please send your check along with your name to:
CCAR World Jewry Committee
355 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10017
- Donate clothing, eyeglasses and over the counter medicines to the Chavurah Social Action Center. Please write DONATION/NO VALUE under the address and send to:
Rabbi Sergio Bergman/Tati Schagas
Libertad 769 (1012)
Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires
- Educate your community about the crisis in Argentina and the needs of the Jewish community there. Use the texts that we have provided to stimulate discussion about our obligation to help all fellow Jews in need, and the Argentine community in particular.
Sample Temple Bulletin Articles
Additional Resources and Links
- American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) - The mission of JDC is to rescue, offer relief and help renew Jewish communities. Their website provides a wealth of information on how the JDC is helping the Jews of Argentina.
- Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)- For over 122 years, HIAS has been saving and rescuing Jews. HIAS' Latin America office, located in Buenos Aires, has developed alliances with Jewish communities in the Americas, Europe, and elsewhere to allow small numbers of Argentine Jews to resettle. In the United States, the HIAS Latin America Visa Program develops legal migration options in the United States by providing job search, legal, and resettlement assistance for Argentine Jews, and providing employers, job seekers, and the Jewish community with information about the crisis in Argentina, the employment needs and professional qualifications of Argentine Jews, and U.S. immigration laws and procedures.
- For those Argentine Jews who want to leave the country, Israel is a viable option for emigration. The Israeli Government and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) are offering subsidies and expanding benefits to new immigrants from Argentina. This website describes current projects that JAFI is promoting for Jews in Latin America.
- Reform Judaism Magazine published a detailed article describing the history of the Jewish community and the current crisis. The article, titled "Argentina: Land of Learning and Loss," was written by Ben G. Frank. He is the author of a number of travel guides highlighting Jewish historical sites and points of interest. This article can be found in the Winter 2002 edition of RJ Magazine Vol. 31, No. 2, pages 71-5.
- The JTA, the Jewish world news service, reports on the crisis in Argentina. To read one overview article written about the situation, click here.
- Sally Ogle Davis and Ivor Davis wrote an article titled "Cry, Argentina" for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. The piece describes the situation in Argentina and includes the personal stories of some of the community members.
- Ve'ahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, has prepared a webpage describing the situation in Argentina and outlining some of the current needs.
- The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise has created a virtual library. Within their library they have included a page dedicated to the history of the Argentine community.
- Students at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Maryland embarked on a mission to provide lunches for students at a sister school in Argentina. To read an article about their work, click here.
For More Information
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017-6778 Washington, DC 20036
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
2027 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
at Kivie Kaplan Way
The Commission on Social Action's work on international issues is supported by a generous contribution from Marilyn Herst Karsten.