In the first exchange of its kind, 20 Hillel students from Buenos Aires visited San Jose, CA, as a cultural exchange program with Hillel of Silicon Valley. The program is part of a wider effort to create a partnership between the two Hillels and to raise awareness for Argentinean Jewry.
Hillel of Silicon Valley Executive Director Arlene Miller together with Hillel of Argentina Executive Director Gabriel Trajtenberg wanted to bring the two cultures together, expose the Latin American Jewish community to the Silicon Valley community, and assist the Argentinean students with future job options in America.
"Since most of the visiting students' are computer science, engineering, and business majors, a large part of the group's agenda was to learn about the trends in the business and tech community, and to meet with executives at top Silicon Valley companies, such as eBay, Palm and Applied Materials," said Miller.
Upon their arrival, the students participated in a resume and job workshop with the Jewish vocational services who counseled the students and helped translate their resumes into English. Students also learned which skills were appropriate for the job market. While on the trip, two of the students secured interviews with high tech companies, said Miller.
Martin Shilman, a graduate student in business, said that because of the economic situation in Argentina most young people are looking for jobs elsewhere. Last year 6,500 of the nation's 200,000 Jews immigrated to Israel alone, and another 6,500 are expected to leave this year.
"Another important aspect of the trip was to allow the students to speak about their personal experiences in Argentina and to advocate for the Argentinean Jewish community," said Argentine Hillel Director Trajtenberg. Students visited local high schools and synagogues, and met with government officials and the local Hispanic community.
"Everyone here is interested in our country and what is going on. They all want to help," said engineering student Leandro Margulis.
"In Argentina we feel utterly helpless," explains Shilman. "We had five presidents in two weeks. We had one president disappear and no one knew where he was. Last month there was terrible looting. You have savings in one bank in one currency, and then you get it back in a devalued currency, and you can't do anything about it. Coming here, we want to make people aware about the situation back in Argentina."
The Argentinean students also had a chance to meet the American students and experience the nightlife. This offered them a break from their economic worries back at home.
"Although we left a difficult situation back at home, we came here open-minded, with the idea of meeting new people, making new connections and just seeing another area. It's been great," said Margulis.
Not only did the program bring together the Argentinean and American students, it also brought together the local members of the Jewish Latin American community. Over 150 community members attended a barbeque at Hillel, where half of those who participated where of Latin America origin.
"This allowed us to tap into an entirely new segment of the Jewish community in the Bay Area with which we previously had no contact," said Miller.
Hillel opened in Buenos Aires last year following the creation of a Hillel in Montevideo, Uruguay, the year before. The Hillel of Silicon Valley students plan to visit Argentina Hillel sometime in the spring.
In addition to the cultural exchange program, Hillel of Silicon Valley hopes to create an educational series to expose students to issues in Latin America, including politics, economics, cultural and religion. Once the students have a better understanding of the issues facing the Latin American community, Hillel of Silicon Valley plans to create local social-action projects and to work together with the Hispanic community.